TRAINING AND SIMULATION
IT2EC NEWS: Multi-Domain Training More Buzzword than Reality
iStock illustrationROTTERDAM, Netherlands — While there is increasing talk of the importance of multi-domain training, too many simulators are is still siloed and single domain, which is a danger, said a military and technology analyst.
The ongoing conflict in Ukraine is a stark lesson in multi-domain operations, yet the United States and its allies continue to conduct training that ignores the space and cyber domains, Ethan Wilson, solutions strategy analyst for PLEXSYS Interface Products, said at the IT2EC conference.
“‘Multi-domain’ is not a buzzword, it is reality … it is our new reality in modern warfare,” he said. Ukraine has highlighted that persistent surveillance, degraded GPS and communications and hacked networks are realities of peer and near-peer conflict, he said.
“This is our first time in a near-peer conflict in many, many years,” he said. “And we need to learn those lessons without having to lose lives as well.”
The space domain needs to be factored into all training, even when it doesn’t seem to be an obvious element of an operation, he said.
“Even at the higher-level training facilities I've seen, it's air only, no space, no ground,” he said. “And that is — I believe — a war-losing attitude, or conflict-losing attitude.”
There are several costs and barriers to changing that, he noted. “Every time you add a domain to simulation, you add an exponential growth in resource,” he said. “So, do you have a subject matter expert that knows how this domain operates, the models? Do you know how space operates?”
“In simulation, we have resource constraints,” he continued. Adding a complex domain like space only drives up resource needs. Plus, it’s difficult to replicate complex scenarios and abstractions, he added.
“When you're in a multi-domain entity generator ... how do I keep the ease of building an air asset just as simple as building a space asset without having to teach them astrodynamics? That's a hard problem,” he said.
However, not all the complexity of space and satellite movement need to be replicated in a training environment to give service members a realistic sense of how the domain can impact their operations, he said.
“We’ve got to skip all the hard math,” he said. “We’ve got to wipe eyebrows and move on” and focus on effects-based models.
Conducting multi-domain training for land, sea and air forces is an easier task than for space forces, he said. “They also siloed themselves. They do not do distributed training with anyone else. They're 20 years behind technologically. That's a problem because they're about to be one of the main warfighting domains.”
“We're dragging them by the heels both monetarily and trying to get them to train multidomain with others,” he added.
The solutions required are a matter of leadership and technology, he said. “On the technology side, we have a self-imposed delineation in the simulation community where we are either [image generation] or we are [computer generated force]. And that's kind of continued for the last 20 years,” he said.
“And I think technology now at this point has begun to blend those lines. … And then we're seeing a bunch of companies like Hadean and Improbable building these cloud-native scalability solutions to handle these types of problems.”
The individual technologies are largely there, he said. But the hard part is developing a tool that can integrate all the different technologies.
“Every company targets a very specific market — we are an AR pilot training platform, we are a ground-based VR, we are an air-only, we are a surface training system,” he said.
“I think it's a mindset thing for companies to break outside of their comfort zone and the box that they want to bring through multi-domain,” he said. “And then I also think there's a subject matter expertise [challenge] — the space community is very siloed from everyone else. And it's been really difficult to find those experts and get in and talk with them.”
The cyber community is also difficult to crack because of classification concerns, he said.
“So, how do you model these things to train without having to break through that door?”
However, Wilson does see some increasing focus and tools like Unreal Engine and Hadean that can help.
“Cost-wise, no one is able to develop high fidelity for every domain. So, it makes sense, if you're going to silo, make yourself interoperable to connect with all the other pieces,” he said. “That's something we tried to do and start to move away from very specific capability to very broad training-level fidelity in all the domains.”
On one side of the coin is the technology challenge of building multi-domain training systems, but the other side is getting militaries to recognize the importance of the training.
“We like to stay in our lane often,” he said. “So even if high level [officials see] the threats, the near-peer threats, see what's happening in the news, by the time it trickles down to the guy that has to build the training, does he have the capability to build to all these domains and make it meaningful?”
That’s why militaries need to reassess training and look at building broad subject-matter expertise, he said. “It's thinking forward about broadening the knowledge across the board. It's like a baseline when you start and join the military,” he continued.
“You need to know how to shoot a gun,” he said. “Maybe you also need to know what are the basics in space? What are the basics in cyber? Because you are going to be affected by them.”