Force digitization and tight budgets push simulation technology

Computer-aided training is only part of the new frontier of simulation, as service officials look to new technology for mission rehearsal and weapon systems evaluation

Nov 1st, 1997
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Computer-aided training is only part of the new frontier of simulation, as service officials look to new technology for mission rehearsal and weapon systems evaluation

By J.R. Wilson

Simulation, which had for millennia been an ancillary part of the military, has now become a primary focus and, in the systems and budgets of the 21st century, will become the single most important element in the structure and planning of military establishments worldwide, not only in terms of training, but also in missions and planning.

"The Information Age is upon us. We must change in order to sustain current levels of excellence into the future. The very nature of warfare is changing and our Army is fully engaged in an effort to determine how we will operate in this new environment," says Gen. William W. Hartzog, commander of the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) at Fort Monroe, Va. "Today we are very close to being overcome by a bow-wave of new and increasingly sophisticated technology. We have made great progress in identifying those technologies required for the future, but we are not over the hump yet. "

To make those technologies productive, the "man-in-the-loop" must remain the primary concern, he adds, as Army officials are attempting to demonstrate with the creation of Force-21, a new approach to warfighting that combines simulation and live field training with enhanced information gathering, analysis, distribution, and total force synchronization across all services to digitize and command the battlefield. Similar efforts are in progress among the other services.

Many of the new simulation and training technologies that will drive applications in the 21st century will be on display at the 18th Interservice/Industry Training Systems & Education Conference - better known as I/ITSEC - Dec. 3 to 6 at the Marriott World Center in Orlando, Fla.

"Force-21 is more than just a redesigned division. The operational concept for land combat in the 21st Century is taking shape," Hartzog emphasizes. "It is based on a foundation of insights gained from recent experimentation, field operations, and concept development. The view of the future we see emerging envisions a new battlefield, one where we gather, process, and use information differently than ever before. This information will then empower us as we field and fight the most lethal land force in the world."

Force-21 got its start in 1994 at the National Training Center, a massive wargame complex at Fort Irwin in the Mojave Desert outside of Barstow, Calif. It began with the first large-scale advanced warfighting experiment called Desert Hammer to be conducted by the Army`s Battle Labs.

Desert Hammer took TF 1-70, a battalion-sized digitized combined arms team, and tested issues involving doctrine, training, leader development, organizations, materiel, and soldiers, using constructive, virtual, and live experiments. As they progressed toward a 14-day live-fire and force-on-force exercise at Fort Irwin, TF 1-70 was digitized across the battlefield operating systems such as maneuver, engineers, air defense, intelligence, fire support, medical services, and logistics.

The results of Desert Hammer confirmed that units can train and experiment simultaneously, a key factor in the Army`s concept of Battle Labs and advanced warfighting experiments, according to official reports, which concluded that a combination of simulations is best. From Desert Hammer, Army leaders also learned that digitizing their forces for simulations and field exercises not only enriched their real-time knowledge of how battles unfolded, but also helped soldiers to fight more quickly, safely, and effectively.

As advanced warfighting experiments have evolved since that first effort, so have the characteristics of Force-21 operations, which now extend beyond the traditional physical battlefield through enhanced communications and digital connections to other Army, multi-service, and allied forces. With all this comes a new consideration for time as the tempo of battle quickens and mandates precise synchronized attacks enabled by fast, accurate, shared information and widespread enhanced tactical sensors.

But military leaders can only develop, test, train for, improve, coordinate, verify, and implement all of this new technical complexity through simulations. And, in some instances, the same displays and techniques that will make those simulations applicable at all levels of command, control, and engagement also will go onto the real-world battlefield to help distill clarity from information chaos.

"Land combat in the early 21st century will not appear markedly different than today - the tanks, howitzers, helicopters, and rifles used to apply combat power will be the same or slightly improved," notes a TRADOC document on Force-21. "What will be significantly different will be how we plan, coordinate, and execute the employment of those systems. Parallel with our experimentation has been Army Training-21, the first time Army leaders have developed new operational and training capabilities simultaneously."

Army Training-21 consists of three components: Warfighter-21, Warrior-21, and Warnet-21. Warfighter-21 will re-engineer unit and collective training using information age technology and facilitate the transition of Army units from full-dimensional operations to Force-21 operations. Warrior-21 delivers individual training to soldiers and units in the institution, at home station, or deployed throughout the world. Warnet-21 provides new equipment, mobile training teams, and deployable training packages to develop training programs for units. This will be accomplished through a combination of simulators.

"The kaleidoscope of joint and combined operations, rapidly emerging information technologies, and the proliferation of high-technology weapons has blurred the distinction between the strategic, operational, and tactical levels of war," Hartzog says. "The Cold War scenario is gone."

Industry, not the Pentagon, is leading simulation technology development. A growing number of three-dimensional tabletop displays can help military leaders plan an entire battle. Generals could wear special gloves and reach into the display to move tanks and aircraft. Meanwhile everyone could watch the action in 3-D while wearing special glasses (such as CrystalEyes from StereoGraphics Corp. of San Rafael, Calif.). Fakespace Inc. of Menlo Park, Calif., and Barco Inc. of Kennesaw, Ga., both offer these tabletop 3-D project systems.

But the tabletops, sometimes called pseudo-holographic displays, are remarkably simple and entirely COTS-based devices that can provide a 3-D version of anything that an ordinary computer monitor can display. This also means they can display any data acceptable to the computer`s programming and display capabilities.

Thus, systems designers can use such systems for extremely realistic 3-D systems for mission planning and rehearsal. Users can create the scenario and see friendly and enemy forces and movements as they happen in a real-time "god`s-eye" view of a live battlefield, using data from ground, air, and space-based sensors. Military leaders also could use these systems to study enemy tactics to a degree never before possible.

In addition to the display itself, Fakespace officials offers special gloves and their own glasses to provide different views to different people looking at the same tabletop. This can enable authorized personnel to see some classified element, for example, while others would not, or let everyone see the same view no matter where they may be standing around the display.

Another advance in VR is tactile feedback. By wearing the proper glasses and gloves, for example, users not only see the virtual control stick their hands, but actually feel it. Virtual Technologies Inc. of Palo Alto, Calif., offers this capability in the CyberTouch option for their CyberGlove.

Essentially, small vibrotactile stimulators on each finger and the palm of the glove can be individually programmed to vary the strength of generated touch sensations, such as pulses or sustained vibration, or used in combination to produce complex tactile feedback patterns, including the perception of touching a solid object in a simulated virtual world.

"We have found the CyberTouch tactile feedback option to be essential to anyone serious about using their hands to interact with objects in a virtual world," says James Kramer, founder and president of Virtual Technologies. "Finally, you can feel a virtual object and know it is in your hand without having to look."

Some 3-D displays at first appear to be traditional standard workstations, but offer a three dimensional view without special glasses and using the cost-savings of COTS components.

The Autostereo 3-D Display from Litton Guidance & Control Systems of Northridge, Calif., for example, is based on technology patented at Cambridge University in England to provide stereo parallax for depth perception and movement parallax to look around an image by moving the user`s head from side to side. To do this, the image is divided into several segments, each viewing the image from a slightly different position. These views then are flashed at high speed across the screen, creating the effect of a continuous picture. Despite the segments, the technology eliminates any "flicker" effect as the observer`s head moves from side to side.

The segmented display approach also can enable several people in different positions around the display to see different views of the image on the same screen - or even to see entirely different images.

Traditional systems

Such advances in 3-D, VR, and portability have not ended the utility of more traditional, fixed-location simulators. However, technology advances in software, displays, database use, and on-the-fly image generation have made all new or upgraded systems more advanced in capability and less expensive.

For example, Hughes Training Inc. of Arlington, Texas, produces a range of military flight simulators, from part-task to large-scale mission rehearsal domes, including the B-2 Aircrew Training Device, F-117 Stealth Fighter Weapons System Trainer, Unit Training Device, F/A-18 Weapons Tactics Trainer and Tactic Operational Flight Trainer, T-45 Operational Flight Trainer, MV-22A Operational Flight Trainer, AH-64 Combat Mission Simulator, UH-60 Blackhawk Flight Simulator, AH-1 Cobra Flight and Weapons System Trainer, and MH-53E Sea Dragon Operational Flight Trainer.

In September, NASA`s Johnson Space Center in Houston also extended a Hughes contract on the Space Station Training Facility, for which it has been responsible since 1989, to include simulator deliveries and support operations through 2002, with an additional two-year option. The facility will prepare astronauts to assemble and activate the first two segments of the International Space Station in July 1998, along with the NASA trainers, mission planners, and flight controllers who will be working with them.

The contract also calls for Hughes to work with the Russian Space Agency toward development of International Space Station training facilities in Star City, near Moscow. Beginning in December and running through January 1999, Hughes experts will provide three trainers that will serve as the American space station segment training capability within Russia`s space station training complex. In a similar vein, Hughes engineers will provide the American segment trainer to support Japanese systems and payload procedures training, with deliveries from November 1999 to August 2000.

Another major provider of traditional systems is Thomson Training and Simulation in Crawley, England, which is an international leader in using DIS protocols to link simulators and form synthetic environments for collective training. Thomson experts also produce air crew trainers for the upgraded F-16 jet fighter, a three channel Space Magic Image Generator for the upgraded French air force Mirage F1CR mission simulator, and for Rafale Tactical Trainers for the French air force and navy, among other military programs.

Contraves Simulation and Training Systems in Tampa, Fla., is among the contractors who provide military trainers for aviation and land systems. These include a newly upgraded E-2C/C-2A Operational Flight Trainer, an F/A-18 Part Task Trainer updated to the latest F/A-18 aircraft baseline, an M1A2 Maintenance Training System for the Abrams main battle tank, and a Sea King MK43B System Operator Trainer covering the helicopter`s typical air/sea search and rescue mission profiles.

High level architecture

The so-called high level architecture is an important part of the next generation of modeling and simulation software that will create a common technical framework to improve interoperability across a wide spectrum of applications and components. It already has been decided that the next generation of DIS will be high level architecture-compliant.

A key difference between DIS and high level architecture is the latter does not specify what constitutes physical things to be simulated, such as tanks and aircraft. It also does not specify the rules of how objects interact; instead if defines a set of rules on how simulations interact and communicate, using a data distribution mechanism called the runtime infrastructure and an object model template describing the data format.

The runtime infrastructure enables different types of systems to interact. As high level architecture compliance becomes the standard for training and simulation, a new market will form for updating current DIS simulators. This could be accomplished in a variety of ways, including using a translator, a wrapper, a native solution or a protocol interface unit.

A translator involves bringing a separate application, such as another computer, onto the network to literally translate network traffic between the different protocols. This requires no software modifications to the simulator, but does multiply the latency factor ten-fold and creates a single point of failure potential, thus greatly reducing the advantage of a distributed system.

A "wrapper" approach would add software to the simulation`s DIS interface to handle the translation duty before the system sends DIS data out and after it receives high level architecture data. This does not require new hardware on the network and thus avoids the single point of failure problem. However, while providing forward and backward compatibility, neither method would enable the simulator to take advantage of high level architecture-specific features.

In creating a native high level architecture simulation, designers would contain all network interfaces within the simulation software. While this would allow the simulator to take advantage of all high level architecture features, it would require massive software modifications. It also would lack backward compatibility.

The fourth method calls for the simulation to interface with the network using a protocol interface unit, which uses a single application programming interface to support all of the features of the DIS and high level architecture protocols. While protocol interface units could be complex and expensive to implement and maintain, the approach does provide forward and backward compatibility, and full use of all high level architecture features.

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The Hughes training-built F/A-18 weapons tactics trainer provides all real-world, full field-of-view visual cues that aircrews may experience on actual missions.

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The U.S. Army`s Fire Support Combined Arms Tactical Trainer Program , currently under production at Hughes Training, Inc., will enable artillery soldiers to train individually or as a team. Here, soldiers are training within one of 16 M109A5 howitzer crew trainers Hughes is delivering to the army as part of the program.

New protocols link simulators better than ever before

A few years ago experts found a method to network all existing and future military simulators together, regardless of level of fidelity or physical location, with capability to link with live military systems training at sea, in the air, and on land. All could be brought into a synthetic environment that ultimately would involve everyone from the private in the trench to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff - if not higher.

The first step toward this goal - Distributed Interactive Simulation (DIS), which enables an extended network of simulation through standardized protocols - was developed in the SIMNET (SIMulation NETwork) program under the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in Arlington, Va. DIS was sharply focused on training applications evolved from SIMNET and the Army`s Simulation, Training and Instrumentation Command. This system evolved to interface live, virtual, and constructive players in this common virtual environment.

Live players, of course, are real systems and people in real environments; virtual refers to simulators and constructive to models, digital simulations and computer-generated forces, systems, and environments. A new concept called Advanced Distributed Simulation (ADS) became necessary because the DIS protocols and methodologies standardized by the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers are not always sufficient for testing purposes. ADS is based on similar principles, but allows the use of non- standard protocols and methodologies, primarily those involving high-fidelity engineering applications for test and evaluation.

Under the direction of the Joint Advanced Distributed Simulation (JADS) Joint Test Force, ADS is more conceptual and therefore more flexible than DIS. The high level architecture currently being developed is another example of an implementation of the ADS concept.

An ADS implementation can differ from a DIS implementation in a variety of ways. For example, in DIS, only state information moves between players to conserve bandwidth, while ADS allows continuous data to be exchanged if required to satisfy the requirements of a simulation, such as needed for testing. In DIS, there is no central computer controlling the various simulation nodes, but such could be in place under ADS. In DIS, each simulation node operates independently and maintains its own copy of the common environmental database, but ADS allows central environmental servers to provide environmental information to the other simulation nodes on demand.

Perhaps the most significant difference is Protocol Data Units - long-term, committee-approved information exchange standards that every simulation node must be able to process in a DIS implementation. ADS, however, requires only that needed - but unspecified - information be exchanged to support the interoperability of the various entities in the simulation. Or, under ADS, what information is to be exchanged could be established during the simulation setup, then provided only on request, which would be both more dynamic and more flexible than allowed by DIS.

ADS thus has the potential to dramatically reduce test and evaluation costs while improving the overall results through extensive concept development and early interoperability testing. In this way, experts could use simulation to explore a variety of excursions and scenarios to determine how useful a proposed system would be long before spending any money to develop it. ADS also could determine which field tests are most critical to a given program, thus speeding that eventual element while saving money by not performing low-margin tests.

The scenario is not perfect at this early stage, however, and JADS is addressing several concerns, such as difficulties in getting a live player to "see" the simulated players and react to them as if they were physically present. And changes in the real world - shifting sand dunes, destroyed bridges, etc. - may be difficult to get into the terrain database quickly and accurately. Other potential problems include distributed test costs, coordination of participating organizations, data management, no ADS verification, and the reliability of the infrastructure remains to be proven. - J.R.W.

Entertainment leads simulation technology push

As shrinking budgets influence all levels of the military, including training, Pentagon officials have gone from being the technology pushers in simulation to technology customers. The technology pusher now is the entertainment industry.

New simulation technology must have a dual-use capability if it is to be affordable to DOD, where officials no longer can support the necessary research and development costs as lone customers. But technology from the entertainment industry also must be easily modifiable to fit the still-specialized needs of real-world combat training and operations.

The first joint contract in this area went in August to Mak Technologies Inc. of Cambridge, Mass., to develop a new PC-based amphibious assault training program for the U.S. Marine Corps and, simultaneously, a new commercially viable game suitable for civilian youngsters and adults.

"A lot of the aspects going into a game are the graphics, user interface windowing, and networking, the ability to interact with terrain, and so on," says Mak marketing director Ben Lubetsky. "We feel those are constant across military simulators where we have more experience than in building games. Where you get into differences are in the performance of characters and equipment in the game and certain scenarios. That`s where we look to the Marine Corps to advise and guide us and on the other side for the game producer to do the same on the playability issue.

"Even though they essentially are different games - what a 12-year-old buys off the shelf won`t be the same as what a Marine uses to train - some aspects will be in common," Lubetsky continues. "It costs one to three million dollars to develop these games. A lot of that effort can be shared between the two and those that aren`t can be developed separately. The hope is that a lot of the infrastructure of the game will not change."

That the U.S. Marines would train for a real-world beach assault essentially with the same program adolescents use for fun is not all that unusual, given more than one real-life warrior has used the highly popular game "Doom" to sharpen his professional skills.

The as-yet-unnamed new dual-use game from Mak will offer one or two realistic terrain databases for commercial use, while leaving the ability to include new - and classified - databases open for the military. Tactics available to the gamester also are expected to be easier and more "fun" than those in the Marine version by retaining the realism, but easing up on the frustration level. Marines could insert other tactics and unit behaviors they consider classified as needed.

"Despite different scenarios and databases, you`re still looking at a lot of commonality here, which is not outside the current DOD push to use more COTS and commercial standards," Lubetsky says. "Most of our history is in the military sim market, but we`ve managed to leverage some of the techniques and standards that are common to the gaming community into our military training programs. We`ve taken some variations on the DIS [Distributed Interactive Simulation] protocols and optimized them for the game market. I think the gaming community is very excited about this co-development idea as well as technology transfer.

"I think it could become more common," Lubetsky continues. "It won`t be the industry standard by any means - the military side will always have the need for higher-end trainers that won`t be suitable for commercial use. But I don`t think it`s really that different from what`s happening on the hardware side, leveraging commercial PCs or displays. The software advances cannot be overlooked. There are so many game people out there, some of them very smart, they are going to come up with some good stuff - and why shouldn`t the military take advantage of that."

Dual-use also is finding its way into the hardware market beyond computers and displays. Officials of Evans & Sutherland in Salt Lake City, for example, have taken years of military flight trainer experience and developed a new arcade "ride" that bears no small resemblance to a miniaturized motion-base simulator. A full Cyber Fighter system includes four fighter jet cockpits networked together so the "pilots" can independently maneuver through a computer-generated environment for team experiences or competitive gaming.

And, just as the military now is being offered multi-platform convertible cockpit simulators capable of providing training on a variety of aircraft, the Cyber Fighter module also can be reprogrammed as a submersible for underwater experiences, a futuristic automobile, a spaceship, or a multitude of other possibilities.

It can be expected that further development of this arcade system - which actually will require far greater endurance, reliability, and even ease of maintenance than a military system - will improve prospects for portable or shipboard simulators offering a degree of realism previously possible only in very large, very expensive permanent installations. - J.R.W.

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