Warplanes: China Rolls Its Own Combat Flight Sims

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October 11,2008:  Six years ago, China began introducing flight simulators for its military pilots. It now has about a hundred of them, although most are crude by Western standards. That is, they are, for the most part, not full motion simulators (with electrical motors realistically moving the cockpit around and a dome over the replica cockpit, showing other aircraft and the terrain below.) China already has sixty of these, mainly for commercial aircraft. But these can also provide training for pilots of military transports. But simulator training for military pilots is seen as critical for the future success of Chinese warplanes.

The biggest threat to American air superiority is not Russia selling high performance combat aircraft to countries like China, but the development of really inexpensive flight simulators. Over the last decade, computers have become a lot cheaper, and the graphics capability of these machines has skyrocketed. That's important in bringing the cost of realistic flight simulators down to a level that any country can afford.

Until a decade ago, a realistic combat flight simulator cost about as much as the aircraft it was simulating. While that did reduce the cost (per "flying" hour) of pilots practicing, it was not enough of a savings to make it practical for less wealthy countries to get these simulators and use them heavily. Thus we had a continuation of the situation where countries could scrape together enough money to buy high performance aircraft, but not enough to pay for all that flight time needed to make their pilots good enough to face the Americans. The new generation of simulators cost up to a tenth of the price of the aircraft they simulate. Suddenly, countries like China can buy dozens of simulators, and give their pilots enough realistic training to make them a threat in the air (at least to Western pilots).

Each of these simulators can be run about 6,000 hours a year. While a hundred hours a year in a simulator isn't a complete replacement for actual air time, it's close enough if the training scenarios are well thought out. And another 40-50 hours of actual air time gives you a competent pilot. Add another few hundred hours using commercial (game store bought) flight simulators (especially when played in groups via a LAN), and you have some deadly pilots. The Chinese have, since the 1990s, stressed the use of PCs as a foundation for cheaper and more powerful simulators. Now they have an opportunity to really cash in on this insight.

 

 


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