TRAINING AND SIMULATION
Navy Sees Uptick in Training Contracts as Technology Costs Diminish
ORLANDO, Fla. – The Navy has seen an increase in the number of contracts awarded for training systems over the past few years as it continues to pivot toward virtual reality and other emerging technologies, a chief service officer said Nov. 30.
In fiscal year 2017, the Naval Air Warfare Center training systems division approved over 1,400 contract actions totaling over $1 billion in new orders. In 2014, it executed about 1,200, said Capt. Erik Etz, division commanding officer.
“Our bottomline amount of new orders continues to hover around the billion-dollar mark, but we are seeing a significant growth year-to-year in the number of contract actions we deliver,” he said during a panel discussion at the Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference in Orlando, Florida. I/ITSEC is hosted by the National Training and Simulation Association, an affiliate of the National Defense Industrial Association.
The Navy is deploying more and more commercial-off-the-shelf capabilities and the costs associated with training systems continue to come down, he noted. “With that, we’re able to fill more requirements at a lower cost point.”
The Naval Air Warfare Center's training systems division is also working to build a “baseline of systems” that can be used across multiple Navy skill sets, Etz said. The multipurpose configurable training 3D system was deployed in 2015 across the service’s seven submarine training sites, and is now being implemented by other warfighting communities, he noted.
Such a baseline of systems would allow the service to provide common standards, system configuration and management, while working with industry partners to develop skill-specific applications to meet the individual needs of a warfighter or team, he said.
The Navy has prioritized live, virtual and constructive technologies for several years now, but recent accidents involving ships in the Pacific region have prompted the service to pick up the pace, program managers said.
Two Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, the USS Fitzgerald and the USS John McCain, were each involved in deadly collisions in East Asian waters this past summer. Navy leaders have determined that a lack of sufficient training was partly responsible for the incidents.
It is challenging to both modernize and revise training components in the wake of the accidents, said Capt. Samuel Pennington, program manager for Naval surface training systems. “Given the events of last summer, we’ve got a lot of requirements,” he added.
The Navy's surface training systems program office will see about a 50-percent increase in the number of trainers delivered in 2018, Pennington said. The office is also updating its instruction content “to ensure that our training systems are giving the teams the reps and sets they need to execute their missions and execute them safely and effectively,” he added.
Etz noted that the Navy needs to improve its training across multiple domains.
“Our mishaps have not been limited to the surface fleet. We certainly had aviation mishaps as well,” he said.
As the service has pushed ahead with incorporating more virtual, augmented and mixed reality technologies into its training systems, it has focused on cleaning up interoperability issues across the simulator infrastructure, Etz said.
The training system division plans to prioritize platforms that need to work together, such as the F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jet and the E-2 Hawkeye early warning aircraft, he added.
“Our air wing components can train in the virtual environment, just like they train all the time when they are deployed on the ship” or out at Naval Air Station Fallon in Nevada, he said. “We certainly are not in a position where we can start with a clean sheet and fund new development across all the platforms.”
Despite the enthusiasm to implement more virtual and constructive training technologies, program leaders say they can’t completely eliminate hands-on training.
Fred Cunliffe, deputy director for the Navy’s undersea training systems, said that his office has received complaints from new sailors asking, “what can I put my hands on?”
Cunliffe’s office has been conducting a study to determine which system components could benefit from a more hybrid solution of mixed reality technologies and live parts, he said.
“We talked to the diesel inspectors for the surface and subsurface Navy, and asked what some of the hard spots were that we can try to hit with augmented reality and virtual reality, and everyone came back with the Woodword governor,” he said.
The office partnered with Huntington Ingalls Industries to build a 3D laser-printed model of an engine governor that measures and regulates a machine’s speed. “The sailors can ... look inside that governor and see what they’re supposed to be doing to adjust it and do maintenance on it,” Cunliffe said. Sailors at Navy submarine schoolhouses tested the product and provided important feedback, he noted.