The right simulation software provides vital training to military personnel when financial and logistical constraints limit real-world missions. Nils Hinrichsen, director of eSim Games, discusses the accuracy and reliability of the company’s flagship product, Steel Beasts Professional, the need to modernise legacy simulators and why there’s more to delivering quality than wrapping a product in an olive box.

Why has Steel Beasts Professional proved so popular with armies worldwide?

Nils Hinrichsen: Steel Beasts Professional offers high-fidelity simulation at an unprecedented price. Traditional defence contractors offer comparable quality at much higher prices or, when the price is similar, the quality of the vehicle and fire control simulation isn’t very good, and the span of control is smaller.

Steel Beasts Professional scales up from the single-crew station to brigade-level command-post exercises (CPX).
This April, we visited the Spanish Army in Badajoz and the customer expressed a high degree of satisfaction with our product. Out of 700 exercise personnel, about 10% were using Steel Beasts, which means an entire brigade runs with just 75 operators while semi-automation handles menial tasks.

What can you tell us about the new high-resolution terrain engine for Steel Beasts Professional?

We’ve invested in a solution that supports sub-metre grid resolutions that you can get from LIDAR scans at moderate generation costs. The quality of these terrain databases is breathtaking. The popular DTED3 format, which offers a 10m grid, does an adequate job where the terrain is open and comparatively flat. However, in terrain with small sand dunes or mountain villages, with everything in close proximity and steep gradients, it does not suffice.

This has serious ramifications. Much of our doctrine and technology in land systems is based on the assumption that we have standoff, which means we can reliably kill enemy targets at ranges where they cannot harm our own forces. This is based on the assumption that the terrain offers a line of sight at or above the minimum standoff range.

If limited terrain-database technology reinforces the belief that long lines of sight are given because the level of detail omits small bumps and depressions even though reality is different, we’re setting ourselves up for a defeat.

How have you modernised legacy crew simulators?

The hardware of legacy simulators is still in good shape. It’s the legacy electronics and software that must be modernised. eSim Games offers a programming interface to third-party vendors that have the industrial capacity to handle hardware-related tasks. Since our simulation typically knows the fire-control system of the combat vehicle in question, the hardware specialist concentrates on connecting the instrument signals to the input signals. Steel Beasts Professional calculates the system state change and sends updated messages to the interface that, in turn, controls the instrument readings in the simulator. This is standard fare in the simulator business. Our API makes integration easy; software costs are low, and our partners can concentrate on handling hardware and performing systems integration.

Often, the customer already has Steel Beasts Professional installed in classrooms as desktop trainer stations. This expands functionality as the simulator network can be connected to the classroom. The vehicle platoon’s crews operate in the tactical context of a battalion-scale exercise. I like to believe the Austrian team won the recent Strong Europe Tank Challenge thanks to their simulators, powered by Steel Beasts.

Modernisation opens up a market beyond desktop trainers. From a software development point of view, this is not a massive change as the fire-control system is already there. We’re just treating the simulator cabin as a giant game controller.

For our customers, it means their legacy trainers have more than just scrap value. We’re saving their investment and expanding the scope of training. Live training at the battalion scale has become a rare event, not to speak of the scale of live exercises some of us may remember from Reforger days. Those days aren’t coming back, but the need to train for larger formation operations has not gone away. Only simulations offer a way out of this dilemma.

The software’s connectivity allows platoon-level simulation. How does this work?

This is not different from any other network session. Every simulator uses a number of PCs to simulate the crew stations and sight channels. In addition, they synchronise with other machines on the network to create the tactical environment.

For the customer, aside from additional simulator diagnosis and maintenance information screens, the experience of setting up a network session is not much different. An additional benefit is that, since everything is using the same simulation software, the amount of training to familiarise soldiers with the software is much lower than using multiple different simulation systems. It’s also integrated, so you avoid the problems of traditional stove-pipe simulator concepts.

How does this simulation product outshine those offered by your competitors?

The combination of control span, high-fidelity simulation results and a single workplace with control-handle replicas, and the fact that the costs of a Gaming PC with a Windows licence can be had for under €10,000. Higher-priced competitors consider €50,000 a station aggressive pricing for a low-cost trainer that does less and makes more compromises in the fidelity of procedure replication and results. But it comes in a professional-looking olive box.

On the other end of the price spectrum, there isn’t much as far as the fidelity of vehicle simulation and fire-control system replication is concerned. Also, one of our partners found it easier to integrate hardware with Steel Beasts.

Why has simulation training become such a valuable tool to militaries?

The need for precision gunnery and crew-part task training has existed since the first tanks entered the battlefield more than 100 years ago. To that extent, computer-based simulations are today’s expression of a technological evolution.

Simulations can substitute other forms of training only to an extent, but the complementary role is just as important where safety considerations prohibit certain training lessons, or where budget constraints prevent launching exercises even though the necessity to train remains part of the army’s mission statement.

Simulations also take over an increasing role in mission preparation and rehearsal, provided that adequate terrain databases can be generated fast enough.

How cost-effective is Steel Beasts Professional?

One of our customers reports a reduction of almost 60% in live-fire ammunition use and an increase in the quality of training results. Another reduced the training of remote-weapon-station gun zeroing from more than 20 hours a training group to two hours, simply because training could be parallelised.

There are also less tangible but important results. With our software supporting command-post exercises in the Spanish Army once a quarter for each mechanised brigade, every other week for each mechanised company, and monthly for each battalion, one might assume that the overall proficiency with the command and control cycle improves simply because the simulation offers so many more cheap repetitions.

This is only possible because Steel Beasts offers a large span of control while still being detailed enough to avoid much of the necessary abstraction implemented in most constructive simulations.