The Air Force Is Using a Training Simulator Straight Out of ‘Top Gun’

The Air Force Is Using a Training Simulator Straight Out of ‘Top Gun’

Top Gun: Maverick showcases many cutting-edge systems, including a lesser-known simulator training technology called the P5 Combat Training System (P5CTS).


Top Gun: Maverick features a number of advanced technologies in an effort to advance beyond the now-retired F-14 Tomcats featured in the original 1980s classic. As a result, there are many cutting-edge systems on display in the movie, including a lesser-known simulator training technology called the P5 Combat Training System (P5CTS).

Cubic Mission and Performance Solutions is behind the P5CTS. Cubic also produced the P5 System Security Update (SSU), which is an encryption solution intended to improve Air Force and Navy pilot training for advanced, high-threat combat scenarios using advanced computer simulations, wireless networks, and AI-enabled data organization. 


With the security of the Air Combat Training System addressed, Synthetic Inject to Live–Live Virtual Constructive (SITL-LVC) capabilities are also available to provide aircrew with the next generation of authentic training environments, replicating the high-end challenges a peer competitor might present. As the name implies, SITL-LVC combines live participants on training ranges with virtual participants (operators flying in tactical simulators) and computer-generated forces to interact seamlessly in a common training environment.

“The hardest part of training our aircrew today is providing a realistic presentation on a live training range,” explained Cubic’s LVC subject matter expert, Paul Averna. Physical training ranges lack the airspace needed to train fifth and fourth-generation aircrew. Training ranges also do not have the ability to replicate a sophisticated Integrated Air Defense System (IADS), making it extremely difficult to sustain a threat representative of an IADS, including both ground and air threats.

While the Navy and Air Force seek to replicate the complex electromagnetic operating environment in the Joint Simulation Environment (JSE), simulators can only do so much to prepare operators. “At some point, they need to combine the effects generated in the JSE with real-world physiological and psychological effects only available in their actual platforms. This is where the SITL-LVC capabilities come into play.”

It makes sense that enhanced or upgradeable computer simulations would multiply options and realistically represent specific air threat scenarios, as the U.S. military services continue to have great success with “digital engineering,” a process wherein computer simulations can explore the design structures and performance parameters of weapons systems. Digital engineering, which relies heavily upon computer simulations, has greatly contributed to the successful accelerated development of the Air Force’s sixth-generation Next Generation Air Dominance stealth fighter jet program and new intercontinental ballistic missile, the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD). Former Air Force acquisition executive Will Roper says that digital engineering using simulations gave weapons developers in the GBSD program the opportunity to analyze a wide range of designs without having to spend years building and testing numerous prototypes. 

Kris Osborn is the Defense Editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master's Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.

Image: Reuters.