High-tech training systems. The present and the future of digital technologies

Digital technologies – from simulation to virtual and mixed reality, from digital twins to wargaming – make it possible to design an infinite number of prototypes, configurations and operating models, replicating scenarios that would be hard to create and manage ‘in real life’, thereby improving safety and sustainability and saving time and money on development and training. These technologies offer a multitude of benefits and possibilities ranging from the development of capabilities and products to training for pilots, crew members and maintenance technicians. At the heart of this complex reality is high computing power and an infinite mass of data to be generated, collected, analysed, and exploited. And Leonardo plays a leading role in this technological evolution.


Aboard a helicopter on a rescue mission; flying a new-generation fighter plane; in a control room managing civil infrastructure or military operations: in each of these situations, operators – whether pilots, technicians, or maintenance workers – must deal with complex multi-domain scenarios, extreme conditions, and both physical and cyber threats. This is why training in preparation for operations in the field is of crucial importance for the success of a mission and for the safety – and the very survival – of the people involved.

In this context, digital technologies are a true ‘accelerator of know-how’, with their ability to combine conventional ‘live’ training methods with new ‘virtual & constructive’ simulation. Moreover, they offer the benefits of the outstanding efficacy of training based on new technological solutions, while also meeting the requirements of environmental and economic sustainability.

Operative personnel can now be trained to deal with complex scenarios under extreme conditions through the in-depth use of their realistic reproduction in all kinds of domains – earth, sea, air, space and cyber – simulating inter-force operations that may also include uncooperative or hostile elements. Furthermore, they can also participate in drills involving passenger transportation, or particularly complex rescue missions that could never be reproduced in ‘real-world’ training.

Leonardo Training Academies build the skills of the future

Leonardo has developed a vast network of Training Academies, characterised by the use of digital platforms, simulation systems and Live-Virtual-Constructive (LVC) learning environments, making use of proprietary methods, augmented reality, artificial intelligence and deep learning, and exploiting the computing power of the davinci-1 HPC. These academies have a dual guise: they are aimed at in-house professionals connected with different business areas in the context of life-long learning, and at external end-users through internationally recognised training courses.

Helicopters Training Academy

In the Training Academy focused on the helicopter sector, digitisation has transformed the training of pilots, crews and maintenance technicians, making this safer and less costly than training on the real platform. Simulation makes it possible to virtually test all possible types of real mission with a high degree of realism. At present, 120 training simulators of various types are operational in Italy and the rest of the world, each of which can replicate up to 360 operational environments (e.g., airports, heliports, hospitals, military bases, and urban areas, as well as natural and maritime environments). Flight simulation is based on the extensive analysis of data acquired on helicopters, based on 200 parameters across over 300 different flying conditions. From these simulated flight missions, moreover, technicians and pilots extract information that is useful for making helicopters even more high-performing and safe at the construction phase, and for testing new set-ups to use when carrying out real missions.

Pilots can practice at increasing levels of flight simulation: from procedural simulation to familiarise themselves with the cockpit of a particular model of helicopter and get to know the available commands, to fixed base simulation and level D full motion simulation perfectly replicating the flight characteristics, operating environments and real-life behaviour of the machine, offering the pilot realistic physical feedback, so that an hour of flight in a simulator becomes equivalent to an hour of flight in an actual aircraft.

Training is making ever-greater use of solutions based on strongly immersive virtual reality, with helmets, visors and gloves taking the place of the traditional three-dimensional screens used by simulators. This is true of the VxR - Virtual and Extended Reality simulator, used in pilot training. As well as a visor that reproduces the cabin, avionics, and all on-board controls, the VxR gives tactile feedback through the controls for higher fidelity of simulation, and “out of the window” visuals that reproduce the world outside the cockpit with greater depth in the field of vision.

Simulator VxR - Virtual and Extended Reality simulator

MITHOS - Modular Interactive Trainer for Helicopter Operators is a system that simulates complex scenarios in all weather conditions; it replicates any type of mission or emergency procedure, enabling crews, such as winch operators or wind farm maintenance technicians, to be trained on a continuous basis. Here too, digitisation has important benefits in terms of safety, reduced costs per training hours delivered, and the environment. Between 2018 and 2022, over 220,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions were avoided.

MITHOS System - Modular Interactive Trainer for Helicopter Operators

Virtual reality technologies and artificial intelligence are increasingly used in predictive maintenance, helping to prevent and identify faults and inefficiencies also with the help of collaborative digital platforms in which the maintenance technician works together with the pilot in the flight simulator. For training maintenance technicians, 1:1 scale and virtual environment simulators are already available, as will be fully immersive simulators that project digital images onto the maintenance technician's visor, providing clear directions on work to be carried out on individual components.

The Centre for Simulation of Aero-Naval Operations of the Guardia di Finanza in Pratica di Mare (Rome)

A further step forward lies in the ability to integrate multiple simulation systems – all connected to a network – into a single virtual environment. This is what happens in the Centre for Simulation of Aero-Naval Operations of the Guardia di Finanza, at the airbase at Pratica di Mare (Rome), created for the training of operators and maintenance technicians. The system replicates Leonardo helicopters, aircraft and mission systems, the environment in which craft and personnel operate in collaboration, the bridge of a ship, and a land-based command centre, thereby recreating a multi-platform, multi-domain environment equivalent to the one in which the Guardia di Finanza must operate. 

Digital first: the Diagnostic Services Tower

The Diagnostic Services Tower  is an example of the way digitisation and data management have revolutionised technical support within the helicopter industry. From this facility, technicians monitor a fleet of more than 4,500 helicopters, over 1,300 of which are equipped with sensors on their core components, recording – in real time – a large quantity of data on operational and flight activities, which is then processed by the davinci-1 HPC. From this computing power, the Diagnostic Services Tower garners strategic information that enables the performance of predictive maintenance (with clear efficiency gains) and improvements to the training stages.

International Flight Training School

The IFTS - International Flight Training School is an international centre conceived to train the future pilots of the latest-generation fighters. It operates by taking an integrated approach to advanced aircraft and simulation systems, made ever-more realistic using digital technology. This technology – together with the computing power of the davinci-1 HPC, new algorithms and artificial intelligence – enables simulation that is ever-more life-like, also in its overall details, graphics, and sensory perception, to the point of creating “simulated realities” of greater complexity and variability than those experienced in actual flight.

The degree of complexity varies by training level, from the ground training stages to those in flight. In the GBTS Ground Based Training System, two Full Mission Simulators reproduce the most advanced missions, offering the pilot all-round vision like the view from the aircraft, and are used in combination with a Helmet Mounted Display (HMD), a helmet incorporating a visor that projects data from the on-board instrumentation. At the same time, three Part Task Trainer synthetic simulators with 180° views reproduce the look of the cockpit, training the pilot in navigation and emergency response procedures.

Part Task Trainer simulator

This system allows aspiring pilots to learn to fly in formation, refuel while flying, conduct basic manoeuvres, and use advanced combat tactics, with air-to-air engagement outside the field of vision by day or by night, using special night vision goggles. And all without taking their feet off the ground!

But that’s not all. Training on the ground is closely combined with training in flight: the real and the virtual come together in a unique simulation environment with a shared training scenario. This is the transition to the more complex and digitally-enabled mode of the LVC – Live, Virtual, Constructive system which, through the support of the ETTS - Embedded Tactical Training System installed aboard M-346 training aircraft, enables crews to emulate sensors, countermeasures, armaments and Computer Generated Forces (CGF). In a normal mission, this tactical type of training involves trainees on the ground and pilots in the air, with the supervision of an instructor on the ground who defines the degree of complexity by integrating disruptive elements.

M-346 Integrated Training System. A ‘unicum’ combining real and simulated flight

The final step is a real flight aboard an M-346 which, in addition to the integrated on-board system for the simulation of tactical training (ETTS- Embedded Tactical Training System), features a Helmet Mounted Display, a cockpit fully compatible with night vision goggles, voice commands, and a series of highly sophisticated instruments much like those found on new-generation fighter planes.

Towards sixth-generation systems

The present and future, not only of training but of development and engineering as well, may be found in Leonardo’s Battle Lab, the Turin-based laboratory where sixth-generation aerial combat systems and concepts are studied and assessed. The Battle Lab has a digital maxi video wall reproducing a multi-domain scenario (faithfully reproducing air, sea, land and electronic warfare systems), a Smart Chair recreating the cabin in which pilots may find themselves flying after 2035, and a Prototyping Pilot Station, that is, a ‘powered mock-up’ of an interactive cockpit, borrowed from the concept of the new M-346, featuring a Large Area Display on which the capabilities and interfaces perfected in the Smart Chair and selected in collaboration with pilots are transferred and reproduced.

Battle Lab: technologies for the aircraft of the future

With a visor it is thus possible to manage the development of the cockpit of the future, combining the physical and virtual worlds, so that all the pilot physically touches is the joystick and throttle. All the rest is virtual, ‘augmented’ and immersive, from eye movement commands to digitalised touch buttons, with full integration into the scenario playing out on the video wall.

The smart chair developed by Leonardo in the Battle Lab in Turin

This new environment will facilitate the transition to multi-domain scenarios based on sixth-generation technologies and air combat platforms, with a focus on relevant technologies such as artificial intelligence, flight and mission autonomy, and manned-unmanned teaming, of which the GCAP - Global Combat Air Programme represents one of the most innovative international cooperation programmes, enabling definition of the basic elements of a future System of Systems such as a ‘Core Platform’ and ‘Adjunct’ unmanned aircraft.

Finally, by pooling the training competences in the fixed and rotary wing sector, Leonardo can provide the entire range of training services for the maintenance of planes, helicopters, and remotely piloted aircraft, as well as the related systems, in the civil and military fields. The training, aimed at internal resources and end-users of Leonardo’s systems and platforms, operates according to European regulations in the military (EMAR - European Military Airworthiness Requirements) and civil (EASA - European Aviation Safety Agency) fields, respecting the more modern standards in terms of product life cycle (the S-Series issued by ASD - Aerospace, Security and Defence Industry Association of Europe).

Cyber & Security Academy

The Cyber & Security Academy offers institutions, companies and strategic infrastructures access to training and qualifications in security as regards technology, regulations, methodologies and processes, providing the tools to promote a secure digital transition and helping to spread a culture of security.

Cyber and Security Academy

The technological heart of the Academy is the Cyber Range platform. This is a ‘virtual shooting range’ in which to conduct cyber protection drills in complex immersive scenarios involving IT and OT infrastructure – such as a computer network, an energy grid, a transportation grid, or an industrial site – reproduced using digital twins capable of simulating thousands of nodes and hundreds of networks. Cyber Range makes use of mechanisms like those employed in online gaming, such as assigned targets, an established number of attacks, a time limit, and an ability to win prizes. There are three teams in each game session: the red team, consisting of ethical hackers from Leonardo’s Global Security Operation Centre, blue teams of defenders, and white teams of guarantors and judges. Up to five complex scenarios may be simulated at the same time, with multiple teams and dozens of users per team.

The Cyber Range platform

The digital copy is isolated from the real system, ensuring not only that people can work in person on the system to be protected, but that they can check all parts of that system, including any vulnerabilities, without compromising its real counterpart in any way. Simulated scenarios can be updated constantly on the basis of the latest known cyber threats. This also permits testing and verification of the security procedures and resilience of the simulated infrastructure. 

Electronic Warfare Academy

A centre for advanced training in Cyber and Electromagnetic Activities (CEMA), the Electronic Warfare Academy in Lincoln (UK) trains military personnel in managing the most complex operational scenarios. Modern conflicts are of a multi-domain nature (land, air, naval, space, cyber), and this requires field operators to be trained using systems that can integrate the most complex battle scenarios, simultaneously including all types of threats.

Newton, the Electronic Warfare simulation system

The Newton simulation system, developed on the basis of the earlier Tess - Tactical Engagement Simulation Software programme, is used to speed up and validate the development of new electronic warfare technologies, tactics, and techniques. This is a virtual environment, based on physical elements, in which new technologies are digitally modelled and virtually tested, enabling the development of operational tactics and electronic countermeasures – electro-optical (EO), infrared (IR) and radiofrequency (RF) sensors and effectors – in support of research activities and the simulation of pre-operational missions.

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Radar & Sensors Academy

In the electronics sector, Leonardo expresses another area of technological excellence recognized worldwide, consisting of the design and production of radar for surveillance applications (air traffic control, naval and land defense) and fire control, as well as the creation of electro-optical equipment and payloads for imaging applications, self-protection systems and IRST (Infra-Red Search and Track). The Radar & Sensors Academy develops specific training courses dedicated to all domains: terrestrial, naval, avionics, electro-optical and IRST, with the aim of strengthening the technical background of specialists and sharing solutions, experiences and models developed over the years. The courses are developed on three levels of increasing complexity, from the basic level to the technical profiles, up to specialized designers. They make use of both the teaching of Leonardo's internal specialists and the collaboration of professors from major Italian universities and include co-participation sessions with customers to share best practices on the main programmes.