Meggitt Training Systems is a leading supplier of integrated live fire and simulation weapons training systems for defence forces, law enforcement agencies and commercial shooting range owners around the world. At the AUSA Annual Meeting & Exposition, ESD had the opportunity to talk to Johnathan Ayala, Virtual Systems Sales Manager, and Jon Read, Director Live Fire Sales & Programs at Meggitt Training Systems.
ESD: Meggitt Training Systems comprises the two brands Caswell and FATS. How is your work shared between these two entities?
Ayala: We are 50:50. We work hand in hand every day with FATS virtual systems and live fire ranges serving the same customers, such as the allied military forces, law enforcement and commercial shooting range owners. We provide both sides of their training, simulation and live fire, as they all go hand in hand. Typically, Meggitt’s virtual training is presented first to get the trainees up to speed. Then they move on to live fire training using real ammunition.
ESD: Is there a tendency for simulation to replace the live fire training, or is this still really just a complement?
Ayala: Virtual systems complement live fire training. It’s typically about cost savings on the front end with simulation, saving the customer time, logistics, and the cost of ammunition. That‘s the goal. Meggitt Training Systems increases the students‘ marksmanship proficiency with virtual technology. Once they’re qualified on the virtual system, the trainee moves on to live-fire training. That’s where the rubber meets the road.
ESD: So there has not been a shift towards more simulation during the recent years?
Ayala: When FATS first introduced virtual weapons training to the world in 1984, it was a huge deal. We’ve seen ups and downs over the years, but recently it has spiked up again with the advancing technologies. And with everybody leaning towards virtual training as a measurable cost savings, it has definitely picked up. Plus with the FATS systems, you can perform after action reviews on the trainees to see their weapon trace, cant, butt pressure and so much more. The diagnostics you get on a virtual system provide invaluable information to the trainer, allowing them to help the recruit so much more than before.
ESD: To go back a bit in this history, the Meggitt group serves a broad range of rather diverse markets, and traditionally military training was none of them. Why was the decision taken to expand into that field?
Read: As I stated earlier, FATS introduced virtual weapons training to the world in 1984, with the primary customer being law enforcement. After the military saw the innovation and technological advancements of the system, they decided to move their training to simulation as a starting point. Obviously, the synergies with Meggitt’s other defence activities helped us reach this market.
ESD: Does that mean Training Systems cooperates a lot with the Defence Systems (MDSI) division within the Meggitt group?
Read: On the live fire side, Meggitt Defence Systems has some radar scoring systems they use for aircraft scoring and we do partner internationally with them to work on existing live fire ranges and new products. So we do work together with MDSI from the targetry scoring perspective. We have the radar scoring, the infantry scoring, and the armour scoring. All three of those products really fit well together on the large live fire multipurpose ranges.
ESD: Let us stay on the live fire side for a moment. Showcasing a Stationary Infantry Target (SIT) at AUSA at first glance does not look too exciting. So what are its peculiar features?
Read: Yes, it is pretty utilitarian from the perspective of “it goes up and down, it turns side to side“. But it has to be robust, it has to last. There is a requirement with the US Army that we have to sustain that product for twenty plus years. So it is a robust product, it is IP 67, and what makes our product unique compared to other products is that ours is fully compatible with existing ranges with equipment on them that may be 10 or 15 years old. We can actually take our new generation targetry and add that in to supplement these old ranges. Because they can all work in concert together. So this is an advantage for Meggit Training Systems.
ESD: And you have the LOMAH (Location of Miss and Hit) system. Is this an integral part of the SIT, or is it a modular design?
Read: It is definitely modular. You can add it or subtract it. It actually can stand alone without the SITs. But it scores any small arms projectiles that are travelling faster than the speed of sound. You can shoot these at a thousand, two thousand metres, as long as the velocity of the round is supersonic. And that scoring system is accurate up to 5 millimetres.
And it gives an instant feedback on the student station, so wherever the shooters are shooting from, they will have a display that will give them immediate results of that round once it crosses over the sensor, so they can make adjustments to whether it is their optics or the way they are shooting or the trigger squeeze, whatever it may be, to be more accurate.
ESD: On the simulator side you are presenting the FATS 100MIL. Can you tell us a few words about that and its specific characteristics?
Ayala: It is related to programmes of records for the US Army and the US Marine Corps. They use our simulators for their qualification and practices in basic and advanced marksmanship. The FATS 100MIL is our COTS system for other militaries that also want to train on simulator systems. We use our patented BLUEFIRE weapons that communicate wirelessly with the FATS system. The BLUEFIRE weapon knows when you load the magazine, and when you load a round in the chamber. When you fire all the rounds out, it will lock back to the rear, causing the student to handle the weapon exactly like they would a live fire weapon, but now in a virtual environment. So now the student can practice everything with ballistics included into it, and accurately on a simulator.
We also have a portable virtual system that you can literally pack up and move, set up in a classroom in 15 minutes, train your soldiers, and pack it up again. This is ideal if the framework is not there, because you do not have to build a specific room for it. You can of course permanently mount it if you wish. We can train any small arms: pistols, rifles, machine guns, rocket launchers, even mortar systems. This is really important, because mortars are very expensive. You have a 30-man mortar team, and each live shot for example here in the US costs US$250, times thirty. So you are only going to give each person one shot, that is it, and they cannot learn from it, because they need multiple repetitions. We can replicate all that, which means cost savings for every user around the world, that is where they benefit.
ESD: So the BLUEFIRE system can be attached to live weapons or how does it work?
Ayala: It is integral. What we do is we take apart a live fire weapon and permanently modify the insides to utilise our proprietary BLUEFIRE sensors, pneumatics, and laser to communicate with the system. And we can integrate almost every weapon system. We have 300 BLUEFIRE weapon variants available today.
ESD: Speaking about the overall market for training systems again: You won a big contract for the US armed forces. Where are your other core markets?
Ayala: It is very broad, because we have the main large military forces, smaller military units which have their own funds, and law enforcement. Our customers are the UK MoD, Canada, Italy, Belgium, Singapore, the UAE, Australian Defence Forces, and in South America with Paraguay, Chile, Brazil, Argentina and Mexico.
Read: For live fire we have made good successes in Europe this year with Lithuania and Latvia. We are going to do a demo with the German Army soon, and we are building systems now for the UK MoD. In Morocco we are installing a very large outdoor military training facility. Of course, in the Middle East we are probably the number one supplier for live fire indoor and outdoor ranges.
ESD: A final question: With the level of technology achieved today, what is still to be expected for the future?
Ayala: The virtual market is looking at the transition into virtual reality (VR). And it is always about quality. You can have a lot of similar products, but obviously the one with the best quality is the superior product. We at Meggitt Training Systems, as the leader in live fire and simulation training around the world, are also leaders in innovation, and we want to continue that. So if the next step is VR, we definitely will be going forward there.
Read: In the live fire arena, today we have unmanned aircraft, drones, and robotic autonomous “soldiers“, and targets. I have heard from several officers in the Army that they are going to start transitioning the existing infantry ranges to more robot-type training. Autonomous or robotic targets that are controlled from a distance for me is probably the future for live fire. That is ten or fifteen years from now, but with the technology advancements of robots and autonomy, it is right in front of us.
The interview was conducted by Andreas Himmelsbach.