Warplanes: Pakistani Pilots Play To Survive


August 12, 2011: Pakistan has purchased a wonder-weapon for its F-16s. It’s not what you think, like ten more recently ordered upgrade kits, to convert its older F-16s from Block 15 configuration to Block 40 (about halfway to the highest upgrade level for an F-16). This is called the MLU (Mid-Life Upgrade). More important was an order for one of the new, low cost, 360 degree, high definition, full color video F-16 flight simulators. Called SimuSphere, this system uses 18 digital projectors, controlled by flight simulator software, to enable the user, sitting in a realistic F-16 cockpit replica, to try out all sorts of stuff, including emergency procedures and extreme combat moves that are too dangerous to do in an actual aircraft. Aircraft simulators have gotten better and cheaper over the last two decades. Back in the 1990s, a high end flight simulator like this cost about as much as the aircraft it was simulating. Now the cost is less than ten percent of the aircraft cost. And the flight simulator can be run 20 hours a day, seven days a week.

While the F-16 upgrades are important, affordable simulators are even more important. Fuel and spare parts for aircraft are expensive, and Pakistan is poor. Thus high-end simulators are a cost-effective way to improve pilot skills without spending money the air force doesn’t have.

The F-16 can function as a bomber and ground attack aircraft, although not as effectively as the air force folks would have you believe. It can carry four tons of bombs. In air-to-air combat, it has shot down 69 aircraft so far, without losing to enemy warplanes. It was originally designed as a cheaper alternative to the heavier F-15. Pilots don’t need much training to drop smart bombs, but air-to-air skills still require a lot of air time. That’s where SimuSphere becomes invaluable.  

For the last two years, Pakistani F-16s have been heavily used in the tribal territories, along the Afghan border, dropping smart and dumb bombs, and giving the pilots experience using targeting pods. This is the first combat experience the Pakistani F-16s have received. But the big threat, as Pakistan sees it, is Indian jet fighters, and being able to handle well trained Indian pilots. SimuSphere helps Pakistan get ready for that. While SimuSphere may seem like the ultimate computer game, these high-fidelity sims have proved capable of markedly improving combat skills.



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