WASHINGTON – For the first time, a U.S. Air Force T-38 will be equipped with an augmented reality training system that will allow it to fight dogs against simulated Russian and Chinese fighters projected inside the pilot’s helmet.
The Air Force awarded Florida-based technology firm Red 6 a contract worth up to $ 70 million during its five-year performance period, the company announced Monday morning.
During this time, Red 6 will integrate its airborne tactical augmented reality system with the Northrop T-38 Talon used to train fighter pilots, followed by the integration of ATARS aboard a fourth-generation aircraft such as the F-16 .
A T-38 equipped with the ATARS system could be ready to begin flight testing within six to twelve months, Daniel Robinson, CEO of Red 6, said in an exclusive interview with Defense News.
“It’s a big, bold vision, but I think that big, bold vision is becoming a reality,” Robinson said. “I think for the next twelve months you’ll see that something no one can deny is absolutely transformative.”
The ATARS system includes a full-color augmented reality headset designed to be used with a standard HGU-55 helmet used by F-15 and F-16 pilots.
While simulating everything a user sees in a virtual reality environment, augmented reality combines virtual simulations (in this case, realistic images of enemy aircraft) with the landscape a pilot is actually looking out of the cockpit.
The company has its first meeting with Air Force agents Monday afternoon to begin understanding the technical requirements for integrating an augmented reality system with the T-38, Robinson said.
“We have a very interesting technological solution, but we put it on planes with real pilots and there are always a lot of safety implications,” he said. “At the forefront of our minds [is], as we do to ensure that the system is completely secure and able to withstand the rigors of military flight. “
Once Red 6 has integrated ATARS with a single T-38, the company hopes to integrate a “multiplayer” version of the system where multiple planes see the same virtual opponents and can work together to defeat them, Robinson said.
“Can I grab a wing man and can we share and interact in a play space in the sky and experience a game that makes sense to both of us?” He said. “That’s what we’re thinking in terms of logical steps.”
While Red 6 is a newcomer to the world of military recruitment, the company has gained the interest of Air Force leaders and defense contractors.
His board is headed by Mike Holmes, the former four-star general who led the Air Combat Command, and includes members such as Will Roper, the chief procurement officer for the service during the Trump administration. Lockheed Martin’s venture capital arm also provided an undisclosed value investment in June 2020.
The latest Red 6 contract is a Phase III innovation research contract for small businesses. The Air Force’s AFWERX innovation center previously awarded contracts to SBIR Phase I and II.
“Innovation in training is needed now more than ever to remain competitive with our opponents,” Winston Bennett of the Air Force’s Airman Systems Directorate said in a statement. “Red 6 offers a solution to the current pain points of training that, if resolved, could solve several national security issues we face today.”