Army Shoots for Single Synthetic Training Environment

At its best, Live Virtual Constructive (LVC) training is like a symphony. A sweet harmony allowing a flesh-and-blood infantry battalion in the field at Fort Carson, Colo., to jointly train with a brigade combat team headquarters and a tank battalion using a close combat tactical trainer, each at opposite ends of Fort Hood, Texas.

At its worst, LVC can also be a Tower of Babel, the Biblical structure that aspired to reach the heavens only to collapse because its builders did not share a common language. Problems arise when training simulations can’t seamlessly exchange data, work off common terrain or ensure that troops and processes are simulated accurately and consistently.

The U.S. Army’s Live Virtual Constructive-Integrating Architecture (LVC-IA) now in place combines a half-dozen live, virtual and constructive training systems into a coordinated training orchestra. But reliant on mismatched terrain databases, LVC-IA is susceptible to simulation errors. Tanks can appear to drive across the sea and ships to sail over land.

Within the next decade, however, the Army plans to unveil a new, unified system that will revolutionize the way units train. The Synthetic Training Environment (STE) will be a single global open-source system capable of delivering training anyplace, anytime at any echelon, from company-sized units to corps-level units and beyond. STE would replace future iterations of LCV-IA and many other Army simulators and simulation systems including Games for Training, Synthetic Environment Core, Close Combat Tactical Trainer, Aviation Combined Arms Tactical Trainer and Joint Land Component Constructive Training Capability.

“We are not going to be a system of systems,” said Robert Parrish, a chief engineer for the Project Manager Integrated Training Environment at the Army’s Program Executive Office for Simulation, Training and Instrumentation (PEO STRI). “We are going to be a single system.”

“As we look at our training portfolio, this is the center of gravity for our future,” Maj. Gen. Jonathan Maddux, PEO STRI’s chief, informed attendees at a Sept. 2nd, STE Industry Day. That center will be built around a series of core ideas:

  • STE will be cloud-based, making it accessible anywhere, said PEO STRI product manager Lt. Col. Vincent Grizio. “The ability to access the simulation through a web-based app supports the concept of training anywhere and anytime without the need to deploy specialized hardware and software.”
  • STE will use existing networks. “We’re going to leverage the Army’s operational and tactical networks – the Army Enterprise Network,” Chief Engineer Parrish said. “So we’re going to have to live within those confines of what the Army’s capacity is going to be from a network perspective, and how we’re going to work around that.”
  • STE will have multiplatform delivery systems. “We plan to deliver this training through the STE at the point of need,” Maddux said. “The point of need may be a soldier’s mobile device, as well at his workspace, in a dayroom, in a combat platform, or in any COE [Common Operating Environment] across our army.”

Beyond these core goals, detailed requirements are still being.

With an ambitious goal to introduce the technology in just 10 years, PEO STRI is reaching out to industry, academia and the science and technology community to see “what technologies are mature enough to start some portions of the program, and which have to mature,” said Harry Sotomayor, a chief engineer at Project Manager Integrated Training Environment.

Bandwidth will be a major obstacle. How STE consumes bandwidth without over-taxing existing Army networks – especially in forward environments where bandwidth is precious – is a challenge.

Sotomayor said the solution may be similar to commercial mobile, in which users store data on the cloud, but still retain some local data for rapid access. “Sometimes you can connect to the cloud and sometimes you can’t,” he added. “But you still have some of your information on your [smartphone] or your tablet.”

Also at the Industry Day conference, PEO STRI listed six additional tasks STE must fulfill:

  • Build a single synthetic environment that can handle virtual, constructive and gaming
  • Incorporate the Army’s one-world terrain project which maps the entire globe, both geographically and socio-politically
  • Deliver training to the point of need
  • Create artificial intelligence to reduce the need for human role players in exercises and offer intelligent enemy forces
  • Intelligent tutors for computer-based training
  • Utilize big data for analytics and visualization

Sotomayor believes commercial gaming and cloud vendors can provide some of these new technologies, such as intelligent virtual tutors and advance augmented and mixed-reality gear.

Initial operating capability is slated for 2023 with game-based training. STE initially will not include live training. Grizio describes STE as the “interim step” toward the Future Holistic Training Environment /Live Synthetic (FHTE-LS), which will integrate live training into STE.

LVC-IA would not be replaced by STE until Increment 3, around 2029.

John Janiszewski, former director of the Army’s National Simulation Center at Fort Leavenworth, said STRI has done a good job of laying out the challenges confronting STE. He also liked how “they are leveraging the S&T [science and technology] community.”

But Janiszewski does think developing the needed technology is a tall order. “The concept relies on technology improvements and there needs to be a risk mitigation plan that provides alternatives.”

Maddux acknowledges the challenges ahead, but says the Army’s goals are well within reach. “This could be an expensive endeavor,” he said. But that doesn’t’ mean impossible. “We are not shooting for things that are unattainable, but realistic.”

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