From unmanned aircraft to fifth-generation fighters, the training challenges facing the world's air forces are legion. As the United Arab Emirates begins to stand up a training system for its Predator XP operators, the issues are coming into focus in the Gulf region. But this changing marketplace is demanding new ways of thinking from suppliers, too. For CAE, the Canadian company synonymous with simulation-technology provision, the transition is significant.

"Half of our business is still in building flight and training devices of all types and providing upgrades, maintenance and spares," says Gene Colabatistto, president of CAE's defense and security group. "That's very much our legacy business, and a lot of our brand equity is tied up with that. But the other half of our business is more what I would call a TSI - a Training Systems Integrator."

To give an example of what being a TSI means, Colabatistto describes the company's contract with the U.S. Army to provide fixed-wing air training.

"The program was delivered and financed by CAE," he says. "Our solution included us buying the land, building the facility, buying the airplanes and simulators. We hired the instructors, built the courseware, and we did everything, in exchange for a long-term contract.

"Of course, it's a win-win," he continues. "It gives the customer access to an absolutely state-of-the-art training capability with no capital being expended, and we're obligated to keep it state-of-the-art."

Clearly, this would not work if there were not benefits for the company, too.   

"For CAE it's a good, efficient way to deploy capital in our core market," Colabatistto says. "What we get is a long-term customer relationship, rather than just providing a simulator and departing."

This has provoked some interesting responses internally, as the company has to rethink how it responds to customer needs. A largely reactive process is now proactive.

"In the past, if somebody were to come and buy a simulator, they would normally give us a specification," Colabatistto says. "We would go into that specification and deliver it, and to all practical purposes, we're done with that engagement. And then we would separately negotiate a maintenance contract. Today, when we provide the simulator as part of a total solution, on day one our team has to plan for the whole life cycle of the simulator, whereas in the past we'd only plan for the delivery."

The company still works on the equipment-supply basis as well - and can deliver similar capabilities simultaneously to different customers under different business models. For example, its contract to deliver a first-of-type fully certified MQ1/MQ9 simulator to the Italian Air Force - enabling them to, in theory, train unmanned aircraft pilots from ab initio to combat-ready without flying the real aircraft - is for the equipment, with through-life support added on.

CAE's contract with the UAE to provide a UAV training system, by contrast, is along similar lines to the U.S. Army fixed-wing deal, with CAE building and operating the entire facility.

"At the moment we deliver [the Italians' simulator], it will be the first of its kind, and therefore it'll be the most advanced simulator of its type ever delivered," Colabatistto says. "One or two days later, it starts to become more obsolete, because technology moves on. We will maintain it, and I would expect, over time, they will request us to provide upgrades and changes, which will trigger other contract actions.

"On the UAE side, they're paying us for the whole training center," he continues. "We're obligated to do the obsolescence management. On the day we deliver them, they'll have the most modern simulators in the world - then on days two, three and four, it's up to us to make sure it never becomes obsolete. I'd like to think they're always going to get the best-in-breed technology from CAE, and we will keep it that way."

The differences from the industry perspective need to be mirrored on the customer side. As companies like CAE move away from traditional equipment-supply business models and into service-provider and systems-integrator roles, the militaries they serve need to adapt, too.

"It's not a training-systems issue, it's an integration issue," Colabatistto says. "One of the roles of the integrator is to do program management, obsolescence management, and sustainment. This is the role that we take in the case of the UAE, and the government takes in the case of the Italian Air Force."

• Meanwhile, at the Dubai Airshow, CAE announced a partnership with Saudi National Company of Aviation (SNCA) to create a CAE Authorized Training Center at King Fahad International Airport, Dammam. It will be the first flight academy in Saudi Arabia to train both men and women, of both Saudi and non-Saudi origin.