Tight budgets drive training into the networked virtual world

Technological advances have made the task of preparing troops for combat more efficient and less expensive.

Tighter budgets have pushed military leaders toward increasing the use of simulation for training, which has sparked technological advances that have made the task of preparing troops for combat more efficient and less expensive, military and industry experts say.

By combining live, virtual and constructive experiences in a networked environment, warfighters can be trained more efficiently wherever they are around the globe.

The Army debuted its Live, Virtual, Constructive (LVC) Integrating Architecture in September at Fort Hood, Texas, and the service plans to field the system at four other installations in 2013 and four more in 2014. The system links live players and virtual and constructive simulators into a network known as the Integrated Training Environment (ITE).

In April, the Air Force demonstrated its first operational use of its network training center at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., where F-16 pilots can hone their aerial combat skills against computer-generated adversaries.

What both systems – along with other live, virtual and constructive training networks – share are several factors that make them attractive to military planners.

Most important among them is cost. “It conserves a huge amount of money,” said Mike McCarthy, operations director of the Army’s Brigade Modernization Command’s Mission Command Complex at Fort Bliss, Texas.

A typical brigade rotation to the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., costs $24 million to $25 million, $20 million of which is for transportation. Increased use of networked simulations eliminates most of the transportation requirements and frees that money for other uses, McCarthy said.

But networked training that combines live and simulated experiences also creates a more efficient environment for training warfighters. McCarthy said networked simulations can be used for development of basic skills so troops enter live training at a higher level – and are thus better able to take advantage of it. They can also help train combat leaders without the need to waste their troops’ time on a live-fire range, he said.

Networked simulations “don’t replace the value of live training. They only make live training more effective,” added McCarthy.

Networked simulations also are useful when live resources – such as advanced jet fighters likely to be flown by enemy forces – aren’t readily available.

“The ability to repetitively train pilots for complex adversarial encounters is difficult to service purely by live aircraft in today’s resource-constrained environment,” said Col. Robert McCutchen, a veteran F-16 pilot and flight simulation engineer for Lockheed Martin, which runs the Luke Air Force Base center for the Air Force. “LVC events take mission readiness to a new level by allowing pilots to experience the challenging environments they could face in combat.”

The Army’s LVC-IA provides improved realism over previous simulations by creating a common operating picture with data from live, virtual and constructive systems that mirror reports from live units, said LTC Shane Cipolla, director of the project office for integrating architecture at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., which comes under the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command.

“The COP that these data create gives the commander and staff the ability to practice decision making in a very realistic setting. One significant advantage is that the ITE allows multiple echelons to train simultaneously, without having to put entire units in the training area,” Cipolla said. “It even creates synthetic training areas for simulated units to maneuver, without actually having to have the physical space on the ground. The ITE does not replace live training, but does help the commander meet his or her training objectives and help his unit enter live training at a higher level of proficiency.”

One part of the networked architecture is the Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System, or MILES, a familiar training tool for soldier for decades that now also includes a radio frequency component to simulate indirect fire and tank fire through walls or other obstacles in urban environments.

Cipolla said the Army is also looking at several new technologies for the next version of LVC-IA, including those that would enable the system to link with classified networks, support simultaneous training at several installations, engage multiple brigades simultaneously and be interoperable with systems used by other services, including coalition partners.

At Fort Bliss, soldiers are testing new simulation technologies that enable a single brigade to plug its live training into a larger, virtual unit, along with ones that enable units to train in their own facilities as if they were on a live range, McCarthy said.

Industry also is developing even more advanced solutions. For example, Cubic Defense Systems offers networked simulation training systems that are deployable, so units can take them to Afghanistan and other hotspots around the world. The systems also are adaptable to changing conditions, enabling troops deployed for one mission to quickly train for another, said Bert Ges, director of Cubic’s warfighter effectiveness group.

The company’s Mission Rehearsal Planning System enables leaders to test different scenarios while a simulation is running, Ges said. “It’s all about minimizing surprise for the decision-maker,” he said.

“Nothing replaces fieldcraft, and nothing replaces moving around out there,” but networked simulation systems are becoming more realistic and capable of closely replicating the realities of modern combat, even to the point of giving soldiers a realistic sense of the terrain on which they would fight, he said. “It’s not exactly alike, but it’s pretty good.”

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