Ground-based air defence trainees during a training session in the VRAR simulator - a system which enables trainees to see aircraft approaches in 3D, enhancing training realism.(photo : Mindef)
Identifying Aircraft in 3D for More Realistic TrainingAn aircraft whizzed past, with the sound of its engines and its silhouette peeping out of the cloud cover for a second before it disappears again. In that short span of time, I had to identify exactly what aircraft it was, a task made all the more difficult by the rain which further obscured my vision.
An instructor asked the class what aircraft it was that they saw. To a pair of untrained eyes like mine, it could well be any fighter aircraft. I keep mum and look down in the hope that the instructor would not single me out. Thankfully, a trainee who was in the same room said, "That is an F-16, sir!" before rambling out a list of possible weapons it could be carrying, nothing more than a string of numbers and abbreviations to an outsider like me.
This exchange took place at the Virtual Reality Aircraft Recognition (VRAR) simulator, which is used as a teaching tool for ground-based air-defence trainees at the newly inaugurated Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) Air Force Training Command (AFTC).
Trainees are tasked to correctly identify aircraft - right down to the possible armaments the aircraft could be carrying - that appear on the screen. Due to the speed of the aircraft and weather conditions which can obscure their vision, these airmen only get a glimpse of the aircraft before reporting the incident to their respective headquarters.
The VRAR simulator provides a three-dimensional environment to train airmen to identify and detect aircraft, under varying day and weather conditions. Trainees sit in tiered seats like in a movie theatre, to view images of aircraft while wearing 3D goggles.
Instructors operating the VRAR simulator are able to call up varying weather conditions and aircraft at will, for a more realistic training environment. The instructors are also able to call up multiple aircraft, thereby upping the difficulty level. Corresponding sounds such as clapping thunder and heavy rain, together with the roar of aircraft engines are accurately reproduced in the VRAR - much akin to the conditions that ground-based air defence trainees will eventually face when they head to the units after their stint at the AFTC.
"The VRAR allows trainees to see the aircraft approach in 3D and the experience is as close to the real thing as possible. Since it is a simulator,we are able to recreate almost any environment or landscape we need," said Lieutenant-Colonel (LTC) Fong Kok Wai, Commander Ground Based Air Defence School (GBad School) at the AFTC.
The VRAR is a marked improvement over the older systems used to train ground-based air defence operators. In the past, trainees were shown images from 35mm slides.
The use of advanced technology to provide holistic and effective basic training for trainees will be a key feature in the AFTC, which was set up in July 2009. Comprised of two training institutes, the Flying Training Institute and the Air Warfare Institute, the AFTC will be responsible for training related to both manned and unmanned platforms operated by the RSAF.
In addition, there is a Training Development Group under the AFTC umbrella which will plan curriculum and also explore new instructional training methods to further enhance the courses conducted within the AFTC.
In fact, one of the AFTC's novel instructional methods - a learner-centric approach - has already won over Lieutenant (LTA) John Samuel, an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) pilot trainee who has been in training since Nov 2009.
"It's a two-way learning experience here at AFTC and I feel that instructors are genuinely concerned about our progress," said LTA Samuel, who will graduate to become an UAV pilot in July.
Most trainees at the AFTC are also provided with laptop computers for their personal study or research towards projects they have to complete.
The AFTC inauguration parade held on 22 Mar was officiated by Minister for Education and Second Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen.
"The creation of the AFTC will enhance the RSAF's ability to produce and train highly professional and competent 3rd Generation airmen for the RSAF," said Dr Ng during his speech at the ceremony.
The AFTC follows the RSAF's transformation into five mission-oriented functional commands in 2008.
It will bring foundational training for manned and unmanned flying, ground-based air defence, command, control and communications and engineering vocations, to support the RSAF's operational commands.