Published in Military Simulation & Training, March 2, 2018
Republished as delivered by permission of Military Simulation & Training

Realistic, relevant and secure operational training is fundamental to warfighter readiness. Yet we are training with a complex array of partially integrated systems that don’t always mirror the way we go to battle. Without a shift in our approach to interoperability, our training systems will be incapable of representing current battlespace complexities, our own platform capabilities, and the growing sophistication and lethality of potential adversaries.

It is understood that the cost of modern military training solely with live assets—properly scaled in the air, on land, and on and under the oceans—is becoming cost prohibitive. Likewise, solely relying on purely virtual training with cutting-edge simulations cannot fully replicate the complexity and nuance of the actual battle environment. Therefore, there is broad agreement that future training environments include the realism, affordability and flexibility provided by the blending of Live, Virtual and Constructive (LVC) elements.

The U.S. Senate has taken note of the potential of LVC and is driving a solution. In the Committee Report that accompanies Senate Bill 1519, the Senate’s Fiscal Year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the Senate Armed Services Committee includes the following text: “While strongly supportive of the services’ efforts to develop LVC capabilities, the committee is concerned the services are executing the various development programs to deliver training solutions that are insufficiently integrated and interoperable, inhibiting the potential for taking full advantage of these systems for invaluable joint force training. Therefore, the committee directs the Secretaries of the Air Force, Army, and Navy, not later than March 1, 2018, to provide to the congressional defense committees a report on their respective plans for LVC training …”

This Report language from the Senate clearly recognizes storm clouds on the horizon, and is rightly charting a clear course toward a better solution for the joint force. I strongly agree that there is a problem in need of a more thoughtful, joint service approach. From my company’s vantage point, current training networks and systems are an amalgam of interfaces, protocol standards and equipment that make the integration of training environments needlessly costly and complicated and constitute a barrier to truly integrated training. Let me provide a few examples, which include:       

  • Numerous duplicative standards and protocols (for example; DIS, HLA, ALSP, TENA, HLA-evolved) that are used to network disparate training systems
  • Lack of standardization of cyber security requirements expose the LVC systems and network linkages to cyber threats
  • Proprietary standards increase life cycle costs, hamper innovation, and constrain the creation of compostable training environments

To be fair, the services have begun to recognize this issue and are beginning to address it. For example, a recent Air Force initiative, Simulator Common Architecture Requirements and Standards (SCARS), is a concrete example of how the services are attempting to resolve integration and security issues across disparate simulation systems. The SCARS problem statement recognizes that, “Sustainment of multiple unique simulators and training devices is becoming cost-prohibitive in an increasingly demanding cyber environment.”   

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However, more can be done. As technology is explored to attain the LVC vision, careful consideration needs to be made to assure interoperability and that an open architecture system- of-systems approach is ‘baked’ in to avoid these present barriers. Interoperability problems cannot be resolved with bolt-on solutions adjacent to the simulation and training systems themselves. Translators, bridges, and simulation gateways just exacerbate the problem.

In my opinion, the Department of Defense is heeding the wakeup call, but we need to fully acknowledge the complexity and magnitude of the problem, and not pursue partial measures. We need a paradigm shift to enable our networked training systems to keep pace with our evolving weapons systems and CONOPS, and an approach to interoperability that doesn’t depend on the ability to define a one-size-fits-all standard. I would suggest that the way forward lies in following three main themes:

Embrace a philosophy of Continuous Convergence of LVC Training Systems
Continuous convergence recognizes the evolutionary nature of the requirements driving the need for LVC and the technologies that will enable solutions for each service and across the services. This is a journey. It is not a destination. By guiding incremental technology improvement, stakeholders can gauge what works well and what does not, enabling evolution of the training experience for the mission sets that provides the most benefit. This will enable better joint- as well as service-unique solutions.

Disparate training needs across the services can be addressed via a common approach to interoperability. Continuous convergence will accelerate the “Speed to Fleet” through improved testing and acquisition. In fact, the services are already headed down this path via activities such as the U.S. Air Force’s Operational Test Infrastructure, the U.S. Navy’s Distributed Mission Training initiative, as well as NATO’s Mission Training through Distributed Simulation (MTDS) work.

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Drive towards Extreme Interoperability of Connected Training Systems
The term “extreme interoperability” is intended to borrow from the values of extreme programming (XP). Whereas XP enables teams to “confidently respond to changing customer requirements, even late in the life cycle,” extreme interoperability recognizes that training environments may evolve rapidly to address new training needs. To enable this, we must begin to modify (or perhaps divest from) technologies and infrastructure that are barriers to change.

It is ironic that the desire to generate integration standards precipitated the interoperability challenges we face today. For example, early adopters of wide area simulator standards such as SIMNET were the motivation for Distributed Interactive Simulation (DIS). Similarly, the development of High Level Architecture (HLA) was seen as a natural cycle of generalization and abstraction that would increase the utility of interoperable training systems. But pursuit of each successive technical solution has had the unintended consequence of exacerbating integration challenges.

The value of extreme interoperability becomes clear when we consider the impact of advances in sensors, combat information systems and smart weaponry. These breakthroughs require increasingly sophisticated test and training environments. For example, fielded instrumented training ranges historically have proven inadequate in presenting LVC-enabled training environments to their users.

Extreme interoperability is the enabler of a focused vision for the future. Extreme interoperability will eliminate big “block” deliveries in favor of agile, XP-like releases that deliver incremental changes. As with XP, extreme interoperability will improve training quality and responsiveness to changing customer (service) requirements. Extreme interoperability will recognize mistakes quickly, learn from them, and move on.

Eliminate the barriers to Convergence and Extreme Interoperability Inherent in the Defense Acquisition Processes
Currently, each of the Services acquires its own warfighter training systems independently, and, in many cases, is dependent upon unique or proprietary interfaces and standards. In reality, this isolation has led to predictable outcomes; independent networks and systems that do not collaborate effectively and cannot be readily and affordably adapted to the warfighter.

To move forward, it’s crucial to understand that eliminating barriers to convergence and interoperability are not technology issues; they are policy issues. In my opinion, policy makers must define a path forward that incrementally—and under a common understanding—embraces continuous convergence and drives the services toward extreme interoperability and an LVC-enabled future.

General Stanley McChrystal addressed a similar issue in his book, Team of Teams, when he writes; “The walls between silos were torn down. Leaders looked at the best practices of the smallest units and found ways to extend them to thousands of people …” This team-of-teams approach is the blueprint for what must be done to deliver LVC training that will ensure victory in the battlespace of the future.

Dreams become concepts. Concepts can quickly become reality. We are on the cusp of a radical change in addressing how the U.S. military and its allies can better acquire systems, prepare for their missions, and win on and off the battlefield. Now is the time to move forward in a more collaborative and effective manner as we rise to the challenge.

Posted by Rockwell Collins