Training and simulation systems a cost saver for military

ORLANDO, Fla., 7 Dec. 2009. -- Exhibitors at the Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference (I/ITSEC) held last week in Orlando, Fla., say military leaders are turning toward realistic and high-fidelity training systems as way of cutting down on training costs.

By John McHale

ORLANDO, Fla., 7 Dec. 2009. -- Exhibitors at the Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference (I/ITSEC) held last week in Orlando, Fla., say military leaders are turning toward realistic and high-fidelity training systems as way of cutting down on training costs.

The simulation market is pretty healthy even on the commercial side with orders still coming in, says Chris Stellwag, director of marketing communications, military and civil, at CAE in Montreal. "One thing we are seeing is that the budget pressures created by the slow economy aren't sparing the military," Stellwag continues. "Simulation is one way the government can address financial budget constraints."

Commercial pilots can train completely in with the avionics systems in a flight simulator and walk right into a cockpit with passengers behind them, Stellwag continues. While the military does have a need for live flight training, it is recognizing the cost savings of providing pilots with more realistic simulators even at the classroom level and not just for flight training, but weapons and tactical systems training too, he adds.

Improved training technology also saves cuts cost in maintenance, says Troy Welch, director, U.S. federal sector for NGRAIN in Colonial Heights, Va. NGRAIN provides simulation systems for maintenance personnel working on vehicles, construction equipment, and other mechanical platforms, helping reducing downtime, he adds.

The NGRAIN technology "saved us between $13 and $14 million, says Cecil Caldwell, chief, Maintenance Training Division 554th U.S. Army Engineer Battalion at Ft. Leonard Wood, Mo. "When our guys first started using the NGRAIN system, it would take them four hours to train on one particular part, now they can do it in 1 hour.

All in it has cut about a day and a half of the training time per week, Caldwell says. The faster they learn, the less money the Army and other services have to spend on training and the shorter maintenance downtime for vehicles and other equipment, Caldwell says.

Retrofits and upgrades of older simulation technology for commercial and military systems also seem to be somewhat immune to the current economic woes.

"We're still seeing upgrades of our own systems that were installed as far back as 20 years ago," says Bob Grange, principal product manager at Rockwell Collins Simulation and Training Solutions in Salt Lake City.

Some older solutions have vision systems based on CRT (cathode ray tube) technology, which are more expensive to maintain, Grange says. New systems use liquid crystal on silicon (LCOS) technology for projection, which has greater performance at a lower cost, he adds.

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