Enhancing Training Realism for the USAF

UK and US companies to build realistic autonomous targets for US Air Force training.

10 February 2021
An X2 mounted with Vehicle Based Radar kit: Digital Concepts Engineering and tpgroup team with Mountain Horse Solutions to win USAF Autonomous Target contract


Mountain Horse Solutions, a US mission-critical equipment supplier, and two UK companies have been awarded a nine-month  contract to develop and demonstrate fully autonomous targets to enhance training realism for the US Air Force (USAF). The targets are ultimately intended to simulate convoys of multiple vehicle types moving at speed to provide a higher levels of realism for pilots during targeting and strike training and munition capability assessment missions.   

 Under the agreement, the Mountain Horse Solutions team, which includes tpgroup and Digital Concepts Engineering (DCE) from the UK, will develop and build a prototype target, which will be demonstrated to the USAF in spring 2021. The target will be developed using innovative technology, including DCE’s Marionette universal robotic architecture system and  tpgroup’s North* path planning software, which allows for  autonomous navigation. These technologies are commercially proven and are being modified to meet the needs of the USAF.

“Our joint team brings incredible expertise, knowledge and experience in automotive autonomy to the USAF project,” says Bill Allen, president of Mountain Horse Solutions. “Together, we’re introducing game-changing technology that has potential cost-effective benefits in how training realism takes place for combat pilots, ensuring the USAF maintains its surveillance, targeting and lethality advantage over our adversaries.” 

John Shimell, head of Autonomy at tpgroup  explains, “The challenge with this project is that the autonomous targets have to function in a GPS-denied environment. Our team has a very innovative way of achieving this and the USAF clearly saw the benefit in our proposal. We’re very excited to demonstrate to the USAF the full capability that our joint team brings.”     

Lionel Nierop, director at  Digital Concepts Engineering says it has already demonstrated its technology on the UK’s Warrior Armoured Vehicle. “The Marionette™  toolkit can convert any vehicle to autonomous use quickly and cost-effectively,” he says. “Our team has the capability to provide fleets of military vehicles converted to autonomous use for the USAF to conduct their training.”  The demonstration contract has the potential to be converted into a long-term supply contract, providing autonomous targets to the USAF for up to 10 years.