Army seeks to blend simulation with real-world training

It has long been the opinion of veteran soldiers and Marines that simulation training is helpful, but "nothing can replace mud and blood" to prepare warriors for actual combat conditions. Toward that end, leaders of the U.S. Army Simulation, Training & Instrumentation Command (STRICOM) have been fielding a series of tactical engagement simulation systems (TESS) that put simulation in the field.

Nov 1st, 1999

By J.R. Wilson

It has long been the opinion of veteran soldiers and Marines that simulation training is helpful, but "nothing can replace mud and blood" to prepare warriors for actual combat conditions. Toward that end, leaders of the U.S. Army Simulation, Training & Instrumentation Command (STRICOM) have been fielding a series of tactical engagement simulation systems (TESS) that put simulation in the field.

But STRICOM`s project manager-training devices (PM-TRADE), Col. Craig Hanford, is not satisfied with the current approach, using what essentially are strap-on, unrelated systems. Specifically, Hanford says he is dissatisfied with systems such as MILES 2000 (Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System) for infantry soldiers, or the TWGSS/PGS (tank weapons gunnery simulations system/precision gunnery system) — a family of simulation systems for the M1 tank and the M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicle. In these kinds of systems, TESS is not a primary function but military leaders could use them in that mode.

The problem revolves around the inability of these systems by themselves to provide a broad range of battlefield experiences. While there are existing systems capable of providing ground force TESS, including some limited aviation involvement, not all of those capabilities are available in the current MILES family nor do any meet all of the real-world needs of soldiers training in the field.

To replace those multiple elements with a single system — or family of systems — that replicates many battlefield weapons, the PM-TRADE office developed the OneTESS concept. In addition to overcoming current training limitations, Hanford says, having a single system also would greatly reduce operations and maintenance costs.

Hanford`s goal is to embed field-training capabilities into all weapons platforms — including the 21st century battle uniform itself — by finding dual-use technologies that designers can use for actual battle and training. "We don`t want to add any more weight to the current systems — particularly the dismounted soldier," he says.

The keys to this long-sought approach range from faster, smaller, and lighter power systems and computing elements to the increasing digitization of the battlefield itself. A prime example of this is Land Warrior, a first-generation integrated system designed to enhance the dismounted soldier`s lethality, survivability, mobility, command, control, and sustainability.

The lightweight, modular design will improve communications, computing, night vision, weaponry, and ballistic protection, using mission-tailored commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) and non-developmental items. That modularity also is to provide an easy upgrade path for emerging technologies.

That same concept of modularity — combined with a common training instrumentation architecture of protocols, standards, and interfaces — also is key to OneTESS. Hanford says it will ensure a core technical capability and the ability to "plug and play" additional modules or features.

Much of what goes into Land Warrior to improve the soldier`s situational awareness on a live battlefield also can help create simulations for realistic field training. For example, a new helmet-mounted display will provide computer-generated graphical data, digital maps, intelligence information, troop locations, and imagery from the soldier`s weapon-mounted thermal sight and video camera. It also can provide a soldier in training with information on the location of real or virtual troops and equipment — friend and foe — as well as instant notification that an individual soldier has been wounded or killed in a simulated battle.

"If he is going to get data in his display telling him where his other squad members are or that a message has come in, we can pull that off and use it ourselves in the after—action review, to say at this point in time this particular soldier knew this information and that`s what his actions were predicated on," Hanford says. "One contractor has shown us how he could pump virtual targets into a live tank sight. You can shoot and kill it; it can shoot back and kill you. We could pump those same kinds of visuals through the Land Warrior display."

Other dual-use possibilities include the global positioning system (GPS), which could determine if a soldier was within the blast zone of a bomb or artillery shell. Onboard radio transmitters could send and receive training data.

The current sensor vest and rifle-mounted laser emitter on MILES could make way for the laser targeting system built into the new objective individual combat weapon (OICW — the 21st Century rifle) and the laser sensors and combat identification/designation system (CIDS) built into the Land Warrior uniform. CIDS will enable soldiers to "scan" another soldier with a laser that incorporates a code identifying friend or foe.

Designers have incorporated the MILES and CIDS lasers "so we are co-located on the same lasing box that goes onto the rifle today," Hanford says. "And the sensors that will be part of the soldier`s ensemble already recognize MILES laser codes."

Networked simulators

The enabling technologies of OneTESS include distributed interactive simulation (DIS), a common set of protocols that network a wide range of simulators on a single virtual battlefield.

"We see advances in technology in terms of processor speed, bandwidth, and networking capability that allow us — at longer distances and a lot more speed — to link in more players than we could before," Hanford says. "We believe WARSIM and later JSIMS [Joint Simulation System] will ... provide more capabilities for bringing in constructive entities to the war games so higher staff can play larger roles than they have before. With CCTT [close combat tactical trainer] and other virtual simulations, we`re building in the capabilities to link not only to each other but to other domains so their virtual synthetic environment can play with other players."

Combining OneTESS with such developing capabilities as DIS and distributed mission training (DMT), future training scenarios could involve Air Force warplanes in flight simulators at any location worldwide. The Air Force simulated aircraft could link into a node with a simulation similar to WARSIM, where staff members control other units.

This same scenario also could get input from a battalion or brigade on the ground at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., as well as from Navy ships in the Mediterranean, from Marines at Fort Bragg, N.C. Position/location and damage assessment data from those units could feed to higher headquarters to offer a picture of dispersed units — some constructive, some virtual, some live.

OneTESS takes advantage of new technologies and integrates into new systems, so military leaders consider it to be a complete replacement for nearly all existing field training devices.

Still, there is much work to do. "We recognize that today`s laser-based technology cannot handle some of the new non-line-of-sight weapons and precision guided munitions and man-out-of-the-loop systems that are coming down the road," Hanford says. "We feel we probably need to start from scratch to resolve several problems: One, give us that technological leap; two, afford us the capability of building a common core, which we don`t have with MILES, and, three, allow us to mature the modularity we need for future growth, which we also don`t have with MILES right now.

Until Land Warrior begins to appear on the battlefield — currently scheduled around 2003 to 2005 — STRICOM officials will use MILES and related training systems. Still, embedding TESS capabilities into Land Warrior and related systems, such as the OICW, will make training an integral part of the future soldier`s combat ensemble. This has the potential to make the combat uniform an actual weapons system in itself perhaps for the first time since the Middle Ages.

One of the biggest shortcomings of the MILES approach is its inability to replicate non-line-of-sight weaponry such as grenades, fire-and-forget missiles, and machine-gun bullets that penetrate walls. Without this ability, soldiers training with MILES equipment could be given a false sense of security.

Land Warrior could resolve part of that with GPS and geometric pairing — a computer algorithm that determines if certain simulated weapons could damage or destroy certain targets. STRICOM experts also have looked at prototype training grenades that emit laser bursts instead of shrapnel to trigger MILES-type receptors.

Inter-service cooperation

Hanford points out how closely the Army has worked with the Marines in developing and fielding MILES 2000, the latest generation of the laser-based training system. He says he is looking forward to similar Corps cooperation on OneTESS.

"We also have contacted the special operations community to let them know the direction we`re going and to encourage them to plan the resources for whatever they would need in the future as we go into this acquisition," he says. "And I`ve talked to the allies to let them know we are moving in a future direction and asked them to join with us in developing this capability. It is important that we have the ability to train in coalition and NATO operations with interoperable systems."

The overall advancements already available have shown everything Hanford wants can be done a lot better and a lot faster than even he envisioned as little as a year ago. One example is a lightweight precision detection device, for which Boeing Integrated Defense Systems of Fairfax, Va., won a contract in September.

"Our first attempt to come up with a device that gave position/location of the dismounted soldier was only semi-successful. It transmitted the data but was extremely heavy and bulky, which was counter-productive," Hanford says. "We`ve seen considerable advances in transmission technology and miniaturization that allow us to come up with a new device that does the same thing but is a lot less intrusive. It is extremely lighter and much smaller, with transmission strength a lot clearer and stronger due to new materials and new processor technology. Because of advancements in transmission algorithms, we also will be able to save on bandwidth and import data faster."

Power issues

Another significant advancement has been in power requirements and sources. New types of circuitry require far less power than before, meaning fewer and smaller batteries are needed.

Batteries also have undergone major improvements in size and lifecycle. "Where before we had to change out the batteries every 72 hours, we have been shown some prototype systems that can last for a couple of years with a standard watch battery," Hanford says. "The microelectronics field will provide us with a lot more capability and miniaturization than we`ve had before."

In the end, Hanford wants a simulation capability that will be effective in the live domain. "This provides capability to do live training in the mud and the dust and the rain and the cold and still have to go through the same conditions they would experience in actual combat, short of real bullets killing anybody," he says.

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