KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M., Oct. 28 -- F-16 pilots participating in a computerized war-game exercise this week will be armed with a simulated laser cannon developed by the Air Force Research Laboratory.
During the exercise, called Advanced Concepts Event (ACE), pilots will use the newly developed laser-armed F-16 simulator to better prepare for aerial combat once laser weapons become available. The simulator also allows Air Combat Command to develop tactics, techniques and procedures that will be needed in laser battles.
Being held at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico, ACE incorporates simulators from throughout the country, networked to Kirtland. Officials said the event offers the intensity of real exercises, providing participants the opportunity to test future weapon systems in a war-games format. ACE is available to all the military services.
The F-16 laser simulator -- known as the high-energy laser (HEL) fighter -- was developed with assistance from F-16 pilots assigned to the New Mexico Air National Guard, another Kirtland-based unit.
"We started this effort nearly four years ago," said Rudy Martinez, the HEL Fighter project officer at the Directed Energy Directorate. "We wanted to merge an F-16 simulator with a laser weapon system so that a pilot could blend flying experience with the skills needed to operate a revolutionary speed-of-light weapon."
According to Martinez, "A pilot would fly his F-16 differently in a laser battle compared to a more traditional fight using guns or missiles. With guns and missiles, a pilot has to maneuver to approach a target from behind or from the side. But with a laser weapon that pilot can have more latitude. That's because the laser is mounted on a turret underneath the plane. The turret can fire the laser 35 degrees to either side of straight ahead so the pilot doesn't have to do as much maneuvering.
"Working as a team, we put together a pretty good simulator," said Martinez. "But we still needed to get it into the hands of Air Combat Command operators to get feedback on how well it works, whether it was realistic enough or not. So we transitioned it to a facility in Mesa, Ariz., called the Warfighter Training Research Division of the Human Effectiveness Directorate, which as four F-16 simulators. By loading all four simulators with our model, we were able to fly multiple, simulated, laser-armed aircraft in a single battle."
The simulators at Mesa are also more sophisticated than the ones at Kirtland; they can incorporate a 360-degree "out of the cockpit" view in their simulations.
Improvements to HEL Fighter are in the works, including more precise targeting mechanisms. A laser-armed fighter aircraft is still a few years away. Also under development are solid-state lasers in the 100,000-watt range and compact electrical sources that can power high-energy laser weapons. Until then, Martinez said, that experience will only be available through simulators like the HEL Fighter and exercises such as ACE.
For more information, visit: www.de.afrl.af.mil/pa