Q&A with Capt. Dan Covelli

By Jon Harper

Navy photos

Capt. Dan Covelli is the commanding officer of the Naval Air Warfare Center Training Systems Division, which serves as the Navy’s technical center of excellence in research, development, acquisition, on-site testing and sustainment of training solutions. The organization, located in Orlando’s Central Florida Research Park, boasts a workforce of more than 1,250 personnel. In an email, Covelli answered questions from National Defense Managing Editor Jon Harper to provide an update on NAWCTSD’s activities and its partnerships with industry. The following Q&A has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

For our readers who might not be familiar with NAWCTSD, can you give a brief overview of the organization’s primary mission and responsibilities?

NAWCTSD provides training systems development for a wide spectrum of military programs, including aircraft, surface ships, submarines and specialized requirements. … We provide these solutions via four product lines: training systems, training content, training services and intellectual services. Through front-end analysis and curriculum development, NAWCTSD integrates the science of learning with performance-based training applications and evaluation of training effectiveness.

To what extent does the Defense Department’s renewed focus on great power competition and high-end threats inform your activities?

The various training requirements provided to NAWCTSD … are informed by the changing Navy doctrine that reflects the evolutionary threats addressed within our National Security Strategy. Live, virtual and constructive technologies are central to addressing these fleet readiness training requirements at the tactical and operational level of war, and NAWCTSD is a significant materiel developer of LVC capabilities.

A key change we have seen over the past several years has been a shift from platform-centric warfare to a more integrated, mission-focused approach to training. Coupled with this has been the need to ensure a distributed mission training capability is available so that readiness training can be conducted from individual platforms’ home stations. In short, NAWCTSD will continue to develop platform simulators, enabling technologies, and a multi-domain LVC infrastructure so that the synthetic training environment can deliver integrated mission capabilities that enable the fleet to compete, deter and win.

What are some of the key types of training system technologies that you’re interested in?

We are interested in capabilities like advanced human performance measurement and assessment, advanced analytic tools, data-driven techniques for large-scale exercises, cost affordable adaptive training mechanisms, LVC-enabling [capabilities] and data transport including cross-domain solutions, and the like.

To what extent are you trying to leverage virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality?

We are very much actively leveraging XR [extended reality] technologies across a broad spectrum of use cases.

Currently, VR technology is by far the most mature and easiest to integrate into a working trainer/simulator or utilize as a delivery mechanism for immersive courseware. MR technology and AR technology are advancing but still further behind than VR technology due to their inherent technical challenges. However, we feel strongly like most within the industry that MR and AR technology have the most potential going forward, and the gains being demonstrated by the equipment manufacturers are very promising.

One of the biggest advantages of XR technology is that it provides a much larger and flexible visual field with a significantly smaller footprint at a lower cost than training devices using more traditional display systems. This lower cost upfront and in sustainment can then result in a greater number of systems being available more often, enabling more immersive training time for a larger number of students. You can then perhaps also focus your investment on more content and data driven instructional tools.

Some of the areas that are currently benefiting from the application of VR technology include helping to improve primary flight training. … NAWCTSD has also utilized VR technology to provide highly cost-effective immersive simulation to work areas that traditionally have not had the opportunity to benefit from immersive simulation-based training such as aviation boatswain’s working the [carrier] deck.

Importantly, NAWCTSD scientists and engineers are working to research, prototype and evaluate the human performance implications of injecting various XR technologies into our acquired systems so that we can continue to make better informed technology decisions moving forward.

Are you seeing improvements in simulation technology in terms of fidelity or latency?

Yes, very much so. Commercial technology has made significant strides in these areas, and we are seeing other industries also adopting and adapting the technology for challenging use cases that in turn is driving exciting improvements. The integrated results possible for many domain applications like maintenance training or crew gunnery have been quite good.

However, when comparing XR technology to the current state of our high-fidelity [operational flight trainer] devices, we do continue to see many of the same challenges we did over 20 years ago, just to a lesser degree and at a significantly lower cost.

The most recent and largest technological gains have been increased visual resolution within the central cone of vision and increased instantaneous field of view.

There are numerous continuing challenges for XR technology going forward that include further improving camera systems for MR, bandwidth limitations, effective [instantaneous field of view], uniform static and dynamic resolution, tracking, update rate, pipeline latency, physical interactions with the environment, vergence-accommodation conflict, eyestrain, fatigue and simulator sickness. You probably need to include ruggedness, power consumption, ergonomics and cybersecurity, just to name a few more.

However, while that may seem like a long wish list, the equipment manufacturers and system integrators have demonstrated over just the past few years that they are eager to and capable of closing those gaps, and the commercial marketplace has a growing appetite for the products as well. We fully expect to see greater numbers of XR-based solutions in the future.

What is NAWCTSD looking for from industry?

We are always looking for innovation in terms of leveraging and integrating commercial off-the-shelf technologies into proposed training solutions. … We need to engage in new means of acquisition, [Federal Acquisition Regulation]-based and non-FAR-based solutions, to enrich our ability to work with industry at all levels, and creative partnering of small and large businesses to bring in new technologies that we wouldn’t otherwise be able to bring in large acquisitions.

Are you looking for ways to work with nontraditional industry partners?

We absolutely are looking for ways to work with nontraditional industry partners. We have established the Central Florida Tech Bridge which is part of the NavalX Tech Bridge network.

We established the Central Florida Tech Grove in collaboration with [other organizations]. The Tech Grove provides over 6,400 square feet of easily accessible space, along with a virtual presence for any and all problem solvers that are interested in working with us to solve our hard problems.

If a company has a technology or training solution that they think NAWCTSD might be interested in, what’s the best way for them to reach out to your organization?

The best way to connect with NAWCTSD is to reach out to our industry outreach program manager, Diana Teel, and our deputy for small business programs, Leslie Faircloth. They will provide some in-depth information to help you get started. Businesses may connect with these folks via email, phone or also through LinkedIn. We also recommend engaging with our team during one of our engagement opportunities, including Procurement Acquisition Lead Time meetings every other month, to gain a better understanding of the upcoming acquisition opportunities, and following the Tech Grove calendar of events for opportunities to engage.

Can you talk about your plans to leverage commercially available technologies?

We are looking to leverage commercially available technologies to the fullest extent possible. Commercial off-the-shelf and non-developmental technologies play a very large role in the modeling and simulation industry. Finding an existing technology that can partially or fully meet a requirement means substantial cost saving to the taxpayer and greater speed into the hands of the warfighter. NAWCTSD has a strong tradition of utilizing and incentivizing commercial technologies including those by small business.

Many times, some amount of custom, trainer-specific technologies will be required, but we highly encourage and expect our partners to utilize commercial technology to the greatest extent practical.

Are you benefitting from being located in Orlando near other technology developers?

Today, tech industries are thriving in Orlando and the Central Florida Research Park is arguably the world’s epicenter for modeling, simulation and training. It would be an understatement for me to say NAWCTSD benefits from being located in Orlando.

To what extent are you working with the entertainment industry to acquire simulation technologies?

We have worked well both directly and indirectly with the entertainment industry. Being located in Central Florida offers us outstanding opportunities to partner with leading companies and organizations in that sector. … However, our historical partnerships have not been as broad as we think the warfighter could benefit from, and we would be very interested in talking with and expanding partnerships where it makes sense for both the companies and the Navy.

Do you envision gaming technologies playing a more prominent role in Navy training in the future?

Game technologies are already playing a very prominent role in Navy training, and we believe that role will continue to evolve as the gaming industry continues to expand its own use cases and market segments. NAWCTSD and our partners have successfully utilized AAA game engines like Unreal and Unity3D to produce varying levels of interactive courseware, part-task trainers, and even full simulation systems.

The concept of “expansion packs” — familiar to the contemporary gaming community — is something we have borrowed to allow for more rapid and flexible … architectures that can be iteratively fielded as funding and time allow. We are also investigating and implementing game play and content … features in the creation of advanced courseware.

Game engines and their supporting technologies will not fully replace traditional simulation technologies and approaches in all applications. However, their use continues to grow, and their influence in the engineering design and development communities also continues to expand. ...

The industry is also continuing to add technologies to their own tool stacks that are very interesting to simulation and training.

Native artificial intelligence and machine learning toolboxes, streaming content and state, photogrammetry, ultra-efficient data compression, multiplayer, native support of XR technologies — when well done these are all highly desirable capabilities for training system developers.

The game and entertainment industries dwarf the military simulation and training industry. We would be foolish not to leverage as much innovation and capability for the Navy and its warfighters as we can.

Is NAWCTSD sharing any technologies with the other military services or DoD components?

Every chance we get NAWCTSD looks to share technologies and training solutions with our DoD partners. This is good for the warfighter in a reduction of acquisition time and costs, but it helps better monetize industry’s investment in working with us.

Topics: Training and Simulation

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