Canadian Defence Review

October 31, 2015

CAE seeks to replicate Chinook training success
Boosted by its recent completion of the NFTC acquisition, this global training systems integrator is touting the Royal Canadian Air Force’s 450 Tactical Helicopter Squadron’s state-of the-art facility as a model for future pilot training in Canada and internationally.

One of the most common complaints in Canada’s defence industry relates to sluggish government support. This leaves contractors vulnerable when foreign procurement officials ask why they should buy Canadian wares, if their home country doesn’t. CAE does not have that problem.  

“We have a terrific relationship with the Department of National Defence,” said Gene Colabatistto, the company’s group president (defence and security) to a bevy international reporters at the recently opened Royal Canadian Air Force’s 450 Tactical Helicopter Squadron’s Chinook crew training center in early October. “Not only is this a great partnership, it also provides a perfect showcase for our capabilities, which we can use to further build business in other countries.”

A turnkey offering: simulators, services and support
The major innovation for CAE at the 450 Tactical Helicopter Squadron’s CH-147F training center, relates to its turnkey offering. The company provides the facility, which is located at Garrison Petawawa, two hours from Ottawa, with a range of bundled products and services. These include four simulators, ancillary materials, coupled with 20 years of in-service support. According to Mike Greenley, vice-president and general manager at CAE Canada, the comprehensive program will provide pilots, load masters and flight engineers with a range of skills they will need to operate the 15 CH-147F Chinook heavy-lift helicopters, acquired from Boeing, the last of which was delivered in 2014.

The CH-147F program, which was declared ready-for-training in late September, was partly modeled on a training environment set up at CFB Trenton for crew who will operate Canada’s CC-130J transports. Both programs include the provision of a state-of-the-art training information management system and related courseware, all of which are supported by CAE employees based on-site.

NFTC deal boosts service offering
CAE’s emergence as turnkey training systems integrator has been a gradual evolution. The company, which is most widely known for its flight simulators, has been growing its ancillary services offerings for years. Early last month the company took another key step in that direction, by completing the CDN $19.8 million acquisition of Bombardier’s military aviation training business.  Through the deal, which had been announced earlier in the year, CAE will oversee NATO Flying Training in Canada (NFTC) operations. The company will also take on an additional 200 employees, spread out around two major air bases: CFB Moose Jaw in Saskatchewan and CFB Cold Lake in Alberta.

According to Greenley, the NFTC acquisition positions CAE well to bid on Canada’s Future Pilot Training, because it provides the company with capabilities to offer both live and simulated environments. “It’s a delicate balance,” says the influential industry veteran, who also chairs the board of the Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries. “Simulation training has advanced to the point that many fixed-wing commercial and transport pilots can do almost all of their preparation in the simulators themselves. The first time many of them will fly an actual aircraft will be on an actual mission – though naturally, they will have a fully qualified pilot at their side when they do."

The Chinook flight officer training is both intensive and comprehensive, and the simulator/live flying balance is thus more heavily skewed toward the latter. Crew undergo four weeks of ground school and 4.5 months of flying lesson plans, including 50 sorties split up into four parts. Helicopters are far more complex to operate than fixed wing aircraft, but advances in simulation technology have been impressive. For example, at 450 Tactical Helicopter Squadron, pilots now do almost 60 percent of their flight training in simulators and 40 percent in the actual choppers.  

The NFTC acquisition, which comes on the heels of CAE’s recent win of a contract to provide fixed-wing training to US Army pilots, also gives the company substantially more credibility when it bids on other work here in Canada. For example Royal Canadian Air Force and Department of National Defence personnel will now have increased confidence that CAE recommendations to boost the simulator portion of a pilot’s training, come from an objective provider, that is not merely trying to increase its simulations business at the expense of a live flying (because the company now offers services in both areas).

Four simulators and a testimonial
The CH-147F Chinook training center program’s activities revolve around four CAE simulators. These include a tactical flight training device, a deployable tactical flight training device, an integrated gunnery trainer and a weapons systems trainer. The simulators, coupled with live flights, form the core of the Chinook pilot and ancillary personnel training, which also includes work on a night vision goggles trainer, and on CAE laptop/desktop “virtual simulators.”

However the Department of National Defence’s partnership with CAE isn’t restricted to the hardware that it bought, nor for the Operational Training Systems Provider contract, which it awarded the company to design and develop the training program. The country’s key military officials, both on and off the record, are also effusive in their praise. These recommendations go a long way towards building CAE’s reputation overseas.

“These simulators and the associated support, ranging from the initial course development, to the dynamic synthetic environments in which pilots train, are the best I have seen anywhere,” said LT. Col. Chris McKenna, the 450 Tactical Helicopter Squadron’s commanding officer. “Having CAE staff on-site is also a major advantage as they can make changes as needed, so we can improve as we go along.”

Combat and civilian defence roles
McKenna had better be right. Canada’s 15 Chinooks, are among its most important defence capabilities. Military personnel learned that lesson the hard way in Afghanistan, where Canadian troops were under constant threat from Taliban forces, who, in classic guerrilla tactics, hampered the movements of foreign occupation forces operating there, and caused numerous casualties. The original six Chinooks that Canada acquired for the Afghanistan deployment have since all been destroyed, sold or are being phased out of operations. This leaves the country with the 15 new choppers, the last of which was shipped last year, is its core heavy-lift helicopter capability.

According to DND the Chinooks, which are equipped with enhanced self-protection features, such as anti-missile protection systems, radar and laser warning systems and self defence machine guns, also play key domestic roles. These include providing mobility or logistical support to other government departments, law enforcement agencies and other civil authorities.

Advantages of simulation based training
CAE’s recent marketing push comes at a good time for the integrated training services provider, as it coincides with the need for cash strapped governments to get more value for the funds they spend on their armed forces. While third quarter GDP data had not been released at publication date, the Canada was in a recession for the first six months of the year, which will almost certainly put a big hole in revenue forecasts for the year as whole.

“Training virtually is far less expensive than training live,” points out Greenley, in a well-rehearsed speech that CAE officials have delivered to armed forces personnel around the globe. “It is also safer and, because simulators don’t burn fossil fuels, more environmentally friendly as well.”

Experts point out that modern simulation training packages are also highly comprehensive and immersive, and can be accessed literally 24 hours a day, seven days a week. These benefits will almost certainly catch the eye of the new Justin Trudeau administration, particularly that of Andrew Leslie, a former Lieutenant-General and one of the government’s key advisors on defence matters.  Leslie, who authored the highly-regarded Report on Transformation 2011, will be looking to push for more effective defence solutions, and could well be open to CAE’s ideas in this area.

Brunei, UAE, TPP: new international momentum
CAE’s international sales efforts got a big boost in recent weeks, in the wake of the signing of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, which will free up trade between 12 member nations, including Canada, the United States, Mexico and Japan. The company, which generates 93 percent of its revenues outside of Canada, already has sales, operations or joint ventures in all of these markets. CAE however stands to benefit further from the reduction in tariffs, other trade barriers and the quick growth in many of the emerging market signatories.

How these opportunities will play out on the defence side of the company’s operations is not immediately clear. Countries that do more businesses together on the civilian front tend to also gradually think more alike, and to grow their common interests. That often includes their defence postures. The work that CAE did on the CC-130J and CH-147 training facilities in Canada, as well as on similar facilities in Brunei and Kuwait, provides a convincing portfolio of successes to show potential clients.

RCAF Simulation Strategy 2025 brings new clarity
Here in Canada, CAE’s major medium to long-term opportunities lie in the support that it expects to provide the Royal Canadian Air Force as it implements the simulation strategy, which it unveiled earlier this year. “Their plan is to leverage live, virtual and constructive (LVX) domains within a common synthetic environment,” says Greenley. “The Chinook training facility is a great first step in that direction, because it provides both a tangible demonstration of the RCAF’s commitment to the process as well as guidance regarding what it expects its integration systems to deliver.”

Colabatistto agrees. “A long term vision is highly positive for Canadian industry,” he adds. “It demonstrates the RCAF’s broader commitment to simulation training, and provides us with guidance in our research and development as we now know what they expect us to deliver.”


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