RID talks about Leonardo: the Battle Lab and the Smart Chair, flying a fighter with the digital simulator

23 September 2022

“Making something that doesn’t exist, to build the technologies of tomorrow”. In the video produced by RID (Rivista Italiana Difesa) in collaboration with Leonardo, Pietro Batacchi talks about Battle Lab, a “laboratory” for experimenting with the future FCAS air combat system, and the revolutionary “Smart Chair”, destined to radically change the way to handle the controls on a fighter plane.

The Battle Lab in Turin is one of the highlights of Leonardo: a great “laboratory” for studying and assessing the concepts behind the future 6th generation air combat system, a highly complex system based on piloted mothership fighter, the core platform, the unmanned loyal wingmen, also referred to as “adjuncts”, and a series of capacity “effectors”. 

Battle Lab is already working on the enabling technologies that will allow the 6th generation FCAS (Future Combat Air System) to take shape. To do this, Leonardo has created an advanced environment based on a combination of physical systems and immersive synthetic reality in which to validate new operative concepts well before a demonstrator or a flying prototype becomes available. This represents a completely different approach from the traditional one, speeding up the process and reducing the risks involved in development. Upon entering Battle Lab, we find ourselves in a new reality, a reality that does not physically exist yet but is already taking shape through what might be considered its virtual “twin”

In functional terms, the Battle Lab is organised around three components: the scenario generator, the Smart Chair and the 6th generation Prototyping Pilot Station. The first is a large wall-mounted screen onto which a futuristic multidomain scenario is projected, along with weather conditions and a faithful reproduction of air, sea, land and electronic warfare systems with all their features. The Smart Chair ideally reproduces a possible cockpit for a 6th generation fighter, in which the only “physical” elements are the stick and throttle, while everything else is virtual and augmented reality. The pilot interacts with a revolutionary interface in which conventional screens and buttons disappear, only to reappear in an immersive reality projected directly into the helmet. Commands are given by simply moving the eyes – thanks to sophisticated tracking algorithms – or pressing virtual buttons and interacting with virtual touchscreen displays. In short, this revolutionary system has a very simple, intuitive layout, reducing the pilot’s workload to make it easier to handle the mission and direct all the components of the FCAS, beginning with the adjuncts/wingmen that will accompany 6th generation fighter. 

Coming to the third component, all this is then transferred to a Prototyping Pilot Station based on a powered mock-up of the advanced M-346 jet trainer. Here, pilots can already familiarise themselves with the new technologies, trying out their future role as orchestra conductors in increasingly complex tactical missions.