Kings of the virtual frontier: better training and simulation26 June 2017
With tighter budgets, the aim of the armed forces is to be ever-ready but efficient and cost-effective. This is where training and simulation can play a major role. As threats evolve, so too must training and simulation, but how are they advancing with the likes of live and virtual capabilities? President of the National Training and Simulation Association Rear Admiral James Robb, US Navy (Ret), offers an insight.
The National Training and Simulation Association (NTSA)’s core mission is to advocate for better training systems, and it is passionate about bringing the latest simulation technologies to the training continuum. The value of simulation in the form of virtual, augmented and mixed reality systems is becoming more obvious to government leadership as it considers all aspects of individual and group training. Leaders are also becoming aware that modelling and simulation is an essential element of planning and operational decision support at all levels.
The era of high-performance computing, big-data collection and analytics, unlimited storage, agile networks, netted sensors, artificial intelligence (AI) and human-machine teaming provide friends – and enemies – with a rich environment within which to plan, train and fight. With budgets being continuously challenged, the costeffectiveness and increasing fidelity of synthetic environments presents a tremendous opportunity to train more effectively and efficiently.
Today’s threats to national security range from high-end conflict to nonnation- state insurgencies such as ISIS. However, what is common to all these entities, high and low, is that they are using non-traditional means to interdict, harass and influence population groups.
Threats are not only improving their kinetic capabilities in conventional fighting but also having disruptive effects in the virtual world. They can attack networks, infrastructure, and essential services such as banking and trade, as well as, potentially, the power grid. They are stealing operational plans, trade secrets and personal information. Operationally, the enemy is using social media to influence the narrative, and recruit and sustain their forces. So, while it is very important that we assess where to use synthetic environments to improve training, it is vital that we focus on how realworld conflict is migrating to synthetic environments, thereby creating entirely new 21st-century warfighting domains, complete with new job descriptions and training requirements.
Combat training requirements are routinely thought of as being related to threats ’over there’. However, today’s military threats are coming much closer to home, forcing added emphasis on total force training to include families. For example, cyberthreats to individuals are not only a problem at work – they follow you wherever you go. Just like the nation needs to protect the integrity of the banking system at large, so too do individuals need to practise the same cyberawareness training on their personal devices. Efforts to protect against cyberthreats are one of the biggest challenges to distributed training. If the networks are not secure, we will not be able to bring simulations together, or give trainees the flexibility of training remotely in their own space and at their own pace.
When the only solution is virtual
Most combat training is centered on mastering the skills required to optimise your equipment. Live, virtual and constructive (LVC) training, and synthetic environments are ideally suited for these tasks. Virtual worlds give soldiers the opportunity of many repetitions to hone their skills before moving to live training. For more complex tasks, squad and group trainers allow individuals to learn to communicate and act as a team. NTSA doesn’t advocate the elimination of live training, merely the best preparation and use of these scarce and expensive live training opportunities. Therefore, it supports the use of computer-based curricula and gaming to introduce basic concepts and procedures. Virtual reality allows individuals to learn at a pace that matches their aptitude and capabilities, and practise as many times as needed. As the scenarios increase in size and complexity, simulation becomes an essential element of mixing virtual and live training to optimise the training time. The ability to replay the event then brings training value to the next level, as it has the effect of embedding the learning so that it becomes second nature, thereby freeing up mental capacity to react to unexpected situations.
There are also scenarios where live training is not the best answer. For some mission sets, synthetic environments present the only means of experiencing reality. Combat capabilities are increasing in range, complexity and classification. For example, the kinetic capabilities of the F-35 exceed most of the military range volumes available for real-world training. Additionally, the classified capabilities of the aircraft cannot be exposed to the real-world environment, where they can be detected, monitored and assessed by adversaries. The F-35 is a part of a netted sensor system of other F-35s and offboard capabilities. So, their ability to fight within a complex network of platforms and sensors can rarely be generated in real-world training environments. For these reasons, the most realistic combat F-35 training occurs in synthetic environments.
Think also of other missions like ballistic missile defence, cyberattacks and space operations, which require synthetic environments to plan, train and operate. For scenarios from domestic terrorism on the power grid to nuclear conflict, the virtual world is the only world within which you can train.
The influence of intuitive design
Warrior training begins with recruiting and continues for their entire career. Today’s recruits are veterans of social media, the internet and gaming. They demand training that reflects these new realities and expect curricula to be mobile, individualised and self-paced. All the services are moving quickly to bring their individual training programmes into the 21st century and grow their talent for a life time of relevant learning. We also see a move to bring big data into the training continuum by harvesting individual performance data captured during training so that it can be used to tailor the events in real time. The metadata associated with this process can also be used to create a living training portfolio that moves with the trainee for their entire career, noting strengths, weaknesses and skill sets that have been mastered. Think of it as Fitbit or Siri on steroids.
While it is critical that we improve our training effectiveness and efficiency, we need to spend an equal amount of time eliminating the need for training. The advent of the iPhone highlighted the significant impact of providing products and equipment that bring intuitive design to the front of the product development process. An individual who buys an iPhone does not go to school to learn how to operate the device. They somehow successfully employ the device with help from the phone itself. As a fighter pilot flying many different types of aircraft, I often marvelled at how the designers had done their best to make them difficult to operate. That led me to the conclusion that most training requirements are the manifestation of poor design and that a significant amount of training could be eliminated by focusing on radically reducing operator loading.
AI is an area that has the capability to revolutionise training requirements. I think we can dramatically improve the quality of training and cut the time-totrain significantly through the insertion of AI into real and training platforms and systems. I see increasing use of AI in all areas of warfare and training that supports it, especially when training small units. AI is with us today in the form of an aircraft autopilot, an unmanned aircraft or an autonomous vehicle. It comes in the form of avatars, algorithms and advanced computers. It can be used to sift and filter through mountains of previously unused data, and fuse sensor and intelligence data in real time to increase warrior situational awareness. In today’s vehicles, it alerts you, performs tasks for you (cruise control), protects you (self-braking cars) and optimises your options (quickest way home). The US Department of Defense recently demonstrated the ability for a swarm of drones to communicate and coordinate their activities between themselves, and work collectively to execute a mission objective.
While many fear that AI will become a threat to humans, the reality is that people are becoming increasingly dependent on human-machine teaming and intelligent interfaces that are constantly improving their quality of life. We need to embrace AI and use it to our advantage where it makes sense. In the future, AI will not only support the warfighter but also be part of the fight. For example, cyberbattle operates at the speed of light and we will need to rely on machines to execute our game plan. The applications are endless.
A big problem for government is awareness and assimilation of new technologies. This is particularly true in the training systems environment, where hardware and software technologies are advancing rapidly but the speed of government procurement is too slow to accommodate it. Industry players are working hard to develop leading-edge products with their own research funds to cut down development time, only to watch it fall idle because of delays in funding, contracting delays and information assurance concerns. It is critical that government and industry co-develop the requirements in stride so that these efforts are aligned to produce the best training solutions faster and at lower cost. In the digital age, requirements tend to change quickly and, sometimes, unpredictably, so mechanisms for clear and continuous dialogue are critical.
NTSA is dedicated to the mission to advocate for innovative concepts and cutting-edge technology in training systems. It has encouraged the military services to explore the tremendous opportunities represented by all the capabilities previously discussed, bringing government, industry and academia together throughout the year to highlight the latest technology, and attack challenges as a team. NTSA hosts the world’s largest training and simulation conference and exhibition at its Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference (I/ITSEC) each autumn in Orlando, Florida (www.iitsec.org), where it brings all the stakeholders together and showcases new technologies.
Through continuous discussion, debate and advocacy, NTSA now sees a desire by all the military services to increase the percentage of time that individuals and units train in synthetic environments so that the demand for LVC training capabilities is robust. Industry is leaning forward to help government assess requirements, and quickly field or modify systems to meet their needs. This means also teaming with the commercial sector, which is investing heavily in LVC.
I/ITSEC is increasing emphasis on new ways to use current and future systems in order to improve training, working to better align industry R&D with short-term emerging requirements. The simulation and training industry includes some of the most innovative and savvy individuals on the Earth, and I/ITSEC has become the place where cutting-edge technologies and capabilities are being discussed, demonstrated and debated.
The future is already here; we just need to take advantage of it. Your children probably received LVC capabilities as Christmas presents. Big data analytics is being used to feed you smart advertising on Facebook. Your new car may be preventing you from hitting the person in front of you while you are distracted by your smartphone. Working with and alongside machines is the new normal, and we must embrace the power of the human-machine team to improve human performance and quality of life. We can’t transport you digitally from your home to another world yet, but we can bring the other world to your home or workplace through virtual reality. Welcome to the simulation century.