Despite Fiscal Pressures, Demand for Virtual Training on the Rise

By Yasmin Tadjdeh

ORLANDO — The military understands the value of simulation, but with budget constraints and possible sequestration limiting funding, its leaders must figure out how best to invest in virtual training, Pentagon and service branch officials said Dec. 3 at the Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference.

Still, the demand for certain defense simulations is expanding, and numerous opportunities exist for sales, said Frank C. DiGiovanni, the Defense Department’s director of training, readiness and strategy.

"Modeling and simulation is extremely flexible, and it's inherently agile. It's not free... but when you posture it correctly, it can be extremely responsive to new" threats, he said.

The military is facing $500 billion in sequester cuts over the next decade in addition to the $487 billion in cuts already in place under the Budget Control Act. That means the services may have to adjust to a new normal where not all products or technologies are readily available, panelists said. 

"From my vantage point, I really don't see the budget levels going back to where they were, at least not in the forseeable future,” DiGiovanni said.

There are opportunities to leverage training and simulation to create greater efficiencies, DiGiovanni said. For example, commercial telecommunications companies and the military are competing for crowded radio spectrum. The Pentagon sees a chance for cost savings if it shares frequencies with commercial entities, he said. Modeling and simulation could provide a way to train troops when companies have exclusive access to those frequencies.

Cybertraining is also an area of growth, he said. "I've sat through a lot of budget meetings, and cyberfunding was off the table. It was not cut. Almost everything else was, but cyber wasn't,” 

“I think there's an opportunity there both from an investment perspective but also in the fact that it's a growing area and it's going to continue to get funding for quite some time," DiGiovanni said.

Digital courseware is another area where new technology could spur investment. Improvements to artificial intelligence could boost the efficacy of digital tutors, DiGiovanni said. Such courses could also integrate with social networking, which would allow troops train each other, he added.

All of the services need to improve their ability to build training that rapidly responds to emerging threats, said Navy Vice Adm. David Dunaway, head of Naval Air Systems Command.

“We are not doing a good job in that regard," he said. "There are methods that we are not capitalizing on."

In Afghanistan, for instance, Prowler and Growler aircraft pilots encountered frequent changes to the electronic warfare environment. "If we’re going to take five weeks to get an update to their operational flight program, then we have five weeks of vulnerabilities where folks driving down the road are going to get murdered over a garage door opener frequency,” he said.

The shift to the Asia-Pacific region has increased the Navy’s workload, but readiness has declined in the last year, Dunaway said. “Right now the demand signal is not fully funded. That’s a problem.” During the sequester, the Air Force has stood down 13 combat units, along with 18 institutional units that provide training. If sequester continues into 2014, the service will be forced to pull funding from training to make the necessary cuts, said Maj. Gen. James Jones, the Air Force’s assistant deputy chief of staff for operations, plans and requirements.

"It may not sound like a big deal to some people, but that translates to a loss of about 25 percent of their annual training that they needed to do to maintain combat readiness, and we're not going to be able to get that back. There's no way to surge to recover that training, “ he said during the keynote address.

For the Air Force, live exercises are significantly more expensive than conducting virtual training, with an F-16’s cost per flight hour at $7,500 compared to about $900 per hour in a simulator, Jones said. Not only is virtual training less expensive, it allows an instructor to create and tailor missions that would be difficult or dangerous to do in live training.

“We have the ability to adjust the weather for what I need, you can do mission rehearsals to test in degraded operations. … You can dial up the threat, dial down the threat," Jones said.

However, not all training tasks should be moved from live to virtual environments, Jones said. "I think we need to take this time to really think our way through what specifically do we need," both in terms of future requirements and how to optimize the blend of flight hours and simulators.

Budget cuts are also a concern of the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization, said the organization's director, Army Lt. Gen. John Johnson. During the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, JIEDDO had access to special authorities and funding that allowed it to immediately field off-the-shelf products while the organization developed a device to directly contend with new threats.“The concern that I have is that as money gets tighter, even the money to respond like that is going to start drying up," Johnson said.

Even if funding is cut, improvised explosive devices will continue to be a problem. Over the past year, there have been almost 13,000 IED events outside of Afghanistan. "No matter where we put U.S. forces on the ground, we're going to be threatened by, if not actually at risk to, IEDs,” Johnson said.

As combat veterans leave the military and are replaced by newcomers who have never directly dealt with IEDs, JIEDDO will need training systems that can replicate explosive devices as closely as possible and can be changed as adversary capabilities evolve, he added.

In order to enable Defense Department investment in virtual training, industry needs to be able to prove the cost benefits to Congress, DiGiovanni said. “Show us some precedent in the private sector. Show us where a company was able to be more efficient, and then take that storyline, take that vignette and bring it to the legislative branch.”

Topics: Defense Department, DOD Budget, Simulation Modeling Wargaming and Training, ComputerBased Training, Live Training, Videogames

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