Simulation, Training Industry Executives Optimistic About Future (UPDATED)
By Yasmin Tadjdeh
ORLANDO, Fla. — Despite tighter budgets and fewer upcoming program awards in the military pipeline, training and simulation industry executives said they see a rosy future.
Over the course of the annual Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference, military leaders have continually said that training is necessary to maintain troop readiness. During the conference’s keynote speech on Dec. 2, Gen. Mark Milley, commander of the U.S. Army Forces Command, made it clear that training will be necessary to keep soldiers at the top of their game as budgets are pared back.
Capt. Erik Etz, executive officer at the Naval Air Warfare Center's training systems division, agreed that there would be a continued need for training and simulation products.
“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 can also 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.
On average, the Navy division awards nearly $1 billion per year in contracts for simulation and training products. Etz believes that number will likely increase.
At Rockwell Collins, one executive said the future for the simulation and training industry seems bright even though overall military budgets are down.
“I actually see there being more opportunities from the training and sim side,” said LeAnn Ridgeway, vice president and general manager for simulation and training solutions at the company.
The military is moving from live exercises to more simulation-based training, she said. While there hasn’t been “huge growth” yet, she said training and simulation was a healthier sector of the defense market compared to others.
Chester Kennedy, vice president and chief engineer for Lockheed Martin’s training and logistics solutions division, agreed that the downturn in overall defense spending has created potential growth areas.
“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.
Lockheed is currently supplying the military with simulators and training products for its F-35 aircraft. The company has stood up two training centers and is working on a third to train domestic and international pilots and maintainers. By 2020, the company expects to have 250 full-mission simulators around the world. Rockwell Collins creates the graphics seen in the simulator using its EP-8000 image generation system.
General Dynamics recently injected itself into the simulation market, Craig Langman, senior director for training and simulation solutions at the company, told National Defense.
GD has worked with the military more than 20 years on training coursework, but only started creating virtual reality products within the past year. While it offers simulation products for the military, including firefighting scenarios, another focus is on the commercial medical arena, Langman said. Its medical products include training nurses to administer medicine to chemotherapy patients as well as teaching interpersonal skills to surgical teams, he said.
While the training market in the military is “fairly stable dollar wise,” and in some areas even going up, there is a need for diversification of products, he noted.
“[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."
Correction: The original article incorrectly stated the name of Lockheed Martin's F-35 simulator. It is called the full-mission simulator.