Shifting Paradigms: Aerospace Simulation in the RCAF (RCAF Journal - WINTER 2015 - Volume 4, Issue 1)

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By Major Ryan Kastrukoff, MAS

“Economy of effort requires that minimum means and resources be expended or employed in areas other than where the main effort against the enemy is intended to take place.”[1] Aerospace simulation in the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) should follow the principle of economy of effort since we do not meet the enemy in a simulated world. Lieutenant-General Yvan Blondin, Commander of the RCAF, has stated, “I believe we can achieve better training through simulation and achieve operational savings. In doing so, we can extend the life of our aircraft, and, at the same time, reduce our carbon footprint. This is good for the RCAF operationally, and will also be good for Canada fiscally.”[2] The Commander’s intent, therefore, is to use economy of effort to achieve better training through aerospace simulation. To best achieve this intent, two paradigm shifts are required. First, the training paradigm must move away from using very few maximum-fidelity simulators and, instead, move toward more simulators with generally lower levels of fidelity, designed for more targeted training objectives. Second, the acquisition process for simulators must change to account for the explosion of software development capability now available in the marketplace.

The dominant use of simulation in the pilot-training system is for procedural training. During flying courses, the initial events of a phase will be conducted in high-fidelity simulators, focusing on procedures like switch selections, radio transmissions and basic flying mechanics. Dynamic manoeuvres are often not practiced in the simulator since the fidelity is not quite high enough to effectively demonstrate the visuals or the feel of the real aircraft. While procedural training is a valid use of simulators, it is not ideally efficient. In short, the simulator fidelity is less than what is required to replace flight hours for dynamic manoeuvring, but the fidelity is much higher than what is required to meet procedural training goals. This delta between training goal and simulator capability is wasted effort. In the place of one very high (but not quite high enough) fidelity simulator, we could instead develop many simulators whose fidelity better correlates to the training requirements. For example, there is only one flight simulator available for all the Phase 4 Hawk pilots in Cold Lake, and it is not networked to any other simulations or simulators. During Phase 4 Hawk training, the vast majority of student flights involve two or more aircraft. Without more than one simulator, the inter-plane crew dynamics cannot be effectively simulated. Meanwhile, a commercially available, multiplayer, combat-simulator video game could effectively practice the inter-plane crew dynamics at a drastically lower cost per hour.

The key to the next generation of simulation will be matching the fidelity to the stated aim(s). For example, a significant training objective for both forward air controllers (FACs) and fighter pilots is to develop the ability to “talk-on” the eyes of the pilot to the intended ground target. A low-fidelity simulation could easily meet this initial objective, reducing the need for expensive flight hours and/or higher fidelity simulator hours. A possible simulation would see the FAC at an Army base looking at Google Earth with a simulated eye level at the surface while the pilot at a distant Air Force base would look at the same Google Earth location with a simulated eye level at flight altitude. The two (and potentially their instructors) would then just need a phone call between them to practice the talk-on. This has the advantage of using different air-to-ground ranges around the world or even real-world combat zones for more realism in a lower fidelity simulation while still meeting the training objective.

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To match the fidelity requirements to the training aim(s) requires a closer link between personnel in the force-generation, force-employment, research and acquisition branches. Since the next generation of aerospace simulation is in its infancy, now is the time to examine what we could accomplish with modern simulation technology. There are many options beyond procedural training. By leveraging modern networking technology, larger simulation environments can be created for joint and combined training. Satellite imaging technology has effectively declassified air-weapons ranges (by making them open to near-real-time observation), but simulation could provide a secure means to train and develop classified tactics hidden from adversary view. The RCAF chain of command has recognized the increased potential for simulation;[3] however, the process can occur more quickly if the “pointy end” of the training system identifies efficiencies and informs the chain of command now.

The use of simulation is common across all RCAF operations. Air traffic control (ATC), aerospace control, command centres and flying units all use simulation for at least some of their training. The simulated world created for all of these different units is modelling the real world outside. Therefore, if we are all trying to model the same thing, we should be “flying in formation” and developing that world together. Instead of replicating an aircraft and simulating the parts of the world that are required, we could reverse the paradigm and replicate the world and simulate the parts of the aircraft that we need. Ultimately, the same laws of physics apply to all aerospace assets. This paradigm shift means that we build a common simulated world for everyone. By design, networking these worlds together later on could be trivial.

A common world would also allow for the simulation budgets of the different fleets and trades to be combined, reducing the overall cost of simulation for the RCAF. Each fleet or trade would define their training objectives and the modules of the simulated world that they need, and every other fleet/trade would benefit from the resulting modules. Transport could develop better weather models, ATC could develop better traffic models, tactical helicopters could develop better ground models and fighters could develop better electronic warfare (EW) models, but they each can plug in the upgrades developed at the request of the other fleets.

Common-world production would also create benefits for research and development interests, since a radar model built for a fighter simulator could have its fidelity increased, thus producing a research model. That same research model could then go back to the fighter community and be used in batch runs to develop better EW tactics, which then drives future research requirements.

This paradigm shift—from building the airframe first to building the world first—also opens up the contracting possibilities. The designer of the simulated-world model does not need specialized access to classified documents, allowing the bulk of the model creation to be contracted out to software-development firms, with separate subcontractors brought in to write the classified modules where required. The larger number of software-development firms now available for potential contracts should increase competition and lower cost, again improving overall efficiency.

Overall, the two paradigm shifts discussed above offer the potential for better training, better interoperability, better tactics and better research—all at a lower cost. Creating the simulated world first and adding modules on top ensures that future upgrades could also remain cost-effective while helping the RCAF fly in formation. This layered software-development model already exists in the commercial gaming industry and works well. A hammer is a good tool and will fix many problems. Over time, however, we’ve developed other tools to complement the hammer and achieve greater overall success. The old method of using a few very high-fidelity simulators to achieve our training goals is akin to the hammer. Improved software-design methods, networking capabilities, computer hardware and effects-based training objectives are the complementary tools that will allow us to achieve economy of effort and better, cheaper training through aerospace simulation.


Major Ryan Kastrukoff is currently posted to 419 TACTICAL Fighter (Training) Squadron as an instructor pilot. Born and raised in the Vancouver suburbs, he earned a Bachelor of Science in Physics and Computer Science from the University of Toronto before joining the RCAF. He subsequently earned a Master of Aeronautical Science in Space Science from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 2013. Major Kastrukoff has flown the CF188 Hornet, currently flies the CT155 Hawk and has deployed to Operation ATHENA, Operation PODIUM, Operation NOBLE EAGLE and northern sovereignty operations.

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ATC―air traffic control

EW―electronic warfare

FAC―forward air controller

RCAF―Royal Canadian Air Force


[1]. Canada, Department of National Defence, B-GJ-005-000/FP-001, Canadian Forces Joint Publication 01, Canadian Military Doctrine (Ottawa: Canadian Forces Experimentation Centre, 2011), 2-5.

[2]. Dave Wheeler, “Canada’s Future Fighter: A Training Concept of Operations,” Canadian Military Journal 13, no. 2 (2013): 68, accessed January 12, 2015,

[3]. “Aurora Aircraft Crews Use Simulation to Rehearse for Future Missions,” Major Sonia Dumouchel-Connock, Royal Canadian Air Force, accessed January 12, 2015,; and “Embracing the Future: RCAF Finds Solutions in Innovative Training Technologies,” Major Sonia Connock, Royal Canadian Air Force, accessed January 12, 2015,

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