At Training Technology Annual Expo, Military Officials Warn Suppliers to Prepare for Budget Crunch
ORLANDO — It's accepted wisdom that training military pilots in virtual simulators is cheaper than flying real airplanes. Increasingly, soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines prepare for war in videogame-like training devices.
For the industry that supplies high-tech simulators to the military services, the market has been booming. But suppliers are now becoming concerned about how the coming budget crunch at the Defense Department will affect their business.
At the industry's annual convention here — the Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference — senior military officials have warned vendors that their survival strategy during a budget downturn should be to slash costs and offer products at prices that the military will not be able to refuse.
“We need more support in industry and more ideas in our efforts to produce better training and better training tools,” Air Force Gen. Edward A. Rice Jr., commander of Air Education and Training Command, said Nov. 30. “Together as partners, we can move ahead in a way that not only provides for greater defense for our nation, but does so in a cost effective way,” he said in a keynote address.
Part of the challenge in acquiring simulators in the future will be justifying their cost. Frank DiGiovanni, director of readiness and training policy and programs for the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, asked industry for help in demonstrating that spending dollars in training technologies provides a return on investment. But quantifying such return has been a perennial challenge for the Defense Department, which has spent billion of dollars developing virtual trainers for the better part of four decades.
Pilot training schools have found ways to measure cost savings in fuel and flight hours. But the same metrics do not apply to infantry and ground warfare simulations. Army and Marine Corps officials are grappling with how to measure the benefits as they seek funds to acquire new virtual trainers for small units and staffs. “We will need to work on that as we move forward,” said Maj. Gen. Raymond C. Fox, commanding general of the Marine Corps’ Training and Education Command. He said he is concerned about declining budgets so the service will have to work with industry to figure out what systems are available, and whether they are affordable.
A priority for the Navy when it buys new simulators is to make sure that training programs fully support sailors and the mission required by that system, said Rear Adm. Joseph Kilkenny, commander of the Naval Education and Training Command.
Training devices should be part of every new weapon system from the program’s inception, said DiGiovanni. He asked vendors to think about innovative ways to build embedded training systems. These frequently are a “key performance parameter” in major acquisition programs. But when the cost of the system rises, or the defense budget declines, that requirement is often cut or pared down, said Brig. Gen. Richard C. Longo, deputy chief of staff for the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command. As a result, there is often a disconnect between delivery of the system and the associated training.
The ability to train troops en route to a mission will become increasingly important, officials said. “We have achieved a certain level of joint operational maturity right now in these 10 years,” said Army Maj. Gen. Stephen R. Layfield, director of the joint war fighting center at U.S. Joint Forces Command. “We cannot leave 10 years of learning, 10 years of growth, 10 years of evolution, 10 years of technological advancement, 10 years of consortium building—We cannot leave that behind.” Units that have acquired competency in counterinsurgency fighting will need to continue to hone those skills at home stations and combat training centers, he said. To better educate and train troops, the Army and Marine Corps are stepping up investments in virtual learning.
The Air Force is pursuing development of a force-wide virtual training environment that connects simulators to live aircraft on training ranges, said Gordon Ettenson, director of irregular warfare and operational capability requirements for the Air Force’s deputy chief of staff for operations, plans and requirements. “It is imperative that we train and prepare and present forces faster and smarter because we simply cannot afford not to,” said Ettenson.
The Air Force must continue to develop and refine its simulation systems and connect with the other services, he added. Officials are crafting an operational training flight plan that will provide “oversight, standardization and balance for distributed mission operations programs and look to consolidate network efforts to harvest efficiencies,” he said.
As Defense Department leaders debate how to efficiently acquire simulations, the Coast Guard is pondering how to adapt military trainers to homeland security purposes, said Rear Adm. Vincent B. Atkins, assistant commandant for capability. On the home front, guardsmen must hone their law enforcement skills. Officials believe that virtual trainers will help.
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