25 février 2019 | Local, Aérospatial

Canada takes initial step in modernizing fighter aircraft training ranges


The federal government has issued a notice for a proposed procurement that would ultimately see the modernization of RCAF fighter aircraft training ranges.

The government is looking to develop a road map for the modernization of RCAF fighter aircraft training ranges, and to allow for the creation of what it is calling Live-Virtual-Constructive (LVC) training and experimental environments. Details of the proposed procurement were released last week to industry.

The road map for the modernization will include the Cold Lake Air Weapons Range and Bagotville training ranges as primary ranges, and other air training ranges including and not limited to, Gagetown, Wainwright, Valcartier, Nanoose and Suffield as secondary ranges, according to the government notice.

In December, Postmedia reported that the RCAF was postponing its major exercise in 2019 at Cold Lake as it brings in improvements to its fighter jet base in Alberta.

Exercise Maple Flag, which was to take place in Cold Lake, Alta., is the premier air force training event that allows pilots to test their skills with scenarios similar to “real-world” operations.

But Royal Canadian Air Force commander Lt.-Gen. Al Meinzinger announced in December that Maple Flag won’t be held next year as the service brings in improvements to the base and range that are designed to boost training for both Canada and its allies.

Col. Paul Doyle, commander of 4 Wing at Cold Lake, told Postmedia the new infrastructure will eventually include a specialized facility to allow for larger classified planning sessions, briefings and debriefings about missions. In addition, work will be done on new communications systems, data links and upgrades to the threat emitter pods that are on the base’s weapons range.

Maple Flag is primarily conducted in the Cold Lake Air Weapons Range, a training area of more than a million hectares, located about 70 kilometres north of Cold Lake.

It is a major effort for European air forces and those from other nations to come to northern Alberta for the training and Canada’s allies, while still keen to train there, have noted the need for improvements at the base, according to military officers.

“Infrastructure-wise, it’s to have the facilities to allow us together to plan, brief and debrief at a classification level that allows us and our allies to maximize our training on a large force employment exercise,” Doyle said in December.

Computer networks will be improved and the Air Combat Manoeuvering Instrumentation (ACMI) System will be upgraded, he added.

The ACMI system is capable of simulating air-to-air, air-to-surface, and surface-to-air weapons employment with real-time monitoring capabilities as they relate to actual aircraft position. The ACMI system was developed by Cubic Global Defense and first installed in 1982, according to the RCAF. It was upgraded in 2003.

There are two main components of an ACMI system: the instrumentation pods and the tactical display system. The mobile pods contain the avionics that track and record aircraft events and position. The display system allows its users to control, track, and monitor the exercise as it happens, and provide mission debriefs upon completion, according to the RCAF.

“We want to make (the systems) more robust, better connected,” Doyle said. “That is something we can benefit from on a daily basis” in addition to improving future Maple Flags.

“Threats are evolving and modernizing,” Doyle explained. “We want to make sure we’re on that leading edge.”

He declined to get into specifics about various threats air crews are facing but Doyle did highlight the development of integrated air defence systems that some nations are putting in place.

Some social media posts have indicated the Maple Flag postponement was due to a lack of Canadian pilots and fighter jets or delays in Canada receiving new aircraft. But Doyle said such claims don’t reflect reality. “Do we have shortages? Sure. But this in no shape or way has anything to do with that,” he added.

Officials at Cold Lake have been advocating for several years for the improvements so as to continue to attract allied nations to Maple Flag and to keep the RCAF’s own training regime up to date.