A Simulated Reality

Embracing technology, the IAF is increasingly opting for state-of-the-art training systems

Atul Chandra

The IAF’s need for a steady stream of trained pilots is now greater than ever before as it is faced with maintaining a high-tempo operational posture on the country’s western and northern borders. By the end of this decade, the IAF would have largely overhauled its entire training infrastructure with a strong focus on simulators and the ability to have them operate in concert with one another, regardless of their geographical location.

Air Marshal R.K.S Bhadauria posing with then AOC-in-C Western Air Command, Air Marshal B Suresh with the pilots of the first Rafale to arrive in India

The IAF is at the forefront of induction of state-of-the-art training systems and simulators across all three services and while there remain challenges related to basic training (FORCE, August 2021), the induction of modern fixed-wing and rotary-wing types has brought with it a strong emphasis on simulator-based training.


Thrust Towards Simulation

The IAF in all its recent aircraft and helicopter procurements has made it mandatory to include Fixed Base Full Mission Simulators (FBS), Cockpit Procedure Trainers (CPT), Avionics Part Task Trainer (APTT), Flight Training Devices (FTD) and Computer-aided learning systems.

While simulation-based training has been incorporated in growing numbers with the induction of training aircraft such as the BAE Systems Hawk Mk132 and Pilatus PC-7 MKII over the past decade, it is the induction of the Rafale F3-R which has brought with it the greatest change to the IAF’s training infrastructure for operational squadrons. Other new platforms such as the C-17 Globemaster III, AH-64 I, CH-47D from Boeing and Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules have also modernised the way the IAF trains its operational pilots.

The IAF order for 36 Rafales as part of the Euro7.8 billion contract inked in September 2016, included an initial consignment of weapons along with Performance Based Logistics (PBL) maintenance support, simulators, training, and associated equipment. The IAF’s Rafale simulators have an initial two-year warranty, following which Dassault Aviation has been contracted to provide 10 years of support. Sogitec, a Dassault Aviation company is the prime contractor for supply of Rafale flight simulators and training systems for the IAF. The offset provision of the deal which is worth 50 per cent of the value of the aircraft and weapons package, does not include simulator annual maintenance and PBL.

Dassault completed training of IAF personnel in France, which included pilots, technicians, and engineers, in April. The IAF will also likely have upgrades to its simulators to cater for some of the training associated with the 13 ‘India Specific Enhancements’ (ISE) requested by it. The Rafale simulator cockpit recreates a highly realistic environment for Rafale pilots, to fly individual or collective missions in a complex tactical environment, including air combat, ground attacks, in-flight refuelling, take-offs, and landings which are simulated in various weather conditions.

The Rafale training centres in France were jointly developed by Thales, Sogitec and Dassault Aviation. Of the two training centres in France, the simulation centre in Saint-Dizier undertakes flight training for the French Air Force, while the second one at the Landivisiau base is dedicated to the Aéronavale. These two simulation centres can function together as a network in order to complete all joint training procedures.

The IAF’s upgraded Mirage 2000 I/TI fleet also have access to upgraded simulators with Sogitec delivering a new Weapon System Maintenance Trainer (WSMT) to the IAF’s Technical Type Training (TETRA) centre at Gwalior in July 2015. The IAF also has an older Fixed Base Full Dome Mirage 2000 Mission Simulator supplied by HALBIT. The IAF operates a large fleet of close to 330 Su-30MKIs and MiG-29 UPGs. The IAF is said to have a total of six Full Mission Simulator’s (FMS) for its Su-30MKI fleet and Bengaluru-based Alpha Design Technologies Ltd. (ADTL) is also upgrading the MiG-29 Fixed Base FMS at Adampur Air Force Station (AFS). ADTL will operate the MiG-29 FMS under a Build, Own and Maintain (BOM) contract.

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