The Gripen User Group is a forum for cooperation between the countries which operate the Gripen fighter, i.e. Sweden, Hungary, the Czech Republic and South Africa. Now Thailand too is on its way into the community. The virtual combat between Swedes, Hungarians, and Czechs took place last week between Tuesday and Friday. The various nations trained together at the Swedish Air Force Air Combat Simulation Centre (FLSC) in Kista, in the outskirts of Stockholm. There FOI, the Swedish Defence Research Agency, has an impressive facility for practicing tactics in air combat.
“Here we have the ability to develop our tactical knowledge together,” says Major Peter Wiklund from Norrbotten Wing who is one of the hosts for the exercise.
The facility consists of eight advanced flight simulators with large sphere-shaped screens linked together in a network. The sphere-shaped screen gives the pilot the illusion of having the horizon all around him. The simulators have the same combat functionality as the Gripen itself, except for the emergency systems. In the spacious combat hall there is also a large projector screen and armchairs from which one can look down from above on all the aircraft taking part and listen via headsets to the radio communications between the pilots and fighter controllers.
“These simulators are not used for the purpose of teaching pilots to fly but to train them in combat tactics and mission planning,” says fighter controller Niclas Lagerbäck who works as a liaison officer at FLSC.
The pilots have missions assigned to them and some are given the role of enemy forces. The pilots then plan the mission, decide on the tactics and execute the mission. Afterwards the recorded combat scenario is replayed on the big screen so the pilots have an opportunity to review the battle and evaluate what was good and where there is still room for improvement.
“The Gripen system can accept and present large amounts of information. Here the pilots are given the opportunity to handle and sort all this information in a safe environment,” says Niclas Lagerbäck.
The simulators can also be programmed so that the Gripen pilots can pit themselves against foreign fighters if they want to. Changing armament is just as easy.
“It’s certainly a big money saver to conduct these scenarios in this way rather than in real life. Here every pilot gets the opportunity to practice large scale operations free from the complications of other air traffic in up to eleven sorties in a week, something that otherwise could only be done during specific live exercises involving the closing of large areas of airspace. Added to this the pilots can fire unlimited amounts of ammunition and missiles without it costing a penny,” says Peter Wiklund.