A new generation of flight simulators some so realistic they have injured careless pilots - are being groomed for a revolution in military mission planning, according to defense industry specialists.
Future military raids, such as the precision attack on Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's residence in 1987, or the aborted hostage rescue mission inside Iran in 1980, would be rehearsed first in computer programmed simulators.Using satellite photographs and topographic imagery projected onto simulated cockpit windshields, pilots in the safety of their home base will be able to experience firsthand what they will see, hear and defend against during the actual attack.
"The ultimate would be to have a full force of combined arms simulators all in the same room - tanks, helicopters, fighter aircraft, ships and the command network - so they can rehearse the mission as a team," said Richard G. Adams, a spokesman for Link Flight Simulation, a division of the Link Corp.
The cause of such ambitious planning is the coming of age of a new generation of flight simulators. Some are realistic to the point they have left even veteran pilots breathless. And a few are more expensive than the aircraft they impersonate.
Simulators are expected to play an increasingly larger role in overall combat readiness as well as special missions. High technology has driven the cost of aircraft up. As a result, the services own fewer planes and can afford fewer flying hours.
There has also been a gradual shift in the mission of simulators. Instead of providing a way to give beginning pilots basic instructions, simulators are now built to serve as substitutes for the real thing as the armed forces struggle to curb costs in the post-Reagan era of defense spending.
"It's cheaper to run a simulator than it is to put an airplane in the sky," said Helen Kavanaugh, spokesperson for the Air Force's Aeronautical Systems Division at Wright- Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.
"They help us lessen fuel costs and maintenance costs, air pollution and noise pollution. Plus, they don't crash," Kavanaugh said.