The sophistication of the 4th-generation Gripen fighter aircraft fleet in their hangers at the South African Air Force (SAAF) called for a full understanding of their advanced capabilities to develop new tactics and operational procedures to maximise the utilisation of the new technologies.
As a cost-effective solution to what could be a very costly exercise, a group of modelling and simulation specialists at the CSIR created a simulated, synthetic environment on a desktop to enable the development and evaluation of new tactics. This development demonstrated the on-going assistance of the CSIR to the SAAF in terms of technology-related decision making and improving operational insight on the technological capabilities of the Gripen fleet.
Utilising smart capabilities
The SAAF would adopt a four-phase approach to evaluate the 4th-generation capabilities, so that pilots would understand them fully and utilise them effectively. Firstly, the CSIR was tasked to develop a desktop tactical simulation tool to test and select different aircraft posturing concepts without the need to access expensive equipment. The pilots would then plan suitable missions in the squadron-based Mission Support System (MSS) to test the newly-created postures and use the MSS to play back the flights in real-time to assess the success of the tactics.
The third phase entailed test-flying the missions in the Squadron Level Mission Trainer (SqLMT), which consists of two flight simulators that replicate the interior of the aircraft with a full flight simulation environment “dome” and a representation of the cockpit. Missions are flown in the simulators to keep costs down while practising the various tactical manoeuvres in conflict situations. The MSS and simulators were supplied by the Gripen manufacturers SAAB along with the aircraft.
Finally, when the capabilities of the Gripen aircraft are fully understood and the utilisation of the technology perfected, missions can be flown in the real aircraft with, of course, a substantial increase in costs.
The desktop alternative
The MSS and SqLMT simulators are located at the Makhado Air Force Base in Limpopo. Only pilots at the base can use the simulation facilities, as the MSS contains sensitive information that precludes general access. The practical limitations of using these facilities spurred the SAAF to look for an alternative, easy- access system that could be used freely. An effective mission simulator with which pilots could gain as much knowledge and understanding as possible in the first phase increases the efficiency and reduces the cost of the entire process, as the cost of each subsequent phase indicated previously grows exponentially.
The CSIR delivered the perfect solution. Pilots used the desktop tactical simulation tool on a portable but secure laptop to develop and define concepts before moving them to the MSS, SqLMT and finally the aircraft. This allowed pilots to understand the new technology in an environment that encouraged creative thinking.
Various individuals and defence organisations cooperated in developing the tool as the CSIR needed information from aircraft, missile and radar suppliers to simulate performance in the related areas. The eventual product was a group effort that combined the CSIR’s skills and knowledge with those from external sources.
The collaborative development of the desktop tactical simulation tool not only responded to a client’s need for an alternative solution, but once again exemplified the CSIR’s important role in bringing together different role players to, in this instance, optimise the efficient usage of the Gripen fighter aircraft.
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