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The Possibilities of ‘Pretend’: A 2018 Simulation SITREP

Soldier in a parachute simulator wearing virtual reality glasses

Let me give you my bottom-line up front: simulation is not about technology – it’s about culture.

Major General Craig Orme, AM, CSC

In the complex puzzle of maintaining a modern, capable, and professional ADF, simulation is a vital tool for increasing military efficacy. As the ADF continues to modernise in pursuit of a smarter, more effective, and continually competitive force, the inherent costs of modernisation extend far beyond the purchase price of a vehicle or weapon system. Ongoing training of instructors, operators, and maintainers is just the start when it comes to implementation, then routine operation, of new equipment. To defray these challenges, simulation provides a fundamental method in making modernisation more efficient.

I don’t claim to be a subject matter expert on simulation or on interactive computer-based systems. but neither are the majority of those who have simulation at their disposal every day. This article intends to provide a Situation Report on simulation, enable discussion around how we can employ simulation in training, and lay a foundation for future discussion in identifying the right ‘training mix’ for a modern Army.

Yesterday and Today

Army has employed simulation—defined as ‘the imitation of the operation of a real-world process or system’[1]—in training for over 20 years. Such platforms, including computer-based user interaction systems like ‘Steel Beasts’ and Virtual Battle space (VBS), laser-based engagement systems like the Weapons Training Simulation System (WTSS) and Tactical Engagement Simulation System (TESS), have become a permanent part of the Army’s training continuum. In 2018, simulation is firmly entrenched in training across the majority of Army trades.

Trade-specific simulation systems range from operator- or crew-procedural trainers through to collective simulation systems, where drills and procedures are mixed with tactical manoeuvre and the synchronisation of other effects. In his 2012 SIMTECH address,[2] Major General Craig Orme highlighted the value of crew procedural trainers for low-end tactical training and collective systems like VBS. At the time, however, both systems lacked any means to exercise higher headquarters.[3]

In my experience, simulation systems are frequently employed in innovative ways that, while deviant from the original intent, can provide excellent useability to Army. One such example involves differing organisations training on a system which integrates procedural trainers with collective systems and higher headquarters. The Real Fire Joint Fires and Effects Simulator, nicknamed ‘The Dome Trainer’, offers an integrated set of capabilities that enables key personnel to train for certification and rehearse missions. It provides a high-fidelity, scalable training solution that features realistic integration of ground vehicles, field artillery, naval gunfire, aircraft, and unmanned aircraft systems. This realistic integration of other battlefield operating systems and equipment is achieved through the incorporation of Rover 5i, SOPHIE Thermal Imager and calibrated binoculars. It can present Live, Virtual and Constructive (LVC) simulations to present holistic scenarios for trainees. The system includes classrooms for pre-mission briefing and live viewing, while after-action capabilities include a full set of virtual, video and audio playback capabilities to analyse and critique missions.[4]

In late 2016, an artillery regiment used the ‘Dome Trainer’ to conduct an AAR of an Armoured Regiment Battle Group manoeuvre exercise. By playing back the mission using the simulated capabilities and effects of the system, commanders were able to observe, critique, and analyse TTPs using identical mission parameters. This function similarly facilitates the conduct of wargaming during the military appreciation process in higher HQ, enhancing planning outputs.

Why Simulate? 

Simulation has been incorporated in Army’s training continuum for a multitude of reasons, some financial or resource-oriented, others focused on realism in training. Resource efficiency can only succeed if simulation systems consume less resources than real-world processes: the restrictions on ‘kilometres travelled’ for armoured vehicles provides a prime example, particularly in relation to the new CRV. This ‘Rate of Effort’ restriction is not new—some of Army’s current AFV fleet operate under it—and simulation fills the gap created by this restriction.

Simulation in training also enables combat adjudication during scenario-based training. Where realism in training is weighted over repetition, the ability provided by simulators to more accurately estimate combat outcomes is crucial. Laser-based simulation systems achieve this by imitating the terminal effects of weapon systems during activities such as force-on-force, maintaining vital standards in certification training. When enhanced by haptic technology (operator feedback via hydraulics and/or vibration), laser-based simulators provided a greater degree of realism than might otherwise be possible. The result is a system that conserves resources such as ammunition and pyrotechnics whilst also playing a role in risk mitigation. The conjunction of these enables training to be conducted more widely and more regularly.

The Right Time for Simulation

While simulation supports the balancing of cost and risk, it is imperative that the limitations of simulation be considered when planning training activities. Accordingly, it must be acknowledged there are military situations which ought not to be substituted with simulation, which may dull or negate physiological responses to stressful situations. The ability to cope with physiological responses to stress will ultimately decide how individuals and teams perform. Thus, training activities that canbe simulated, such as live fire manoeuvre, may provide greater value if pursued in their true form. The use of simulation, as opposed to the greater stress of live fire conditions, will arguably minimise or remove the physiological element of the activity, potentially altering the end state. This balancing of cost and risk should be considered when transferring risk between peacetime training and the combat force.

Another crucial consideration when designing training is which method of simulation is employed: some argue the use of certain technologies may provide the wrong training substitute. National Defense magazine published an article about enhancing training with simulation that stated, “Sometimes the technology is beyond the capabilities of its users. Soldiers forget what they have been taught quicker than the soldiers who have participated in field training.”[5] This is an inevitable risk which can be mitigated through exposure and combining simulation with field training.

Simulation fidelity also affects the outcome and needs to be considered when developing a simulation substitute. Low-fidelity simulation omits many elements of the real-life experience so that the user can grasp smaller concepts. High-fidelity simulation mimics real life as closely as possible and is frequently used as a substitute for training that would be high-risk and expensive.[6] Differing levels of fidelity determine training burden and requirements of the individual.

Just as in training skill complexity is directly proportional to the time required to develop and maintain the skill, so in simulation fidelity is tied to individual investment. The more complex the skill, the more time required to master it, and the greater the fidelity of a simulation, the greater the individual investment. These two principles must be applied in harmony. If the balance between the amount of time required in simulation and the level of fidelity is mismatched, creating a desired behaviour through simulation becomes difficult. Accordingly, the system’s fidelity can be considered with respect to the complexity of the skill being taught. The training of techniques and procedures are better achieved in high-fidelity systems such as augmented reality or VR. Conversely, drills and simpler procedures can be developed in, and maintained with, lower fidelity systems or approaches such as part-task desktop trainers or gun drills in the hanger. Fidelity and individual investment is a continual balance, which must be considered from procurement through to employment.

Tomorrow

The future of simulation within the Australian Army is upon us, and inescapable, as it is all across the world. Other nations and professions are already well into trials and implementation, and the Army must continue to develop our simulation capabilities to stay relevant and increase training capability. Virtual Reality (VR), which immerses the operator in an environment similar to the real world offers an excellent path for the Army’s current and future simulation needs. Though old, what we can do with this technology is exciting and has great potential. Combined with modern concepts like high-fidelity Distributed Mission Training (DMT), VR enables the military to mix the LVC model. DMT refers to any networked synthetic training activity and the linking of platform or combat system simulators. LVC encompasses the whole environment, including exercise controls, training audiences, communications and the simulation. This concept can be seen in the linking of a pilot in a high-fidelity aircraft simulator to a live JTAC in the field. This concept can only achieve part-task training outcomes, as the JTAC will never see or hear the aircraft or observe weapon effects unless they are wearing augmented reality glasses and headset.[7]

Soldier in a parachute simulator wearing virtual reality glasses
An American Navy aviator conducts simulated parachute training using VR.

Meanwhile, trials run by the United States Marine Corps (USMC) have implemented augmented reality technology, by which simulated images are overlaid onto the real world. The premise of this technology is to facilitate the exploration of theoretical events. “Instead of just having their imagination to visualise what may be occurring there, [Marines] can now use simulation and actually see events and effects occurring on top of the real environment.[8] This is a great development, with promising application for the Australian Army… but there is still further to go. Being able to move around and interact with the environment is great but doing so whilst experiencing the emotional and physiological responses and reacting to situations as you would in real life is the ultimate goal.

In this vein, Milk Studios have developed VR scenarios, trialled in the US, that generate an emotional response to certain simulated scenarios. Similar technology, purpose-designed for the military, is the next step for simulation within the ADF. Training that involves exposure to medical trauma, augmented reality combat scenarios, and even exposure to culturally complex situations in training can be conducted at the tactical level. Simultaneously, higher headquarters could be exercised as they would be in the real world.

Summary

Army’s experience in training with simulation is extensive, and continues to grow. Procedural Trainers, collective systems and the exercising of higher headquarters will always be part of the Army’s training continuum, and there are innumerable possibilities for the integration of simulation to enhance these facets of military training. Careful consideration needs to be applied, however, when substituting real-life military skills for simulation.

Advancements in computer-based simulation like VR, augmented reality and DMT are occurring too rapidly to even establish a projected timeline for their ongoing evolutions. This is beneficial to Army, but it is crucial to remain aware of the ramifications of choosing simulated training options. When the outcomes of simulation have a direct effect on human lives, the process for acquisition and then implementation is slow and deliberate. This measured practice will inevitably cause the organisation to fall behind in technology; however, I will echo MAJGEN Orme’s opening statement in his SIMTECH speech. The narrative for success in this digital world of training has never been about the technology, it’s about growing and maintaining a culture.


About the author

WO2 Chris Sharp is Squadron Sergeant Major of B Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment.


Endnotes

[1]J. Banks; J. Carson; B. Nelson; D. Nicol (2001). Discrete-Event System Simulation.

[2]Asia-Pacific Simulation & Trading Conference and Exhibition.

[3]Professional Military Education and Simulation speech.

[4]https://www.rockwellcollins.com/Products-andServices/Defense/Targeting/Simulation/RealFires

[5]Simulations Enhance Military Training, Africa Defense Forum, 2016.

[6]Simstaff.com

[7]CONOPS for DMT in the ADF, ADF Simulation and Training Centre, 2016.

[8]Simulations Enhance Military Training, Africa Defense Forum, 2016.