How a Board Game Helps DoD Win Real Battles

How a Board Game Helps DoD Win Real Battles

Like the classic board game Risk, the Army's C-WAM employs dice to determine variables, as players maneuver brigades across a board.

Computers continue to revolutionize modern warfare, not the least of when it comes to putting battle plans to the test. Devise the scenario, feed it into the computer and out spews detailed estimates of risk, supply consumption and more.

But as it turns out, that there’s nothing like pitting humans against humans – at least to get the kinks out of a plan to begin with.

Indeed, Pentagon leaders right up to the deputy secretary of defense are using a house-built Army board game – complete with outcome tables and standard dice – to spot the flaws in battle plans before crunching the numbers with modern computing. Just as manned aircraft and drones can team to form a highly effective partnership, computer models linked to board games can bring out the best qualities of both.

The Army calls its board game C-WAM – short for the Center for Army Analysis Wargaming Analysis Model. Games pit (friendly) Blue versus (enemy) Red forces and results are fed into the Joint Integrated Contingency Model (JICM), a powerful computer simulation that analyzes plans and calculates losses and supply consumption.

First developed eight years ago, C-WAM is increasingly popular and has been used by Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work, a well-known vigorous advocate for analytical wargaming as well as the Joint Staff, multiple Combatant Commands (COCOMs) including Pacific (PACOM) and European (EUROCOM) commands, and other major component commands, such as U.S. Pacific Fleet and Pacific Air Forces and U.S. Air Forces Europe.

The game has also been used to test potential effectiveness of new weapons during the acquisition process.

“Demand is far outstripping our capacity at this point,” says C-WAM creator Daniel Mahoney III, a campaign analyst for Center for Army Analysis at Fort Belvoir, Va. “We turn people down now for wargaming requests.”

Understanding the Game
Physically, C-WAM consists of a tabletop map typically about five-feet long and four-feet wide. Players maneuver their pieces (representing brigades) across the map, just like in any other tabletop game. The digital Battle Tracker– a simple computer database — rolls digital dice and tracks losses, supplies and so on. If they prefer, players may also choose to use conventional physical dice.

The Blue and Red teams are each led by a commander-in-chief and supported by ground, air and naval commanders. A White Cell umpire, supported by a few more people to run the Battle Tracker, oversees the game as it plays out.

If the scenario involves undersea warfare, “we actually run a second map in a hidden [room] area for the submarines,” says Mahoney, a retired lieutenant colonel and former chief of plans for the Army’s 1st Cavalry Division.

Securing High Value Assets/WMD
The 76-page C-WAM game manual, a copy of which was provided to GovTechWorks under the Freedom of Information Act, contains 27 dice-driven tables.

To keep the wargame playable but realistic, some aspects are simulated abstractly. For example, three different probabilities are assigned to attacks on an opponent’s cyber networks and orbital space assets, as well as friendly electronic warfare operations.

Depending on another dice roll, three outcomes are possible:

  • Degradation of enemy command and control, affecting the probability of success during combat
  • Impairment of enemy logistics, resulting in a one- to three-day delay in resupply
  • Degradation of enemy ISR capabilities, which can impair players’ ability to use air strikes to interdict enemy reinforcements coming up from the rear

Not surprisingly, given the wargame’s Army origins, ground combat is the most developed game element. But C-WAM also includes both naval and air rules and is popular with naval-centered organizations, such as PACOM.

Dice tables adjudicate everything from weather to special forces strikes. But the aim is less about specific results than to prove whether or not a concept has merit. “We tell everybody: Don’t focus on the various tactical outcomes,” Mahoney says. “We know they are wrong. They are just approximations. But they are good enough to say that at the operational level, ‘This is a good idea. This might work. That is a bad idea. Don’t do that.’”

In other words, like any good military simulation, the goal is cognitive. Competitive tactical play leads to insights at the operational level. “The Red player might ask the Blue player, ‘Why would you do that? Exposing that flank doesn’t make any sense,’” Mahoney says.

Those operational insights can lead to more accurate plans that can be fed into and analyzed by the Joint Integrated Contingency Model (JICM) for that particular area of operations. But that’s not always necessary. “Sometimes [combatant commands] don’t take the next step,” Mahoney says. “They just want to have someone compare the courses of action for them.”

Answering a Need
C-WAM was created about eight years as a solution to a problem: JICM requires a human analyst to create detailed plans for both friendly and enemy forces, which can be fed into the model for adjudication. But sometimes initial plans lacked the detail needed to engage JICM successfully. For example, a combatant command (COCOM) might submit a theater-level plan for evaluation, but leave out specifics, such as whether friendly or enemy forces will attack on the right or left flank, or whether the attacker or defender will emphasize maneuver or rely on artillery. That meant that analysts had to subjectively decide how the battle would be fought.

C-WAM’s Sequence of Play

The Center for Army Analysis Wargaming Analysis Model (C-WAM) pits Red vs. Blue forces in a complex contest of tactics and strategy. The game’s depth is demonstrated in its Sequence of Play. Each turn represents one to three days of real time and must include each of the following:

  1. Determine Weather
  2. Cyber Operations
  3. ISR Operations
  4. Integrated Air Defense System Allocation
  5. Strategic Strike Missions
  6. Determine Air Superiority
    • Air Tasking Order
    • CAP [Combat Air Patrol] Placement
    • Air-Air Combat
  7. Strategic Deployment
    • Strategic Air Movement
    • Strategic Sea Movement
  8. Logistical Sufficiency Check
    • Forward Area Logistical Check
    • Strategic Logistical replenishment
  9. Naval Combat
    • Resolve Subsurface Engagements
    • Surface Movement
    • Surface Detection
    • Surface Combat
  10. Tactical Deep Strike Missions
    • Tactical TBM [Tactical Ballistic Missile] Strikes
    • Cruise Missile (CM) & Fixed Wing Aircraft (FWA) Air Interdiction (AI) Strikes
  11. Ground Combat
    • Counter SOF [Special Operations Forces]
    • New SOF insertions
    • Intra-Theater Lift / Onward Movement & Integration Operations
    • Ground Maneuver
    • AI vs. Moving Ground Units
    • Ground Attacks
  12. Post Combat
    • Refugee Flows
    • Stabilization Requirements

“Somebody would give an analyst a very high-level document, that says, ‘You’ve got three divisions, they’re attacking in this terrain, here’s the enemy. Go forth and do great things,’” Mahoney says. “But the analyst didn’t know what the campaign looked like, how the terrain might impact operations, how the enemy’s capabilities – or our own – might affect things, the flow of friendly forces into theater and so on.”

Analysts weren’t necessarily equipped to make those decisions.

That’s where CWAM comes in. The game allows military organizations to come up with multiple Courses of Action (COAs) or alternative plans, and then test those out on tabletop to help leaders develop a final battle plan incorporating the best of each COA. Only then is the plan submitted to JICM for a detailed analysis.

Mahoney believes C-WAM also helped fill a gap in operational-level wargaming. “There were strategic games going on and very low-level tactical games,” he says. “The hole was at the operational level.”

One Defense Department wargaming expert who asked not to be named, said C-WAM is valuable but has its limitations. “CWAM is useful if the question you’re asking is at the operational level of analysis, and the abstractions inherent are acceptable to the study parameters,” the expert said. But one must remember that C-WAM is a conceptual tool. “Looking at operational ConOps [concepts of operations] can be a worthwhile endeavor with C-WAM – provided you’re comfortable with the assumptions it makes.”

Advantages of Simplicity
Why use old-fashioned paper games in the Digital Age? One reason is cost. Mahoney and others at the Center for Army Analysis developed C-WAM using nothing more sophisticated than a DBA database maintained by an analyst in his spare time. Mahoney acknowledges though, that were funding available he’d love to hire a full-time database administrator.

Another reason is simplicity. Board games can be easier to work with. Need to change the rules or tweak the probability of a cruise missile strike hitting its target? Instead of calling in programmers to rewrite computer code, changes can be made with the stroke of a pen. And then there’s portability. . “I can’t take a computer suite with me,” Mahoney says. “But I can roll up a map and take it with me.”

C-WAM is popular because the U.S. military recognizes that what Mahoney calls the “oracle methodology” – the belief that if only the right data were fed into the right computer model, then the answer would be clear – is not yet possible. Even in an age of Big Data and machine learning Mahoney argues, human-on-human gaming still delivers significant value.

And yet automating such tools also has value, notes Bob Pricone, a retired Army colonel and staff vice president at General Dynamics Information Technology. “The contemporary operating environment is dynamic, complex and fast paced,” Pricone says. “This requires commanders and their staffs to rapidly assess multiple courses of action which can provide sufficient outputs to make decisions.”

In the long term, he adds, “Further development of automated wargaming tools are critical for the Joint Forces ability to plan and make decisions in these dynamic and complex environments.”

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What’s the Best Way to Wargame Cyberwarfare?

What’s the Best Way to Wargame Cyberwarfare?

Faced with a variety of new threats, from hypersonic ship-killing missiles to anti-satellite weapons and terrorist attacks, top Pentagon leaders are pushing for more analytical wargaming to devise strategies to counter such threats.

But in an era where information can be an instrument of war, the question of how to effectively wargame cyber attacks is a critical issue for military planners.

Modeling cyberwarfare resembles the philosophical question of whether a tree actually fell in a forest if no one heard it fall. How does a wargame designer realistically depict a stealth weapon like a computer virus, whose very effectiveness depends on the victim not knowing that the virus exists or how it works?

“We have been trying to integrate stuff like that [cyberwarfare] into operational games, but the weapons themselves are so highly classified and tightly held that we don’t really know what capabilities exist,” says Peter Perla, a defense wargaming expert and senior research scientist with the Center for Naval Analyses.

Perla calls cyber the “holy grail” of wargaming. “We have some general ideas of what might exist but we tend not to be able to cross those barriers. So we kind of give people generic capabilities and ask them to find something that they’d like to have. Then we assess whether it is a one-shot deal, or it might be persistent for a while,” he said. “But the parameters are very difficult to get a handle on because we have no experience with them.”

That lack of experience extends to those operating defense networks. “One big thing we did that was game-changing for us is that we actually wargamed our computer network defense activity,” said Bill Marion, the Air Force’s deputy chief information officer at a May 11 AFCEA breakfast meeting. “So it’s not industry [network defense] and government network defense. It’s got to be a partnership. So we actually wargamed – and exercised – two times with DISA [the Defense Information Systems Agency]– to a point where … the mission owner actually went through those threats, worked through them, and documented those processes.

“Because they just don’t exist when a classified event happens. How do you work through the flow of mission? That was one of our biggest stumbling blocks,”Marion continued. “You have to dig through that with your industry partners. It’s absolutely critical.”

The gaps in knowledge can create problems for the people who design and run wargames. Designing a cyber wargame in which you don’t know the full cyber capabilities of either party is like designing a ballistic missile defense simulation where the characteristics of enemy missiles are unknown and so are the capabilities of U.S. and allied radars and interceptors.

Should the U.S. ever engage in hostilities in the South China Sea or Eastern Europe, cyberwarfare is certain to come into play, probably on both sides. If so, U.S. wargames will need to incorporate cyber in order to craft a realistic strategy for any such engagement. Indeed, Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work’s February 2015 memo which called for more wargaming, specifically mentions cyber as a factor that must be included.

In a January 2015 speech, Work also cited cyber as one of several capabilities that potential adversaries are designing “to counter our traditional military strengths and our preferred way of operating.”

John Curry, author of “Dark Guest: Training Games For Cyber Warfare,” sees two issues with simulating cyberwarfare. The first is that there is little real-world experience of cyberwarfare on which to base a game. While cyberattacks do occur, we have not yet seen the kind of intensive cyber warfare that might take place between sophisticated cyber powers at war. “Google, Microsoft, HP and our universities have not been mobilized in an all-out effort to hit the other side,” Curry says. “Despite protestations that we have had cyber war, we have only had skirmishes on the fringe of conflicts.”

The second is the incredibly rapid fluctuations endemic to cyberwarfare. “One of the issues of cyber weapons is they are largely untested and can be rendered ineffective by the next software patch,” Curry says. “You build a tool, the other side builds a patch and then your tool has to be re-engineered.”

So how should cyberwarfare be simulated in defense wargames? Experts say there are two ways to approach this. One is to simulate cyberweapons in detail, such as distinguishing between different types of viruses and their effects. This would help teach players something about how these weapons work and how they could be employed in conflict.

But Perla and others suggest the alternative solution is better: It’s a “black box” approach in which players only see the basic effects of cyberwarfare and don’t get caught up in the details about how something is done. It’s the same approach wargames use for electronic warfare, where players are simply told that jamming has disrupted their communications.

“I would focus on potential effects rather than specific weapons,” Perla says. “For example, one type of attack might reduce command and control capacity, making it difficult to issue or change orders. This could be characterized on a ‘Cyber Card’ the player has available. When played, the game controllers would implement the effects as they see fit. Possibly, the effect is either bigger or smaller than expected. Possibly, the opponent is aware of the attack and able to negate it, or even turn it against the original user,” he said.

Perla also notes that depicting cyber depends on the level of warfare being simulated. “Cyber at the strategic level is likely to use different tools against different targets than cyber at the tactical level,” he said. “Big surprise. For example, at the tactical level, one side may try to tap into the cyber networks of their opponent after capturing a headquarters. But the opponent may run a deception op, feeding false info through the captured node.”

Simulating cyberwarfare also depends on the audience. If the goal is to create a training simulation for cyberwarfare operators, then it makes sense to delve into the nitty-gritty of specific forms of attack and defense, or the characteristics and vulnerabilities of various types of software or computer networks. But if the audience is a slate of senior generals and admirals wargaming a North Korean invasion of South Korea, then there is no reason for the game to simulate the differences between a malware attack and a denial-of-service cyberattack.

“The operational reality is that cyber is integrated with the other domains of warfare,” Curry says. “Cyber is just a means and is rarely the end.”

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The Return of Wargaming: How DoD Aims to Re-Imagine Warfare

The Return of Wargaming:
How DoD Aims to Re-Imagine Warfare

When the Deputy Secretary of Defense says to play more games, take note.

Over the past year, at least four directives from the highest levels of the Department of Defense (DoD) and the services, including a February 2015 memo from Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work, called for more wargaming.

“I was concerned the Department’s ability to test concepts, capabilities and plans using simulation as well as other techniques, had atrophied,” Work said by email to GovTechWorks. “While resetting and reconstituting the Joint Force after so many years of war, we needed to turn our attention toward numerous emerging challenges to U.S. global leadership.

“In this dynamic environment, Department leaders are making important programmatic decisions to meet those challenges. Wargaming is an important means of informing those decisions and spurring innovation.”

The Pentagon requested more than $55 million for wargaming for fiscal 2017, and more than $525 million over the five-year Future Years Defense Program spending plan.

The new attention has wargame experts not just pleased, but amazed. “Wargaming has gone through periods of popularity and disfavor, but I have never seen in the past 40 years any situation like this with the senior leadership,” says Peter Perla, senior research scientist with the Center for Naval Analyses (CNA) and a leading wargaming expert.

Already, a new classified repository has been created where wargame results can be shared across the Department of Defense, and which so far contains the results of more than 250 games. Work has also formed a special Defense Wargaming Alignment Group (DWAG) to ensure wargames focus on issues important to senior leaders and that results are shared with those leaders.

Work’s February 2015 memorandum said the Pentagon’s new wargaming program will focus on three windows of time:

  • Near-term (from now to five years): operations and logistics
  • Mid-term (five to 15 years): new capabilities and operational concepts for issues, such as overcoming anti-access/access denial (A2AD) strategies
  • Long-term (beyond 15 years): technology trends and future challenges

Work suggested wargaming techniques including workshops, Red Team exercises in which players assume the roles of enemy leaders, tabletop exercises, seminar-style wargames and modeling and simulation.

Within months after the deputy Defense Secretary set things in motion, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus ordered the Navy and Marine Corps to deliver by September 2015 a department-wide wargaming plan and a series of Navy analytical games to be conducted in 2016 and 2017. Then in January, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson released his “Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority,” which called for the Navy to “test and refine concepts through focused wargaming, modeling and simulations.”

Renewed interest in wargaming comes as the U.S. military is preparing a new defense policy called the Third Offset Strategy, which seeks to overcome rivals’ superior numbers with American technological ingenuity. The first offset strategy is considered to be President Eisenhower’s embrace of Massive Retaliation in the 1950s, which relied on nuclear superiority to rival the Soviet Union’s superior number of conventional forces. Again to overcome Soviet numerical superiority, and the second offset strategy saw the U.S. focus on smart weapons in the 1970s and 1980s.

Today, China and Russia are fielding increasingly sophisticated forces and America’s technological advantages are diffusing into smaller powers, such as Iran. So U.S. defense leaders are calling for a third offset strategy.

In a January 2015 speech, Work cited adversaries’ improved nuclear weapons, new anti-ship and anti-aircraft missiles, long-range strike capabilities, counterspace capabilities, cyber and electronic warfare and special operations forces as examples of emerging threats to U.S. military might.

Cyber is of particular concern. Cloaked in secrecy, cyberwarfare is difficult to incorporate into wargames. But not including it jeopardizes the validity of games that attempt to simulate conflicts against opponents who will certainly use cyberweapons against U.S. forces. As cyber attacks become more sophisticated, modeling and testing strategies for both offensive and defensive operations is essential for U.S. military planners.

More broadly, wargaming offers a critical means of exploring and evaluating new technologies and operational concepts.

Wargaming “can potentially make the difference between wise and unwise investment trajectories and make our forces more successful in future conflicts,” Work noted in his 2015 directive.

Work told GovTechWorks that wargaming can help devise better strategies and optimize resources. “To more effectively pursue innovation and a Third Offset Strategy, avoid operational and technological surprise, while making the best use of limited resources, the Department needed to reinvigorate wargaming across the Department,” Work said. “Besides reinvigorating wargaming, we also need to institutionalize it and better integrate wargaming results with budget development. After all, wargaming is extremely beneficial. It helps develop leaders and enables us to go after new and innovative concepts and capabilities.”

But ensuring that wargaming results make it up the chain has been a challenge. “Wargame results are neither shared laterally across the defense enterprise nor up the chain to influence senior level decision-making,” wrote Work and co-author Gen. Paul Selva, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in a December 2015 article titled “Revitalizing Wargaming is Necessary to be Prepared for Future Wars.” The article appeared in the defense blog War on the Rocks. “In other words,” they wrote, “even if wargames are generating innovative insights and suggesting needed operational and organizational changes, the people in position to act upon them are generally unaware of the insights or their import.”

What DoD wants now from wargames is changing, CNA’s Perla said. “I think they’re looking for more innovative ideas and strategic thinking, rather than quantitative analysis.”

What Is a Wargame?
Defining wargaming is both subjective and a matter of debate.

In their wargaming article, Work and Selva recalled what may be the most famous example of how wargaming set the course for future battle success. A series of U.S. Naval War College wargames in the 1920s and 1930s proved invaluable in World War II. They quote Adm. Chester Nimitz saying the fight with “Japan had been re-enacted in the game rooms here by so many people and in so many different ways that nothing that happened during the war was a surprise, absolutely nothing except the kamikaze tactics towards the end of the war. We had not visualized those.”

What the Pentagon needs today is neither “Call of Duty”-style shooter games played on a teenager’s Xbox, nor tactical first-person military training simulations like Virtual Battlespace 3, though these do have their value as training tools. Rather, when it comes to wargames, defense officials need sophisticated analytical tools to test new technologies. They also need strategies to help planners deal with emerging concepts for 21st Century conflicts, from maritime access denial to cyberwarfare.

A recent series of RAND Corporation wargames provide an example. RAND studied what might happen in the case of a Russian invasion of the Baltic States, with military and civilian players from various U.S. and NATO organizations. The wargame found that Russia could overrun the Baltics in less than three days – and that a seven-brigade NATO force could potentially deter an attack.

Perla, who wrote the seminal 1990 book, “The Art of Wargaming,” said DoD lost its focus on strategic wargaming over the past 20 years, focusing instead on campaign analysis. The difference is subtle but important: campaign analysis uses fixed scenarios but varies the numerical and technological components each time it is run, so there are varying numbers of platforms with varying capabilities. It’s a useful technique for making procurement decisions, because it allows campaign comparisons to decide which mix of forces and capabilities is most cost-effective.

But true wargaming by contrast, focuses on experimenting with the scenario itself, such as where the conflict is, who is participating and what strategies both sides use. “Campaign analysis attempts to quantity the relative effectiveness of forces conducting similar operations,” Perla explained. “Wargaming is about better ways of approaching the problem.”

Work and Perla point to a lesson learned by anyone who has ever played a strategy game against a computer employing artificial intelligence: There is no substitute for the wiles of a human opponent.

Computers can assist wargaming, but computers follow rules, while humans test their limits by breaking rules.

Or as Perla says: “When you’re facing a thinking human opponent who wants to crush you, it forces you to think more creatively.”

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Army Developing Military-Grade ‘Google Earth’

Army Developing Military-Grade
‘Google Earth’

The day is coming when people will forget paper maps ever existed. From Google Earth to MapQuest and Apple’s Siri, we now take for granted the right to examine, at will, almost any spot on the planet.

For most of us, it’s a matter of convenience, a question of finding the best route to work, or admiring a Google-eye view of one’s house or neighborhood. But for the U.S. military, quick and accurate depictions of terrain are vital, whether for realistic training systems, mission rehearsal or outright mission execution.

So no wonder that the Army wants to create its own version of Google Earth, a system “where they can zoom in everywhere from very high up to down on the ground,” says Bill Reese, lead engineer for the Synthetic Environment Core (SE CORE) at the Army’s Program Executive Office for Simulation, Training and Instrumentation (PEO STRI), in Orlando, Florida.

“They want it to be there in the cloud, available immediately anywhere in the world, at the point of need, for various levels of devices, from handhelds to sophisticated simulators,” Reese said.

Army’s One World Terrain Requirements

The Army wants to develop a unified high-resolution, real-world terrain data base to support all aspects of training and mission rehearsal. Requirements include:

  • Full correlation with Mission Command Systems using a common terrain format and industry standards
  • Multiple views and zoom levels, and the ability to add overlays and simulate or model real-world events, such as earthquakes and flooding
  • Include space coverage and human terrain, and able to use crowd-sourced data to define attributes in cities
  • Incorporate commercial geospatial data and weather models, as well as GIS/Intel terrain data, to ensure rapid updates reflecting real-world changes
  • Cloud-enabled and capable of modeling climate and terrain
  • Able to present 2D and 3D views

For starters, the Army plans to bake that global terrain database into its next-generation training systems, providing a level of accuracy and fidelity unavailable today for live-virtual-construction (LVC) training. Operators could then train and rehearse missions using the precise terrain they will see when deployed.

Today, the Army’s SE Core includes detailed map data for only a few specific areas, such as unit home stations and training grounds in the U.S., Germany and Korea. But PEO STRI aims to replace that with what it calls One World Terrain (OWT). That database will be a fundamental feature of its future Synthetic Training Environment (STE), the planned comprehensive LVC training system the Army is developing to replace its current hodgepodge of LVC simulations and simulators. STE is scheduled for initial operational capability in 2023; officials envision it as a precursor to the Future Holistic Training Environment–Live Synthetic (FHTE-LS).

This global database would allow units to conduct synchronized LVC training events, joining units from across the globe to conduct complex simulations and mission rehearsals with a single, shared terrain data base.

According to a PEO STRI program description presented to industry in September 2015, the STE high-resolution global terrain database must allow the user to enjoy multiple views, zoom levels and overlays, depict terrestrial and human terrain as well as the space domain and be compatible with the Army’s mission command systems.

The industry day slides list nearly 20 goals for OWT, including a common terrain format, the ability to include commercial data from sources such as Google, weather and climate modeling, visualizations of critical infrastructure and megacities, crowdsourced data for cities, a cloud-enabled database and data drawn from social media.

For now, plans for OWT are more conceptual than programmatic. But not for long. Requirements are now being defined by the Army’s National Simulations Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Once requirements are defined, PEO STRI can issue a solicitation.

While no unique technological breakthroughs are needed to make OTW work, there are other obstacles to overcome. One is the brute labor required to compile the needed terrain databases and visualizations, a labor-intensive process.

“With today’s technology, it’s very labor intensive,” Reese said. “It’s not rocket science, but because there is not a lot of automation, the conflation of data sources takes a lot of time right now. We need more automated conflation and more automation of extracting features.

“Automation of buildings that are geo-specific and have interiors,” he said. “Right now, we don’t have any magic way to look inside a building and replicate it.”

Modeling terrain changes as they happen, such as when earthquakes strike, will also require new techniques. “Simulating earthquakes in the OWT database will require enhancements in the areas of dynamic terrain and real-time terrain updates,” said Harry Sotomayor, PEO STRI’s chief engineer for constructive simulation. “Dynamic terrain and terrain updates in real time will be used to support simulating earthquakes to include physics-based modeling for the destruction effects on buildings, highways and infrastructure.”

Then there is the challenge of delivering data to the user, especially in bandwidth-restricted environments. “We’ll have to be very flexible in terms of a thick client or thin clients,” Reese said.

When possible, PEO STRI would like terrain rendering to be performed at the data center or in the cloud, rather than tying up a user’s mobile device, Sotomayor said. “[But] if the network does not support the required bandwidth and latency requirements, then the concept will be to use the end user’s device to do the rendering.”

OWT data must also be compatible with a huge variety of equipment, ranging from mobile devices, which struggle to quickly render 3-D imagery, to large-scale mission command systems with massive computing power at the ready.

Rather than start from scratch, PEO-STRI hopes to leverage commercial data, such as Google Maps whenever possible. But Robert Parrish, PEO STRI’s chief engineer for live training said the commercial sector can’t provide everything. “There are still going to be some information shortfalls and gaps that the military will want filled, such as sensor information to overlay the map,” he said. This can include sensor data from multiple sources, such as ground and air ISR platforms.

Another Army organization involved in the project is the Army Geospatial Center (AGC), which handles terrain data for non-training uses.

AGC’s focus is to ensure terrain data is compatible with the Army’s new Standard and Sharable Geospatial Foundation (SSGF), a common terrain data format, and with the Common Operating Environment (COE), a common IT standard.

“AGC is focused on the data collection, creation, storage, and distribution parts of this project to ensure that when geospatial representations are generated for the STE, they are based off the same SSGF products we’ve integrated into the COE,” said Daniel Visone, director of AGC’s Systems and Acquisition Support Directorate.

Sotomayor foresees a system someday where users spanning the military services and the intelligence community can access whatever terrain data they need from whoever has it.

“I believe there will be major repositories of data owned by the Army, Navy, Air Force, NRO [National Reconnaissance Office], and so on,” he said. “And I envision there will be enterprise data services that will be used by end users to extract data from those sources.”

But Sotomayor believes the Army’s unique requirements mean it will have to work the hardest to achieve an accurate and comprehensive global terrain database. “I think we’re the ones who have the toughest problem, because our fidelity has to be really high for ground warfare.”

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Army Shoots for Single Synthetic Training Environment

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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