For the most part, Army training has taken place in three separate realms: out in the field where soldiers stage mock fights in the dirt and the dust; in front of screens where the real world is simulated with computer-generated graphics; or on desktop computers where officers can populate battlefields with friends and foes and play virtual war games.
By July 2012 at Fort Bliss, Texas, the service will blend all three in the first exercise that uses its live-virtual-constructive integrated architecture.
Army officials are calling this mix of the three different training methods the wave of the future, and they tout its potential for saving precious funds. All four services and the National Guard have been pursuing the concept, but the Army is the first to have a program of record.
In one scenario, a battalion of about 1,000 infantry will be maneuvering through a mock village. Nearby, Apache pilots or Bradley fighting vehicle crews will be in simulators providing support. At a headquarters, officers will see these elements on the “command post of the future,” a network which is widely used in real battlefields today. Ahead of the battalion are the red teams, or enemy forces. Some of them might be real soldiers, but most are computer-generated icons. The officers “can’t tell the difference between who’s in the live environment and who’s in the virtual and constructive,” said Col. Mike Flanagan, project manager of training devices at the Army’s program executive office for simulation, training and instrumentation.
Soldiers in the field may be told there are enemy forces 20 miles ahead. As they approach, live soldiers portraying the red team could be inserted. Allies fighting nearby could be computer generated as well.
“The live guys can see their buddies in front of them but when they look on their screen for situational awareness they may see an adjacent unit that’s a constructive unit,” Flanagan said.
The idea behind the program is to save time, money and space, all things that the Army has little to spare lately.
Col. Karen Saunders, project director for constructive simulation at PEO STRI, said reductions could come in the amount of time it takes to plan and set up an exercise, and the number of personnel needed to run the operation. All this will result in less money being spent as well, she said. How much depends on the exercise. The Army is hoping for about a 20 percent reduction in the cost of training, she said.
While the time to conduct training has been in short supply with the higher tempo of operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, that will not always be the case, Flanagan added.
Army leadership in the coming years is aiming for 24 months of dwell time to be followed by either 12-month deployments overseas or being on standby ready to deploy.
“We’re now going to have a larger part of the Army back in home station,” Flanagan said. Leaders will have to keep troops sharp. “We don’t want people sitting around, wasting their time twiddling their thumbs. The challenge on our part is to enable realistic, challenging training that we can afford.”
Meanwhile, “We can’t pay for everybody all the time to be shooting live ammunition on a range,” he added.
The elements that will be used in the hybrid training system already exist, Flanagan noted. Simulators for aircraft, trucks and fighting vehicles are widely used. The homestation instrumentation training system (HITS) tracks real-world soldiers as they maneuver and when they fire their guns. The battle command training capability populates command-and-control systems being monitored by officers with the computer-constructed forces they see on their screens.
The fourth element will be the command-and-control systems that are currently used by the Army, Flanagan said. For the program to succeed, these four technologies will have to be tied together by 2012.
“These things exist today but the real secret and the technical challenge is establishing an architecture and an interface for all these things to communicate,” Flanagan said. Saunders said PEO STRI has set up a laboratory at its Orlando, Fla., headquarters to begin integrating the systems.
The other three services also have similar live-virtual-constructive training concepts in various stages of development, Saunders said. Representatives of the Army, Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force all briefed office of the secretary of defense staff on the status of their projects recently.
The Air Force has run experiments that mixed live and virtual F-15E pilots, who destroyed both live and simulated ground targets, according to a Boeing press release.
At last year’s Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference in Orlando, Rockwell Collins tied an F/A-18 simulator at the Naval Air Warfare Center exhibit to an Aero L-29 jet trainer flying in Iowa and a joint terminal attack controller at the Rockwell Collins booth. The Navy continues to experiment with the concept, Rockwell Collins said in a statement.
The National Guard Bureau and the California National Guard have a joint training experimentation program they are envisioning for homeland defense scenarios.
“Every single service is working on a version of what they say is live-virtual-constructive,” Saunders said.
Later increments of the program will seek to integrate the concept at the joint level, so the four services’ programs may all come together in the 2013 to 2014 time frame, she added.