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F-35 countdown: Lower simulator cost to support pilot training and mission readiness

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Lockheed Martin has announced a price reduction for the F-35’s Full Mission Simulator (FMS) by US$3 million per unit, enabling F-35 pilots to get combat and mission ready quicker and cheaper, as production costs drop for both the airframe and support infrastructure.

To date, more than 700 pilots have completed training in the FMS. Comprised of 15 simulators, the low rate initial production (LRIP) 11 generates about $45 million savings for the F-35 program.

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F-35 production teams at Lockheed Martin Training and Logistics Solutions (TLS) achieved these unit price reductions through several measures, including:

  • Executing long-term supply chain contracts and employing automation on the production line; and
  • Leveraging advanced manufacturing techniques, highlighted by the integration of 3D printed simulator parts including component housings and brackets.

Amy Gowder, TLS vice president and general manager, said, "We're serious about driving out costs and excited to generate continued production savings across all our programs using advanced manufacturing."

The F-35 FMS provides pilots with a 360-degree visual display system, which accurately represents all the sensors and weapons fitted to the F-35 and uses the same software as the aircraft, the system can be uniquely configured to train pilots on all three variants of the F-35:

  • F-35A (CTOL): The conventional take-off and landing (CTOL) variant, to be operated by Australia, the US, Japan, Korea and a number of other allies;
  • F-35B (STOVL): The short take-off, vertical landing (STOVL) variant, to be operated by the US, UK, Italy and Japan; and
  • F-35C: The aircraft carrier variant designed to take-off from US Navy aircraft carriers and land using trap mechanisms on the deck of the vessels.

The FMS provides an affordable training option for F-35 pilots and commanders, with pilots completing roughly half of their initial qualification flights in the FMS, while after graduation, pilots remain in a continuous learning environment with access to training courseware as part of the FMS suite in order to maintain and enhance skill proficiency and combat readiness. 

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"In addition to our production savings, we're investing more than $30 million through 2020 to reduce F-35 training sustainment costs while increasing concurrency and capability," Gowder said. 

The $30 million sustainment investment includes:

  • Modernising the virtual training environment based on emerging threats and needs of F-35 operators;
  • Reducing costs by infusing new technologies to shrink hardware and software footprints in the computing and visual infrastructure, automating support tasks and reducing manpower support requirements; and
  • Driving continuous concurrency between the training system and the F-35 aircraft. 

The F-35 Training System supports continuation, upgrade and mission rehearsal training for qualified F-35 pilots. While the high-fidelity of the F-35 FMS allows pilots to split their training regimes 50/50, with 50 per cent of their training hours logged in the actual aircraft and 50 per cent of their training hours logged in the FMS. 

F-35 training milestones for 2019 include the initial distributed mission training (DMT) capability and Block 4 training system upgrades. DMT allows physically separated aviators to train together and enables interoperability with fourth-generation platforms in a virtual environment.

The F-35 FMS serves as one of three individual training components for the F-35 platform, which include:

  • F-35 FMS The primary, high-fidelity training simulator;
  • Deployable Mission Rehearsal Trainer (DMRT): Designed to be placed onboard aircraft carriers and deployed austere sites to provide continuation and mission rehearsal training; and
  • Mission Rehearsal Trainer (MRT): A small footprint trainer that shares common hardware and software systems with the FMS, but incorporates a limited visual display system.
F-35 countdown: Lower simulator cost to support pilot training and mission readiness
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