Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Vernon Clark instructed his staff a year ago to "fundamentally change the way the Navy thinks about modeling and simulation."
Clark argued that the Navy is not taking full advantage of the technologies now available, and he insisted that the service should expand the use of simulations into areas such as weapons testing, research and development.
"He told us to actively go and seek ways for modeling and simulation to supplant or add to the old way of doing things," said Eric Seeland, a senior civilian on the Navy staff.
Seeland is now the deputy director of the so-called Task Force Simulation, which was created specifically to carry out Clark's directive. The organization is based in Norfolk, Va., and reports to the U.S. Navy Fleet Forces Command.
The intent of the task force is to "energize modeling and simulation to take more of a daily role in Navy affairs," Seeland said in an interview.
The conventional wisdom about simulations being low-cost replacements for live training or live-fire tests holds true in many cases, but that is not the main motivation behind Clark's decision to create this task force, he insisted. Simulations can save money, but their more important contribution is "a better trained fleet, with more proficiency and expertise."
Simply by simulating missile firings instead of shooting real weapons, the Navy's surface fleet will save $33 million a year, said Seeland. "That's just the first cut."
In an attempt to improve the quality of sailor training while also boosting morale, the Navy will install training devices aboard ships so crews can prepare for their missions while the ship is in port. That allows them to train during the day and go home at night, rather than spend several weeks at sea.
Onboard mission rehearsals also allow crews to "train the way they fight," a strategy that the Navy advocates when preparing sailors to perform in complex combat environments.
By keeping training activities next to the pier, Seeland said, the Navy can save 4,000 barrels of fuel in a single two- to three-week exercise.
Turning ships in port into training platforms is part of a broad initiative, called total ship training systems (TSTS), that is intended to bring training devices onto actual Navy platforms, including surface ships and submarines. The program is just getting under way and its scope has not yet been defined. Pieces of TSTS already are fielded, including a firefighting training system and the battle force tactical team trainer-a training device for shipboard combat systems.
According to TSTS program officials at the Naval Sea Systems Command, the technology will enable trainees to determine the impact of ship damange and to practice appropriate casualty control actions.
"TSTS will integrate automated and manual data collection to provide timely debriefs tailored to team and individual participants," said a NAVSEA spokesperson. "The cumulative effect of these features is the reduction in time and administrative 'overhead' typically required to prepare these integrated scenarios, as well as the number of shipboard training team members required to successfully execute them."
Other elements of the total ship training systems, which have yet to be developed, will focus on damage control, engineering drills and navigation bridge training.
"As a Navy, we are moving away from shore-based training, not completely, but for the fleet, we are moving training to the platform," said Seeland.
Another example of the Navy's aggressive push to deploy simulators is the Fleet Interactive Display Equipment project.
The Trident submarine training facility at Kings Bay, Ga., recently unveiled a $5 million Fleet IDE training simulator.
The simulator replicates the maneuvering room aboard an Ohio-class submarine.
"The Fleet IDE harnesses the power of computer technology to improve the effectiveness of our sailors," said Vice Adm. Kirkland Donald, commander of Naval Submarine Forces.
The system is a full-scale interactive and intuitive trainer that gives operators realistic, real-time experience in the normal operations of the ship's nuclear propulsion plant, as well as simulated casualty situations. Instructors can program specific casualties that could not be simulated on the submarine. The trainer then responds to operators' reactions to the scenario.
Kings Bay is the first facility to receive the Fleet IDE. Installation of a second Fleet IDE in Bangor, Wash., should be complete by the end of the year, according to a U.S. Navy news release.
The plan is to deliver, during the next several years, a Fleet IDE for each major class of nuclear-powered submarines and aircraft carriers to major homeports.
For the surface fleet, meanwhile, Navy officials are seeking about $200 million over five years for simulation and modeling technologies.
"Modeling and simulation are among the top priorities for the fiscal year 2006 budget," said Rear Adm. Mark J. Edwards, director of surface warfare.
"We still have a ways to go," he told National Defense. He said it is not yet certain that the funding will be approved, mainly because the Navy has so many competing priorities.
Edwards is a strong proponent of increasing the use of modeling and simulation to help Navy leaders decide where to make investments and come up with new concepts of operations for weapon systems.
Modeling also can help lower the cost of testing weapon systems, he stressed.
The Mk 50 torpedo, for example, required 172 hours of water tests. The new version, the Mk 54, scheduled to enter service next year, needed only 62 hours, because more simulations were used in the development.
While each water test costs $100,000, the simulations cost about $500 each.
Modeling and simulation can cut costs drastically, Edwards asserted. "That's been proved in industry. Shipbuilders use models and simulations to build our ships."
Surface warfare program officials now are working with the Navy's test and evaluation agency to figure out how best to incorporate simulation technology into operational testing, Edwards said.
"It doesn't mean I'm opposed to live-fire testing," he said. No matter how sophisticated a simulation, "you need to get the equipment wet to see how it reacts . A system has to have a scientific and physics base."
Discussions are ongoing between the Pentagon's independent testing office and the Navy about balancing modeling and simulation with live-fire testing in the DDX next-generation destroyer program. "I am for doing as much testing as is reasonable," Edwards said.
If the Navy gets the requested funds for new simulators, the plan is to acquire advanced "battle force team trainers" that link ships through fiber-optic local area networks.
While simulations have been around for many years, it's only been recently that the computing power has allowed the Navy to bring the simulations down to shipboard level.
"We can connect the ships together and use real equipment," said Edwards. "We want to take the training from the schoolhouse to the ship."
Starting in fiscal year 2006, the Navy expects to field throughout the fleet a navigation and seamanship trainer, which so far only has been available at the U.S. Naval Academy and at the Naval Surface Officer School. It allows sailors to learn their sea detail before they get underway.
Other systems that will become more widely available, Edwards noted, are damage control simulators to learn firefighting and other emergency-response skills.