Defense Contractors See Growth in Training and Simulation Business
ORLANDO — Defense contractors are growing their simulation and training businesses, and investing research-and-development dollars to make devices more attractive to military buyers, said industry executives.
The market is being fueled by emerging global threats. “We’re evolving from a world where the focal point was Afghanistan, Iraq, al-Qaida," said Bill Toti, president of Cubic Global Defense. "We almost long for the days when al-Qaida was our adversary. ISIS is a more brutal, more troubling, more pervasive enemy and that’s causing an evolution in the methods by which we battle.”
The U.S. military also has to deal with an aggressive Russia, increased "area denial" threats and challenges in the Asia-Pacific region. Companies believe that a combination of augmented reality and live, virtual, constructive training capabilities can help build training technologies that can adjust to evolving threats.
"We need to find ways to replicate and create the sights and sounds of the live battlefield without having the expense or footprint of those live engagements,” said Amy Kruse, chief technology officer at Cubic Global Defense. Replicating battle stresses that service members might experience is important to increase engagement and learning, she said.
Phillip Guy, LVC systems engineer at Northrop Grumman, touted the company’s LEXIOS — LVC, experimentation, integration and operations suite. "The live piece is the actual war fighter in the air and all the aircraft that are playing with virtual, constructive threats,” he said. “It’s also the live threats on the ground that are integrated into the system."
Companies are taking advantage of commercial technologies in sectors like gaming to create higher quality and less expensive military capabilities.
Tim Noonan, vice president of training systems and government services for Global Services and Support at Boeing, said the company is using Oculus Rift goggles developed by Oculus VR, a virtual reality company, to assist with maintenance training for crews that operate the Army's CH-47 Chinook heavy-lift helicopter.
“You are going to see us incorporating others' technology like the Oculus Rift to be able to do next-generation training on the Chinook and that is truly disruptive,” he said. “Disruptive being, ‘How do I get most of the value at a tenth of the cost?”
Besides cost, the other advantage of using a technology like Oculus Rift is that it is small and mobile, Noonan said. It can be deployed so troops can train on the go. “Where we’re going in our business is to go from being a trainer business, building high-end … simulators to becoming a digital, training and learning business,” he said. After listening to what the military customer needs, “We want mobile, we want affordable, we want reconfigurable, we want open [and] we want cyber secure.”
Executives at Cubic said the game-based courseware thecompany developed for the Navy’s littoral combat ships leverages commercial technology. “It’s highly immersive, highly engaging,” Kruse said. According to company literature, "gamification dramatically improves learning and performance with retention rates up to 90 percent better in comparison to traditional training methods.”
Randal Deidrick, director of Boeing’s tactical training systems, said the company is looking to replicate the “addictive” aspects of gaming in order to make training more engaging. “The challenge that we’d love to get from the gaming industry would be to get that addictive nature so that when they’re sitting on the commercial airplane going to station or when they’re standing in the chow line, they’re doing something that’s helping them learn their job.” It could make a seemingly boring task like maintenance training more effective, he said.
Training systems opportunities are growing overseas, executives said. Toti said he traveled to 15 countries in the last eight months and the only two that are still talking about budget cuts are the United States and the United Kingdom. “Everybody else is saying: ‘We’ve cut too much. We need to start growing again and preparing for new threats.’” About 40 percent of Cubic’s current revenue is international.
Tom Quelly, director of business development at Lockheed Martin Mission Systems and Training said, “Internationally, I’d say we have strong interest just about everywhere.”
Lockheed is working with potential customers in Europe, the Middle East, South America and Asia, he said. “They’re all seeking the same thing. They’re looking for better training — defined as more learning and less time — and they’re looking for lower cost overall,” he said. “It’s turning into a major focus area for our company.”
To fill that need Lockheed has developed what it calls “turn-key training.” The company partners with an international customer to provide end-to-end training as a service as opposed to selling individual systems and platforms. “Customers remain in control and [Lockheed] provides the technologies, training, business model approach and financing to enable previously unattainable levels of system performance,” said the company’s website. These programs have saved from 15 to 20 percent over traditional training acquisitions, Quelly said.
A case in point is the basic wings course program for the Republic of Singapore’s air force. The company announced Dec. 2 that the program had yielded 50,000 flying hours and trained more than 300 pilots since 2008. The agreement with Singapore is a 20-year service contract.
“They’re typically long-term contracts so they’re very predictable as far as our business metrics going forward. They give us a very good opportunity to build and grow a stable workforce of training experts,” Quelly said.
The company has a similar program in place with the United Kingdom and is the preferred tenderer for Australia’s AIR 5428 pilot training system program, which will also be a turn-key approach, according to a company press release. Lockheed is also in ongoing discussions with Qatar.
In the United States, the military services have "sophisticated and proven training methods and processes." So it will take them longer to accept a turn-key style training model, he said. “That being said, just recently the U.S. Navy announced that they’re looking at a training service as one option to replace their TH-57 helicopter,” he said. “So I think there is interest. It’s just a little later in coming.”