Thunderbolts, ASU strive to innovate, enhance pilot training
Story by SrA Caleb Worpel on 06/04/2019
LUKE AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. Intel Airmen assigned to the 56th Operations Support Squadron have been working in conjunction with community partners from Arizona State University to develop an innovative prototype to enhance fighter pilot training.
The project, referred to as Making Waves’, is utilizing software defined radios, which is software on a personal computer or other embedded system, to create a radar emitter with the ability to replicate various training scenarios and aid in Luke Air Force Base’s daily mission.
Capt. David Coyle, 56th OSS weapons officer explained that the goal of Making Waves is to take advantage of new technologies with greater functionality, restore readiness and cost-effectively modernize training. Making Waves has the potential to be adapted for use on multiple platforms operating at various, diverse training ranges.
“A few of us from the intel team developed the idea after learning about the new technology,” said Coyle. “After some initial research, we wondered if we could use technology like this here to enhance pilot training. We had found many academic papers describing the use of SDRs as radars so we thought we may be able to create a radar emitter that replicates various threats at a low-cost.”
Coyle explained that there are currently only a small number of traditional emitters being used operationally at Luke. The Barry M. Goldwater Range only has four static threat emitters to train pilots on a daily basis. These emitters cost millions of dollars to purchase, operate, maintain and are supplemented with navigation radars that are mounted on trailers to further simulate the threat environment.
2nd Lt. Daniel Treece, 56th OSS intelligence readiness chief, explained that after exhaustive research with the Making Waves team, a second opinion was needed to further explore bringing the innovative idea to life.
“We looked for someone in academia to give us their thoughts and found that ASU was doing work with the same type of equipment,” said Treece. “Our research showed that the Center for Wireless Information Systems [staff] and Computational Architecture at ASU, and its director Dr. Daniel Bliss, were experts in this field, so we reached out to them.”
Bliss thought that this was a great idea and he was surprised no one had already done something similar. After discussing details on how to move forward with the project, the team was eventually invited out to tour a laboratory with Bliss where the project would begin to take shape.
“We worked together with Dr. Bliss and team members from ASU to get an initial, very basic prototype that convinced us this was actually possible,” Coyle explained.
As the team from Luke began working on this project, Airmen from the Range Management Office and the Air Combat Command Training Support Squadron Detachment 9 got involved.
Most notably, members of the AFWERX hub in Las Vegas became involved in the project and invited the Luke team to develop and build a deployable prototype to prove the initial concept in early March 2019.