By Airman 1st Class Leala Marquez, 56th Fighter Wing
/ Published February 19, 2020
An F-35A Lightning II flies by a prototype threat emitter Jan. 17, 2020, at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. The prototype, which was entered as a submission for the Air Force’s Spark Tank competition, was designed as a low-cost threat emitter system to be used in training for fifth-generation aircraft. The project, designed by two 56th Operations Support Squadron Airmen and an Arizona State University student, is a finalist in the third annual competition. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Leala Marquez)
A prototype threat emitter system is set up Jan. 17, 2020, at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. The team that designed the low-cost, mobile emitter system prototype, two 56th Operations Support Squadron Airmen and an Arizona State University student, is one of six teams to compete in the Air Force’s Spark Tank competition, Feb. 26-28, 2020. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Leala Marquez)
LUKE AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. -- Two 56th Operations Support Squadron Airmen and an Arizona State University student are one of six teams who are finalists in the Air Force's third annual Spark Tank competition.
The winner will be announced at the Air Force Association’ Air Warfare Symposium, Orlando, Fla., Feb. 26-28, 2020.
Judges for the competition selected Capt. David Coyle, 56th OSS weapons officer; 1st Lt. Adam Treece, 56th OSS intelligence readiness chief; and, Wylie Standage Beier, ASU electrical engineering PhD student, as finalists for their project ‘Making Waves.’ The Arizona-based team created a low-cost, mobile threat emitter system to be used in training for fifth-generation aircraft.
“The problem we currently face in the Air Force is being able to replicate threats at a large number,” said Coyle. “As we look towards the future fight that we’re likely going to be involved in, the number of threats we’re going to face on the battlefield are higher than what we’re able to replicate on our range. The solution we’ve come up with is to create a low-cost emitter.”
The Barry M. Goldwater Range in Arizona currently features four threat emitters and three Garmin radars. The emitters replicate surface-to-air missile systems equipped with a radar designed to track, shoot and guide a missile to a target. Military aircraft are equipped with sensors to detect the radar emissions and alert the pilot where the threat is and what it is doing.
“These other systems [at the range] are very large, difficult to move, require significant infrastructure and the cost is high,” said Treece. “With our system, because we are using commercially available equipment, the cost is much lower allowing us to bring more systems and more mobility due to its compact size.
Because the current systems are difficult to move, they are usually located in the same place, providing little variation in the training scenarios.
“How do you create a dynamic training scenario when the threat is in the same place it was yesterday, last week or even five years ago?,” said Coyle. “The new systems are going to increase our lethality and survivability overall because we’re going to be able to train against a larger number of threats that are going to more accurately represent what an adversary is capable of doing.”
Currently, the systems are designed for fifth-generation aircraft: F-35A Lightning II and F-22 Raptor; and, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft.
The threat emitter shows great promise as an asset at the range, and it made the top six overall in the Air Force after surviving the wild card round.
Out of 214 submissions from participating MAJCOMs, eight projects were selected to automatically enter the top ten. Forty-five entries that were not selected were rolled into a wild card pool, where two selections were made to complete the top ten. The 10 submissions were then judged by Air Force leadership to select a final six submissions.
Coyle said the individuals who developed top six Spark Tank ideas are going to the Air Force Association Warfare Symposium in Orlando. They will present their project to the Secretary of the Air Force Barbara M. Barrett, Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. David L. Goldfein, Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright and Elon Musk, SpaceX chief executive officer.
Training pilots in environments that mimic real contingencies is essential to maintaining air superiority, said Treece. By creating a system that can provide pilots more realistic training, 56th OSS and ASU set an example of changing the Air Force from within the 56th Fighter Wing.
“It’s been an awesome opportunity to learn,” said Treece. “I’m thankful that our leadership has been supportive and they’ve allowed us this opportunity. We always believed in this idea and to have an opportunity to prove it, would be tremendous.”