TRAINING AND SIMULATION
Training and Simulation Industry Optimistic About Future Opportunities
ORLANDO, Fla. — Over the past several years, defense industry executives have lamented the downturn in military spending. Budget cuts have forced service leaders to cancel or pare back major contracts, in turn hitting industry. Despite this, modeling, simulation and training leaders are optimistic about the future.
At the annual Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference in Orlando — the world’s largest modeling, simulation and training conference — the mood among industry executives was undeniably rosy. Smaller defense budgets are forcing the military to conduct fewer costly live exercises and instead put troops in the cockpits and drivers’ seats of more affordable simulators.
The training and simulation industry will be critical to keeping soldiers prepared for potential future conflicts, said Gen. Mark Milley, commander of U.S. Army Forces Command.
“As the battlefield becomes more complex and events happen more rapidly, we must leverage simulation tools and gaming mechanisms,” he said in a speech. “We must continue to be on the cutting edge of the simulation world.”
Readiness has been damaged over the past two years because of budget cuts, Milley said. That is dangerous when U.S. forces face threats from across the world. There are 22 armed ongoing conflicts globally, he said.
Fiscal austerity cannot hinder readiness training, he noted.
Capt. Erik Etz, executive officer at the Naval Air Warfare Center’s training systems division, agreed that training will be critical to maintain future troop readiness.
“The reality we’re arriving at is that the modeling, simulation and training industry actually offers a lot of mitigation for declining budgets and … [opens] opportunities for warfighters to hone their capabilities in a virtual environment, in a much more fiscally responsible way,” Etz said.
The division has found that there is often a 10:1 cost ratio between training live and training in a simulated environment. Live exercises are important and necessary, but virtual environments can enhance them, he said.
“You’ll never replace actual live training with virtual training, but you can certainly augment that live training and, in many ways, mission rehearse much more readily,” he noted.
Simulated training can also help when it comes to working with procedure-heavy equipment, such as fighter jets, he said.
“I’m an F-18 guy by background and a lot of things we do in fighters these days are very task intensive, very procedurally intensive in terms of sequencing weapons, using sensors,” he said. “Those kinds of skills are easily practiced in a simulated environment, and then when you get in a plane it’s actually almost second nature. … It gives you more time to focus on what’s really important, analyzing battle space and deploying your tactics.”
The Navy division invests on average $1 billion a year on training and simulation products. Etz said he expects that to increase.
He sees opportunities in intelligent tutoring in which soldiers, airmen, Marines and sailors can learn at an individual pace. Cyber warfare simulations will be another focus area, he noted.
There is also a critical need for simulated integrated war fighting capability, he said.
“We don’t fight as single aircraft or single ships, we fight as a combined striking force. Many times that’s a carrier strike group, but it’s a teaming arrangement between air assets, ships [and] people and we want to be able to train in that environment,” he said.
Industry executives interviewed said while simulators can never entirely replace live training, they see the military shifting resources to the technology. Companies in turn are investing more money in the sector.
Boeing, which offers numerous simulation tools, recently began work on a new facility called the Center for Applied Simulation and Analytics in Huntsville, Alabama. The facility will open in mid-2015 and will include 7,000 square feet of lab space for research, said Steve Swaine, leader of the Boeing Research and Technology–Alabama research center and director of support and analytics technology.
The center will have a special focus on how analytics can work alongside simulators, he said.
“If you look at a traditional military simulator, there’s just reams of data flying around inside,” he said. “There’s a tremendous opportunity to be able to utilize that data that we have … flying around in all those wires throughout the simulators to better understand how the student is doing, what they’re learning, where they’re having problems and providing decision support tools to the instructors so that they can better understand how the student is performing and where they need more help.”
The center will also use simulations to better manufacture products, Swaine said.
“We’re building simulations of how we build airplanes, and then looking for opportunities to optimize them. We’re using simulation more in how we design our products,” he said.
LeAnn Ridgeway, Rockwell Collins’ vice president and general manager for simulation and training solutions, said while defense budgets are sliding, doors are opening for the training and simulation industry.
While there hasn’t been “huge growth” yet, she said training and simulation was a healthier sector of the defense market compared to others.
The company creates the graphics seen in Lockheed Martin’s F-35 full-mission simulator using its EP-8000 image generation system. By 2020, Lockheed expects to have 250 simulators around the world to train domestic and international pilots.
Ridgeway sees opportunities in the foreign market, where domestic companies are both trying to sell products to overseas clients and work alongside them to develop new technology.
“The non-growing [domestic defense] budget … has got people wanting to look and see what they can transport internationally to try and grow their top line business,” she said. “I think industry is looking to keep their industrial base whole by moving into some of the international markets.”
Additionally, more countries want to create their own indigenous capabilities locally and partner with large U.S.-based companies. This is particularly true for countries such as Brazil and India, which she described as emerging markets.
Rockwell Collins has a joint venture in Brazil, Ridgeway noted. The company also recently announced that it would partner with Zen Technologies, based in Hyderabad, India, to work on the country’s military simulation and training projects.
The company has made it a goal to increase its international sales from 40 percent to 50 percent by 2019, she said.
Chester Kennedy, vice president and chief engineer for Lockheed Martin’s training and logistics solutions division, agreed with other executives that the shift from live to virtual training is fueling increased interest in the industry.
“The importance of maintaining [the] readiness of warfighters doesn’t go away just because budgets get tightened up. To some extent, it’s a window of opportunity for us to go convince our customers that we have affordable solutions,” Kennedy said.
One trend he said he sees is an increase in head-wearable devices for simulators.
“Being able to take that immersive environment that historically would have taken a lot of computers and a lot of projectors and perhaps a large footprint dome … [can now be done with] a variety of head-wearable technology,” he said.
Lockheed has been working on its family of head-mounted devices for years, he noted. It is important that manufacturers create an environment in which users do not feel spatially disoriented. Lockheed has to take into account certain fields of view, latency and motion tracking to ensure that users do not experience motion sickness, he noted.
While Lockheed created its own wearable device, some companies looking for a commercial-off-the-shelf solution have experimented with Oculus Rift and integrated their simulations with the device.
Live-virtual-constructive training is also making waves in the industry. LVC, an emerging concept that is gaining traction, combines simulation, live training and computer models to create a comprehensive virtual environment. As budgets decline, this type of training will be critical to keep troops prepared for various threats, said National Training and Simulation Association President James Robb, a retired Naval rear admiral.
Commercial sales are also becoming increasingly important for the industry, said Craig Langman, senior director for training and simulation solutions at General Dynamics.
The company, which largely focused on developing coursework for training, has begun to create virtual environment programs. While it serves military customers it has eyed the commercial market as well, Langman noted.
Medical companies have a special need for advanced simulation training, Langman said. General Dynamics has a contract with a hospital in Boston to provide simulated training for chemotherapy patient care.
This type of training is critical, because nurses are able to instantly see the ramifications of what an improper dosage might do to a patient. In one scenario, a nurse using a chemo infusion pump dials in the incorrect rate of medicine. The simulation then allows users to see the effects of administering double or even ten times the appropriate rate on a patient, Langman said.
The company also offers another medical simulation product that helps with interpersonal skills between surgical teams, he noted.
While the training market in the military is “fairly stable dollarwise,” and in some areas even going up, there is a need for diversification of products, he said.
“[We] still want to diversify because there are lots of other markets out there, and if the DoD budget is going to continue to shrink or even just stay level, you don’t want your business to stay level. You want to be growing your business all the time,” Langman said.