Military's push into embedded training relies on commercial technology

July 1, 2004
The military commitment to embedded training (ET) means significant change not only for those in uniform but also for the contractor community for future systems and those already in the field.

By J.R. Wilson

ORLANDO, Fla. — The military commitment to embedded training (ET) means significant change not only for those in uniform but also for the contractor community for future systems and those already in the field.

"Each individual program, depending on where it is in the acquisition cycle, has its own requirements for embedded training," says Tim Ward, project director for future force simulation at the Program Executive Office for Simulation, Training & Instrumentation (PEO STRI) in Orlando, Fla.

"That can involve different methods depending on the technologies of that system, the funding, and the requirements. It will be unique to each system how that embedded training requirement is viewed and infused into the overall capability," Ward says.

"It is more difficult to have a fully embedded capability in an existing system. It is easier to having something umbilical or appended, which allows you to work the embedded training in later, use it as a separate offshoot, or whatever. To be fully embedded, you really need to work it at the same time you are designing the platform."

Future combat system

The Army's Future Combat System (FCS), which is to begin fielding around 2010, will be designed with embedded training incorporated. It is also a requirement for the Stryker combat vehicles for the Army's Interim Brigade Combat Teams (IBCTs), but was left out of the first two brigades as production was speeded up following 9/11. The first Stryker components were fielded to Iraq in late 2003 without embedded training, but have open space within the vehicle where it can be added later.

"It is considered a critical need and they are executing a plan to refit those as soon as they have equipped the fourth brigade. It also will be a part of the original equipment for the third brigade," says Chris Marzilli, vice president at General Dynamics C4 Systems in Taunton, Mass.

Embedded training can involve computer-generated images of what weapons experts would see in combat, such as this simulated infrared image of an M1 main battle tank.
Click here to enlarge image

"It is predesigned into the platform, so it's not a retrofit. A place was made in the design for it, a space claim, power claim, cable run, and positioning of the device in terms of human factors, etc. This is the first time original equipment will be installed in an Army platform that will output simulated imagery to the platform displays. The gunner will have a tactile feel from the controls he activates and so on.

"They are using the ET computer for dual purpose," Marzilli continues. "It also will be utilized as a host for interactive electronic technical manuals. That cuts down considerably on the weight and space required to carry tech manuals for the many electronic devices in the vehicle."

The embedded training module (ETM) GD is developing for Stryker has dual Intel 800-MHz Pentium III-S mobile processors on a CompactPCI single-board computer and the Ventana 4210-PCI graphics subsystem from Quantum3D in San Jose, Calif., based on the NVIDIA Quadro4 technology. Conduction cooled and powered by a MIL-STD-1275 compliant power supply, it will produce the same kind of accelerated, high-fidelity 3-D graphics found in advanced video games to put true battlefield dynamics into the training stream.

Connecting directly to the gunnery station and the flat-panel display used for command functions, the system's militarized embedded hard drive has passed some of the most brutal environmental tests ever applied to a simulator — high-pressure washdown, high temperatures, salt fog, gun shock, on-the-move vibration, humidity, windblown sand, dust and severe electromagnetic interference. It has to stand up to the rigors of actual combat and not interfere with any other vehicle operations, such as radio range.

"The first things going into Stryker are a driver trainer and a gunnery trainer, with the gunnery trainer deploying first," notes Quantum3D executive vice president Ross Smith. "Some studies by the Army have shown embedded gunnery training on the Bradley [Fighting Vehicle] really helps, especially if the troops are deployed for a long time.

"They want to do a commander training system, as well, but it is expected to take some time to get the courseware developed," Smith says. "Part of that is because of the variety of roles intended for the Stryker vehicle; the commander's role will change with each role of the vehicle, but the driver and gunner will remain essentially the same."

Marzilli says he believes the Stryker system can be adapted — directly or as a derivative — to both future and legacy systems, such as the upcoming Marine Corps Advanced Amphibious Assault Vehicle (AAAV) as well as currently fielded M1 Abrams main battle tanks and M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicles.

"What we are developing for Stryker is where we start, not where we end. It is part of the bridge between the current force and the Objective Force," he says. "There are a number of technology enablers. There will need to be improved technology for lower power for some of the graphics, higher density for video memory, higher bus speeds between CPUs and graphics subsystems — real-time buses. That will be supported by InfiniBand and Gigabit Ethernet. Resolution on display devices also has been a limiting agent; as those improve, there will be higher fidelity at the user level — a situational representation beyond even current video gaming.

"The difference between Dreamworks and what we are trying to do is pure size, weight, and power," Marzilli explains. "How do you take that roomful of air-conditioned equipment to a cramped, lightweight vehicle? But Moore's Law [the number of transistors on an individual chip doubles every year] will get us there."

Commercial influence

Thus, the military's hopes and plans for embedded training to rely heavily on continued growth and competition in the commercial market. Marzilli says any bid not at least as good, technologically, as the latest version of the PlayStation or Xbox will have no chance with the military. They also must be able to upgrade to faster speeds and higher-performance graphics without falling victim to obsolete chips or boards. That essentially means each new Stryker brigade or FCS buy will incorporate new technology that then will retrofit into already fielded platforms.

"There also is a desire to do things over direct pipes, so you can even remove and replace the motherboard to get a direct pipe from the CPU to the graphics module — like direct AGP rather than PCI," Marzilli says. "The box itself is custom for the Stryker vehicle — types of connectors, cable routing, paths of external interfaces to the displays, etc. — but the internals have been designed as very modular and upgradeable. So as FCS comes on, that should still be fresh and relevant. Everything is based on industry standards, providing much higher confidence that it will survive lots of evolution."

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