CAE is a major provider of training and simulation services to the ADF and Ian Bell took up his role in January 2017. ADM's Deputy Editor-at-Large Nigel Pittaway recently spoke with him to learn more about the company's presence in Australia.
Nigel Pittaway | Melbourne
ADM: To begin, can you provide a brief overview of CAE’s footprint in Australia and your current activities here.
Bell: CAE has had a great presence in Australia now for over 30 years and are very proud of the way that we’ve serviced the ADF. We have staff at over 20 sites across Australia and NZ, and provide a range of training support services on airborne platforms across the Army, Air Force and Navy.
For example, we delivered the MH-60R Seahawk training system at Nowra and are now providing the on-site training support. We have over 300 employees in Australia alone but, we also make Australia our headquarters for Asia/Pacific and the Middle East, so we reach all the way from Abu Dhabi to Auckland from our headquarters here in Sydney.
ADM: You have been in the current position for a little while. How do you perceive the state of the defence industry in Australia at the current time?
Bell: I think it’s a very interesting time. I’ve always viewed Australia as being a very mature, very professional defence force, and that’s borne out really by the amount of engagement the ADF has across the world. We’re very fortunate to be here in this exciting time because of the renewed focus on developing the local industry and a growing defence budget. As a home market – we view Australia as one of our home markets – and the footprint is very good.
I think the defence budget is exciting. Ministers have announced big programs worth billions of dollars, particularly in the naval environment, and we very much look forward to being part of that modernisation program.
Profile | Ian Bell
- 1979 Joined Royal Air Force and became a helicopter pilot
- 1990 Exchange posting to US Air Force Special Operations Command as an MH-60G pilot and later Evaluator and Flight Commander
- 2005 Commander of RAF Aldergrove in Northern Ireland
- 2007 Joined CAE as managing director of CAE Aircrew Training Services
- 2009 Became managing director of CAE (UK)
- 2012 Appointed vice president and regional business lead for CAE Europe, Defence & Security
- 2015 Added responsibility as vice president and general manager, Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA)
- 2017 Vice president and general manager for the Middle East and Asia Pacific
ADM: What impact do you foresee as a result of Defence’s Smart Buyer initiative which has been the topic of some discussion lately?
Bell: I think it’s a very commendable initiative. We haven’t really seen too much of it in CAE at the moment, but we have particular skill sets, given our depth and breadth of training expertise and I think as long as the process is transparent and the initiative is consistent across all services, then I believe CAE and perhaps the wider industry at large will be very supportive.
ADM: Do you foresee opportunities for CAE to further engage with Defence through strategies like Air Force’s Plan Jericho?
Bell: Absolutely. Plan Jericho is basically what we’re all about, which is helping create an integrated training enterprise to cost-effectively support mission readiness. I think that as equipment becomes far more complex in the real world, simulation-based training will become more and more critical, particularly when we look at mission effectiveness. I think Jericho is a great initiative and when we look at moving forward, the plans for programmes such as JP9711 (Core Simulation Capability), will also link into it.
This will become increasingly important with the introduction of sophisticated equipment such as the F-35, which will find it very challenging to practice missions in the live environment. Fifth-generation platforms like the F-35 will drive training into a fully integrated and joined up synthetic environment.
We’re ideally placed to be part of that and to really bring value with our training systems integration expertise. It’s all about industry bringing value to the Defence Forces.
ADM: CAE is known predominantly as an air-related company. What opportunities are you pursuing in other domains here in Australia?
Bell: We are probably the largest aircrew training company in the world and we’re very proud of that, both across our defence business and in civil aviation. But I think the important factor to look at here is how CAE is changing its business to become a training systems integrator, where we look to partner with our customers address their training requirements in a much more holistic way.
The Air domain is clearly a very important part of our heritage but actually, we have significant experience in the naval and land domains. I believe the integrated nature of training, future operations and true mission capability will come through having a company alongside the ADF that concentrates on training across all domains.
A great example in the naval domain is that CAE is building a naval training centre in the UAE, and this epitomises our training systems integrator strategy. There will be a major training facility at Taweelah and six distributed training sites, all of which will be networked to completely transform the ability of the Emirates to train and rehearse across all platform types in the naval environment, including aviation assets that support maritime operations. The comprehensive training solution will train everything from individual sailors right up to a flotilla.
ADM: What do you envisage as short term and longer term advances in simulation? Where is it heading?
Bell: Everybody agrees simulation is far more cost effective than flying a live aeroplane, driving the live tank or putting a fleet of ships at sea, but to think in that way I think is missing the point. The beauty of simulation-based training is that you can move everything into a more integrated environment where you can put live, virtual constructive (LVC) training together in a balance that makes sense to accomplish your training objective.
One of the phrases I’ve used many times is that military training is all about repetition. What simulation-based training helps do is put the old head on young shoulders, so that our airmen, sailors and soldiers can go to conflict in defence of the nation best prepared for the operations that we ask them to do.
I think also about how I trained many years ago. Today’s generation learns differently and I think it’s the art of learning that is important and making learning relevant to the way kids think today. It means that they retain information longer and they’re better able to replicate that training under stressful situations. And that’s where we spend a lot of our R&D efforts at a company like CAE, looking at the art of learning and how to make it more effective.
ADM: How is the Hawk Mk127 simulator capability going since the contract was announced in February this year?
Bell: The Hawk simulator program is going fine. We’ve had a few ups and downs but the first Hawk into RAAF Williamtown was ready-for-training in May. The second, going into RAAF Pearce, was expected to be ready-for-training in June, and we’re hopeful that by September the second simulator into Williamtown will be fully up and running. The Hawk program is a great example of how the ADF are embracing the modern simulation technologies and investing in a cost-effective training solution.
And again, using technologies like a common database (CDB) in these training devices encourages the ability to link into frontline aircraft as well as land and naval forces, which is great for integrated training.
ADM: What are your intentions for the King Air 350 simulator at East Sale once the RAAF’s earlier Pro Line 2 aircraft are retired?
Bell: We’re in the process of looking at continuing to keep that training device relevant and we’re looking at the Pro Line 21 configuration update at a time when the ADF is ready.
ADM: Are there any other applications for a King Air 350 simulator style contract to other platforms?
Bell: We definitely believe the training services delivery model like we are providing for RAAF King Air training is one that should be exploited in the future. There’s huge capacity for third party training on various devices.
The King Air is good because it’s outside of the base (at RAAF East Sale), but one of the things that I think is important for defence forces to look at is to better utilise their training devices, perhaps as contracts are being written, so that there is a facility for friendly nations and allies to come and use - not just use the training devices, but share and exchange experiences and tactics. I think it’s very important that you train alongside the people that you’re going to fight with.
We do believe defence forces globally are looking more at training services delivery opportunities where the government doesn’t necessarily need to own the capital assets. Another great example is the US Army Fixed-Wing Flight Training Centre that CAE has just opened in Dothan, Alabama, where we have a long term training service to provide US Army with academic, simulator, and live flying training.
ADM: The RAAF is ideally moving towards all KC-30 training being undertaken in the simulator. Is this possible with other types, for example, the C-17?
Bell: I am clearly very familiar with CAE’s technology and the KC-30, though I’m less familiar with just what capabilities the C-17 simulator has.
But I would hope that the future is all about transferring a significant portion of training off the operational assets and putting it into realistic and high quality synthetic training. And that synthetic training can be done on a range of training media, from desktop and part-task trainers up through the full-mission simulators.
What’s important for Defence is that their training partner should be working hand in glove with them, such that the mission readiness and having trained crews is the primary goal so they are available at the point of need.
ADM: Are there barriers to being able to link simulators together that are operated by different companies or supplied by different manufacturers?
Bell: There are a few technical challenges, but it can be done and CAE has done it for defence forces around the world. Sometimes there might be sensitivities around intellectual property rights embedded in the simulators themselves or third party training media, but as long as there are good interfaces that can link into the open standards then there are no technical issues that cannot be overcome.
ADM: Can you provide some more detail of your involvement with Team Reaper Australia that was announced at Avalon?
Bell: This is a really exciting program for CAE. CAE is the provider of all MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper training to the United States Air Force and we are also about to deliver the highest-fidelity Predator Mission Trainer for the Italian Air Force.
We also just announced we will be providing a comprehensive remotely piloted aircraft training centre to the UAE Air Force. We are the global training partner for General Atomics and as such we’ll have a very important role to play should the General Atomics platform be chosen as the RPA platform for Australia.
ADM: Given that a lot of the air programs have now been decided, are you optimistic for future growth in Australia?
Bell: Yes, absolutely. I mentioned the fact that CAE has a wonderful presence in air programs and we’re very grateful for that. I think we have a responsibility as a defence contractor to provide good value for money to the ADF. I do see growth in the naval domain, particularly with power projection and the link to the US as highlighted in the 2016 Defence White Paper. So I think there is good opportunity for growth in Australia.
And Australia is a thought leader in many, many respects in this part of the world and we’ve been here for 30 years, we’re not about to close up shop and move.
My remit is very much to become more integrated with the ADF and to grow CAE’s business from Australia and its influence across the region.