U.S. Military Leaders Seek Open-Source Simulation
Senior U.S. military leaders exhorted companies to develop integrated, standardized training and simulation systems to help them maintain fighting proficiency against other world powers—namely China—during the industry’s largest annual conference.
With numerous companies among the 480 exhibitors at the Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference (I/ITSEC) displaying their own approaches to creating interactive, “immersive” training environments, military leaders called for technological unity.
“Closed and proprietary is not the way forward for us,” said Maj. Gen. James Jacobson, U.S. Air Force director of training and readiness, during a senior leaders panel Dec. 3. “We need to see open and future-proof [systems] so that we can integrate the changing technologies.”
Future training devices should function more like applications that work within a single synthetic environment created from common terrain, threat and weather databases, Jacobson said.
“It isn’t one proprietary piece of equipment that stands alone and integrates part of the time; it’s an application that integrates through a standard synthetic environment with standard data, with standard threat models that every application uses,” said Jacobson.
Fred Drummond, deputy assistant secretary of defense for force education and training, said live, virtual and constructive training environments should draw from a “one-world geo database,” enabling Marine Corps helicopters to navigate within an Army operation using the same geographic dataset, for example. He further called for a one-world threat database across ground, sea and subsea domains.
“My vision is we would see these databases as furnished equipment,” Drummond said. “I don’t care what equipment or company produces the stuff—I just need the folks in uniform who are using these simulators working on the same data.”
In January, the Air Force will start the third class of its Pilot Training Next (PTN) experimental program without settling on standard training equipment, noted Jacobson. The service’s Air Education and Training Command launched the initiative in February 2018 to explore ways to decrease the time and cost, but not the effectiveness, of pilot training by applying technologies including virtual and augmented reality, artificial intelligence and data analytics.
PTN also seeks to broaden the pool of pilot candidates by selecting participants from different learning backgrounds. The first class of 13 students included officers and enlisted airmen; the second class of 14 included students from the Navy and UK Royal Air Force. Jacobson said the effort to expand the candidate pool continues.
“We’re not quite sure what scales for that yet, nor do we have necessarily a standard set of technology across all the bases,” Jacobson said. “There is still a ways to go before we can reduce the training time and improve the quality of the product that gets to the next level of the U.S. Air Force.”
Keeping true to the Pentagon’s “change at the speed of relevance” credo means capabilities cannot take decades to be fielded, said Gen. Stephen Wilson, Air Force vice chief of staff, who delivered the military keynote address at I/ITSEC.
In a new era of great-power competition and with rapid advancements in technology, the U.S. can no longer assume technological superiority over rivals, warned Wilson, devoting the bulk of his remarks to the challenge presented by China.
Last year, China produced eight times the number of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) graduates as the U.S.; in five years, the STEM advantage will be 15:1, he said.
“They’re mastering quantum computing in labs in Shanghai. They’re making huge strides in artificial intelligence, machine vision, space and hypersonic [technology], just to name a few areas,” Wilson said. “China is all in to win. It’s an all-of-nation effort; it’s industry, it’s academia, it’s national labs, it’s military, it’s what they call ‘military-civil fusion.’ It would be a mistake to underestimate China.”
Training and simulation will play an integral role if the Air Force is to meet force connectedness, space dominance and other objectives identified in the National Defense Strategy, Wilson said. Announced by then-Defense Secretary James Mattis in January 2018, the joint services strategy aims to restore the U.S. competitive edge by countering Russia and China.
Simulators of the future need to be integrated and connected across weapons systems, should replicate combined-arms warfare in contested environments, and recreate operations in denied and contested environments including space, he said.
“Individual weapons systems simulators can help our men and women become proficient tacticians, but it’s their ability to integrate and connect that will differentiate us against a peer threat,” Wilson advised.