LONDON — “The simulation industry will be a survivor,” said Tom Baptiste, president of the National Center for Simulation and a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant general. “What’s the alternative?”
Despite defense cuts worth billions of dollars by the U.S. and other countries, leaders in both industry and the military were confident that these cuts would drive more spending on simulations, as well as acceptance that these can prepare troops as effectively as live training.
One example was how many forces must complete simulations before they can participate in live-fire training, where they either take up valuable time on weapons and vehicles or use up expensive ammunition. Dennis Thompson, a retired U.S. Marine colonel who is now deputy director of the training and education capabilities division of the training and education command, suggested that Marines go through a similar rifle simulation exercise before they ever start firing live rounds for even the most basic elements, such as marksmanship training.
“That’s the culture change we brought up,” Thompson said.
Many members of the military still believe that one can only train through warm hands on cold steel, though a generation of digital natives is increasingly capable of using simulations to learn.
Baptiste said that smaller budgets will put pressure on ways to train the warfighter at home station, but it would be hard to cut the same percentage from modeling and simulation as from the top line of the defense budget.
“You don’t get a pass from the American people … to allow readiness to slide” because of budget cuts, Baptiste said. Simulation, regarded widely as a cheaper yet effective alternative to live training, will be forced to step in and make up the deficit.
Despite the move toward more simulation that Baptiste and Thompson are predicting, both admitted that simulation was likely to see some reduction or consolidation. Baptiste noted that big companies might get excited about smaller value contracts as the military attempts to scale back. But he also saw possible benefits.
It’s a “potential opportunity for small companies” that are specialized and can compete to deliver what the military needs, he said. “All in all, I’m optimistic.”
The robust turnout at this year’s ITEC — 73 senior officers attended — bodes well for the simulation industry, with members of the military praising the benefits of and need for simulation.