Thursday, May 3, 2012

Concurrency - producing an aircraft as it is fielded

There are a couple of ways one could produce a fighter jet.  One production model would see the aircraft produced in a linear fashion. That is, it would go from concept to design to prototype to testing and fixing any deficiencies to finally production and training up of pilots and maintenance crews.  It is a model that has a very long lead time between concept and delivery.

The other is the production model the F-35 uses.  Concurrency.  In that model, all the steps following concept and design happen concurrently.  Or, said more simply, as the aircraft is being developed and tested, pilots and maintenance crews are training on it concurrently.  The advantage is that the new fighter is delivered to the field much more quickly than under the linear model.
Initial production examples of the fifth-generation fighter are now arriving at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., where the F-35 Integrated Training Center (ITC) has opened its doors to train initial groups of personnel. April marked the arrival of the first Lockheed-built Full Mission Simulator at Eglin, though full-scale training is scheduled to start in the fall. Pilots and maintenance instructors are already using maintenance, desktop and mission trainers in small-group training there.
The Eglin simulator incorporates a 360-degree visual display and a reconfigurable cockpit that can simulate all three variants: the conventional F-35A for the U.S. Air Force, the F-35B short-takeoff/vertical-landing variant for the Marine Corps and the carrier-capable F-35C for the Navy.
So as production ramps up, so does the vital training of pilots and maintainers.
Around 120 instructors — provided by the U.S. services and Lockheed Martin Global Training and Logistics — will train about 100 pilots plus 2,200 maintenance students annually.
Besides the three U.S. services, at least eight other nations that have purchased the F-35 will send pilots and ground crews to Eglin. The first overseas nations to begin training will be the U.K. and Netherlands, whose personnel will arrive later this year.
Home to a full spectrum of advanced courseware and technology, the ITC includes electronic classrooms, Pilot Training Aids, Full Mission Simulators and the aircraft themselves. In the pilots’ simulators, actual F-35 software is used to give students the most realistic experience possible and to allow software upgrades in step with F-35 development.
At Eglin’s F-35 Academic Training Center (ATC), students work with computer simulators that provide near-realistic interaction with the F-35, aided by a digital avatar, Elgin spokeswoman Maj. Karen Roganov said in an Air Force news release. Additional virtual training is provided on life-size mock-ups of F-35 components.
Time is critical in the fielding of any new fighter aircraft.  What concurrency allows is the sort of training outlined above.  But, say the critics, since much of the initial training is done on simulators, the same could be done if the aircraft were developed linearly.

Of course it could, but these skills a perishable and without the ability to actually use them on production aircraft (i.e. fly) as these pilots will this fall, it's really a waste of time.  Unless, of course, you plan on these pilots doing nothing else until the aircraft are delivered.  In the linear model, production could still be years off.

That is the trade-off.  Time for money.  Concurrency may cost more, but it delivers faster.  The difference between the two delivery models, if history is any indicator, could be as much as a decade.

That many years could mean the difference between cutting edge and obsolete.  While concurrency may cost more in the short run, its benefits to national security readiness far outweigh the costs.


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