Retired Rear Adm. James A. Robb, left, is taking over as NTSA president as retired Rear Adm. Fred L. Lewis prepares to leave the nonprofit organization. (NTSA)
On June 1, the National Training and Simulation Association will welcome a new president: retired Rear Adm. James A. Robb. As retired Rear Adm. Fred L. Lewis prepares to leave the nonprofit organization, which represents the interests of the simulation, training and support services industries, TSJ sat down with the association’s outgoing and incoming heads for a retrospective on the industry and NTSA — and a look into the future.
TSJ: What are NTSA’s roots, and where is it heading?
Lewis: This used to be called the National Training Systems Association. About five years after I joined it, I changed the title to National Training and Simulation Association to more accurately reflect our portfolio, not wholly exclusive to training systems, but simulation overall. We built systems to the limit of whatever computer processing power gave us in that era. Moore’s Law — that computer processing power doubles every 18 months — is still with us; it’s going to continue. That has been a significant enabler for us to do the things that we’ve been able to do from 1995 to today, which is to expand in a number of different domains in terms of utilization of these technologies.
Our focus in 1995 was exclusively on defense. We dabbled in the commercial airline world, but not to any great success or effect. Now, today, we see this explosion in the use of these technologies in the health care field. It seems there’s a great race amongst the medical schools and the hospitals of this nation to build and develop and outfit their own sim centers, to the greater good of mankind.
TSJ: What are the other upcoming trends?
Lewis: It’s an explosion in the health care field, for sure. We’re seeing utilization of the technologies in the manufacturing field, in financial, in any sort of design work that you might conceive of — aircraft design, architectural design, communications. Modeling and sim technology will be used in training cyber warriors, disaster preparedness, meteorological forecasting.
Wherever there’s a man-machine interface of any sort, these machines can be used to train individuals. There are a vast number of applications of the technology.
TSJ: Does an advance in a certain kind of modeling translate to breakthroughs in modeling elsewhere?
Lewis: Military utilization of lots of other things in the past has led to civilian applications of the same technology. The simulations that they use in NASA are a civilian application of the technology. Certainly, in the airline industry or training people to operate trains. There are a vast number of ways you can use the technology in financial cases to look at analysis of alternatives and changing the variables to see what the outcome might be.
Robb: A lot of that is going back and forth between the industry and government. The part that I’ve seen in the last 10 years is trying to bring the business transformation into the government. The whole trend is toward understanding the cost of training and what the effect is on the troops, all the way down to justifying new weapons systems. In many cases, I think that business sector has been better at understanding precise investment and returns.
Today there’s a lot more scrutiny. When I was running the budgets in the Navy, there was a huge cry for modeling and simulation of our entity — whether it was readiness or acquisition programs or to try to explain and justify each dollar. What are the hidden costs? What are the downrange costs? These things are not well understood. There’s hidden costs to everything that looks like a solution. There’s a big cry to figure out how these things are connected.
TSJ: Where do you find the most resistance to modeling and simulation?
Robb: Mainly, the availability of the cross-government data is a problem. In many cases, you have depots that are vertically separated from each other. They are operating within their own stovepipe of efficiency, so they’re being efficient within their own silo [but not across sectors].
Lewis: Whether we like it or not, modeling and simulation is pervasive in our society. There’s not a single product today that has been conceived of that somewhere across its life cycle has not been touched by modeling and simulation. In fact, the Congress of the United States recognized the criticality of modeling and simulation by declaring it a National Critical Technology in 2007. There’s a modeling and simulation caucus in the House of Representatives. We have voices on Capitol Hill that understand.
TSJ: How do you see military training technology changing?
Lewis: That’s been the beauty of technology in the United States: We’ve been technological leaders for many, many years. And we sort of assume that it’s going to continue — that we’ll continue to be in the lead around the globe. But our competitors in the market are doing pretty well in terms of graduating engineering students as compared to the U.S. But where do we need to go? What’s the art of the possible? Where do we need to spend our R&D dollars and in particular, the DoD money?
As the troops return home from Iraq and Afghanistan, they’re going to go back to home bases. The Army’s going to get smaller. The Marine Corps is going to get smaller. The Navy and Air Force will be about the same, with some changes on the margins. But what is going to be the effect on the readiness of our forces globally? The Navy and Air Force will continue to maintain high readiness levels, because they will continue to operate forward. It’s different with the Army and the Marine Corps. They’re going to train at home station. That’s the espoused new policy of fewer deployments overseas and fewer deployments to national training centers. If you’re going to train at home station, then how do you maintain readiness levels that you need to maintain in order to be able to react to the next crisis? There’s only one answer. And that’s to use modeling and simulation.
TSJ: What is that training going to look like?
Lewis: Is it the capability we have today? No, it’s going to be something different. It has to be the kind of virtual world wherein thousands of players can interact with one another at the same time. We don’t have that capability right now. That’s something that DARPA needs to get on with their research dollars and really focus on. It’s the kind of capability that all services and research establishments need to focus on and try to move forward.
TSJ: Where are we now?
Lewis: We’re at the crawl stage. We need to create virtual worlds that are true virtual worlds. We can do it today to some extent, in that you may have seen the photographs or displays of the capabilities available today — with the goggles and the virtual world that can be projected. It’s not too far-fetched to extend that virtual reality all the way out to the walls. In my view, that’s where we need to go. We need to go to that kind of virtual space.
We need to have the long-haul networks available, the communications and the security apparatus. It needs to have this very large capability in order to bring in not just a thousand but thousands of players and actors and entities that are going to operate in that space. We don’t need just home station training, but go even beyond that. We need to be able to conduct large battlespace operations.
Immersive training is virtual in a sense that the scenes and the targets and the equipment that are displayed to the trainee are either replicas or video representations. The suspension of disbelief that you are in a training environment and not in the real world — that is what we strive to achieve. We have the capability, we just need the commitment to it, and that’s the direction we need to head. It has to become a very high priority in everyone’s expenditures of R&D dollars. It’s going to take dollars to make it happen.
Robb: It’s happening in design, obviously. Airplanes are designed within a virtual environment and tested before they’re flown. Those things are moving forward because the reality is good enough and it’s believable. It’s not only credible, but the test point accuracy, safety-wise, is OK. So anywhere you find industry going to that level of expense to remove expense from acquisition, that’s pretty dramatic. When you go away from that, you find inefficiency almost everywhere.
The demand for capability and training and effectiveness is going to continue. The money becomes a key driver, and the expense of the systems is ever-increasing. You are driven to simulation inside of the things you are buying.
TSJ: How do you balance live training with virtual or immersive?
Robb: It’s been a tension between how much you can do live and how much you can do in simulation. You can do some things in simulation really well, especially for procedural types of things. [Sometimes] you cannot fire a weapon because it’s a nuclear weapon, so you can’t do a live-fire exercise. Simulation is absolutely critical there.
There are real-world people at one end who absolutely want to sustain live training, who think you can’t feel it unless you’re out there flying, pulling Gs. And I think there’s some truth in that. But they’re coming together to where there are elements of it that can be simulated as well as embedded in the live fire. You actually enhance the quality of the training dramatically. We saw this in aviation. We used to fire one missile every year. Now we fire a missile every time we go flying — virtually. And you get all that positive feedback and training. It’s immense compared to what it used to be.
TSJ: Is there a generational divide that influences who is more willing to use simulation?
Lewis: If you’re talking to a group of operators, there isn’t a big generational divide. Pilots all like to fly all the time and not spend an hour in the simulator. But that’s not possible if you’re going to maintain readiness levels. As we see these planes grow more and more expensive, we’re going to see flying-hour programs continue to be reduced.
The services are driven to come up with a number of flight hours per annum for a pilot in order just to be safe. If that’s the minimum just to be safe, what about your weapon system efficiency? How do you ensure that you can actually fire a missile or a gun, or drop a bomb? We say the delta has to be made up by simulation. Every infantry commander you could talk to would love to take his battalion to the National Training Center every six months if it were possible. But you can’t do that because of resources and availability. You need to match it with some other kind of capability — and that capability is simulation.
TSJ: What are the priority projects?
Robb: The main goals are to sustain the activities that are ongoing. Central to that is the I/ITSEC convention down in Orlando, which is a grand meeting of the government and the industry. You can bring the stakeholders to an exposition that helps demonstrate the new technologies and makes them interested, and it helps build credibility that these are viable. You see a sort of festival of mind-melding and how we can spend money on these types of things and be confident that they are going to be effective in terms of the outcome on the defense side. It’s comforting for the industry to know that the government is interested. You want to make this thing cook.
Lewis: Another significant goal for us this coming year will be the solidification of the organization that we are calling the National Modeling and Simulation Coalition. It began life a couple years ago as a discussion about how we, in harness with the Modeling and Simulation Caucus, can move the state of the art forward. Through discussions with representatives from all three of the domains (government, industry and academia), we came to the conclusion that we needed to stand up this nonprofit, volunteer organization.
With representation from manufacturing, first responders, gas and oil exploration, electrical power distribution, communications, transportation and so on, we will have a great capability to cooperate, to share technology and ideas from one domain to the next, to de-conflict so we aren’t stepping on one another. It gives us a forum to bring together this vast array of like-minded people, wherein we can talk about the issues of the day and objectives of the future.