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Budget Cuts Force U.S. Army To Use ‘Low Overhead’ Alternatives

Jun. 13, 2012 - 11:03AM   |  
By MICHAEL PECK   |   Comments
The Warfighters' Simulation trains and provides mission-rehearsal capabilities for military commanders and their staffs. Even sims are facing budget as the U.S. Army makes drastic changes in how it trains soldiers.
The Warfighters' Simulation trains and provides mission-rehearsal capabilities for military commanders and their staffs. Even sims are facing budget as the U.S. Army makes drastic changes in how it trains soldiers. (Lockheed Martin)
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Simulations are supposed to be the cheaper alternative to live training. But even sims won’t be spared the budget ax as funding cuts force drastic changes in how the U.S. Army trains commanders and staffs.

Army simulations managers aren’t thrilled with the changes but say lack of money leaves them no choice.

“We are telling commanders that this is not necessarily a better way to train, but it is more affordable,” said Col. Tony Krogh, head of the National Simulations Center (NSC) at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

For example, the Army has slashed the number of technicians who run simulations at the mission training complexes (MTCs) at numerous installations. Krogh estimates that the total number of support personnel has been reduced by one-third.

Combined Arms Center-Training (CAC-T), which includes the NSC, declined to provide figures on the number of simulation technicians or changes in funding levels on the grounds that they had not been cleared by Army leadership.

“A large number of camps, posts and stations have a resident simulation technical staff in their mission training complexes. And that has just become more and more unaffordable to maintain that level of manpower,” said Mike Black, Training and Doctrine Command’s capability manager for constructive training environments.

In particular, the technicians who run the computer systems at home stations “are some of the most expensive contractors we have,” Krogh said. Moreover, he said, “In many places, especially in lower-density areas, they were not necessarily used the whole year.”

But those simulation technicians are key to the Joint Land Component Constructive Training Capability (JLCCTC), the Army’s system of constructive simulations. Without those specialists on the job, staffs can’t run JLCCTC simulations at their home stations.

“The key issue with manpower at the mission training complexes is the trade-off between having expensive simulation technicians versus having less expensive — but very important — trainers in the MTCs,” said Lt. Col. Jeff Allen, a spokesman for the Combined Arms Center.

Two-tier Training

So the Army is switching to a bifurcated system tied to the standard crawl-walk-run training model. For the crawl and walk stages for basic staff training, units will use a new suite of simple simulations, called ALOTT (Army Low Overhead Training Toolkit), which will be located at their home stations.

When staffs progress to the “run” stage — more advanced training that requires more sophisticated simulations such as Warsim — those exercises won’t be run at home station. Instead, the simulations will be hosted by newly designated regional simulation centers. Users will connect remotely over a new Global Simulation Capability network, which is scheduled for initial operational capability in mid-2013.

“ALOTT capabilities are adequate for basic command-staff team-building and training in the Military Decision Making Process,” Black said. “But as the command-staff team becomes more skilled and sophisticated, they will find ALOTT insufficient for many of their desired training conditions and will coordinate for GSC support, employing the JLCCTC, to obtain more realistic, stressful training.”

There will be three regional simulation centers. For the continental United States, it will be Fort Leavenworth. There will also be two overseas facilities that are redesignations of existing simulation centers: the Joint Multinational Simulation Center at Grafenwoehr, Germany, for the European region, and Korea Battle Simulation Center, at Yongsan, South Korea, for Pacific Command.

The regional centers will be augmented by “hubs” at major bases such as Fort Hood, Texas, and Fort Bragg, N.C., which will provide additional simulation support.

“The money saved by consolidating the simulations and technicians at the regional simulation centers and hubs will be used to provide valuable trainers and training developers at the MTCs, while keeping a minimal number of technicians to maintain the servers,” Allen said.

The goal is to prepare Army constructive simulations for the next decade. “The constructive environment will change by 2020 because we know we will need to distribute the simulation from schoolhouses to home station to the CTC [combat training centers],” Krogh said. “They will need to provide the operational environment ‘wrap around’ for most of the training the Army conducts in 2020.”

There are 17 JLCCTC suites, six for division-and-above training and 11 for brigade-and-below. The heart of JLCCTC is Warsim, the Army’s $300 million constructive simulation, which is designed for distributed operations.

Distributed simulations over a global network is a powerful capability, and one that is inevitable given advances in networking and live-virtual-constructive training where exercise participants can be continents apart.

“Digits don’t know distance,” Krogh is fond of saying. He pointed to a May exercise where the Korean simulation center will support an exercise at Fort Hood. It is a sign of things to come when an overseas simulation center runs simulations for a stateside unit.

Yet it’s the remote simulation part that’s certain to upset commanders and staffs accustomed to scheduling their own exercises at their own convenience and using their local facilities and personnel to run them.

“We are going to have to centrally scheduled exercises, whereas before, when I was at Fort Hood or Drum, I would be managing all the assets on my post,” Krogh said. “With the new approach, we are relying on FORSCOM [Forces Command] to set the priority for that support.”

Centralized scheduling is also necessary to allow overseas simulation centers to continue their dual role of supporting training in the continental U.S. without affecting training for their respective theater commands.

It takes six to eight months to develop a database for a brigade-level exercise. Users accustomed to tailoring their own exercises will be forced to use generic databases while JLCCTC and Warsim accumulate enough data to create more geospecific scenarios.

“Using generic, non-unit-specific databases requires much less time and labor to prepare, which allows the support of a far greater number of exercises per year,” said Col. Chris Ballard, chief of the Global Simulation Capability division at the NSC.

The Army is considering several fixes, including easing fidelity requirements for generic databases and developing faster database development tools for Warsim.

Lower-End ALOTT

If there’s a sort of consolation prize for users, it’s ALOTT. “We can’t totally strip them of the ability to do localized home station training,” Black said. “So ALOTT is what is going to be provided to them for at least the lower end of training.”

ALOTT is a suite of four simulations for home station training. They are fairly simple, can run on a single computer, and can simulate or stimulate more than a dozen of the Army’s potpourri of battle command systems, such as Maneuver Control System, Command Post of the Future, and Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below (FBCB2). ALOTT can work the front end of simulation by creating exercises and the back end by providing capabilities such as after-action review. It is expected to reach initial deployment in 12 to 18 months.

ALOTT is centered on six “use cases” across the spectrum of military operations. The Helix simulation is for staff exercises in Use Case 1 (brigade-and-higher major combat operations), Case 2 (battalion-and-below major combat operations) and Case 3 (brigade-and-higher stability and civil support). DXTRS (Division Exercise Training and Readiness System) is for Case 4: individuals and small groups conducting schoolhouse or division-and-below training in major combat operations. UrbanSim is for Case 5: battalion-and-above stability and civil support. The Metis simulation is for Case 6: battalion-and-below training in attacking enemy IED networks.

The ALOTT simulations were chosen partly because the government has control over them, Black said.

“Some things we looked at had baggage like licensing fees or they would not give up the source code,” he said. “We did not want to be tied to a particular vendor or provider. Even a government provider can sometimes be problematic if they are not willing to give you the source code. We wanted things we could freely own so we could make decisions, try to continue to evolve a particular set of software, or simply throw it out and go to something new.”

An important feature of ALOTT is that it lets home station users practice on their real mission command systems.

“That’s what’s been missing,” Krogh said. “One of the most perishable skills we have in the Army is mission command systems, because they don’t sit on our desks. We don’t use them every day. It allows them to pull their mission command systems out of the conex [container], bring them into the classroom, and train with them using ALOTT.”

ALOTT is designed to be used by non-geeks. But computer experts will still be needed to run the large-scale simulations at the regional simulation centers, and there will still be a need for “pucksters” to control computer-generated forces because the simulation’s artificial intelligence isn’t smart enough to send a column of tanks across a bridge without a traffic jam.

“No sim provider wants to stand in front of a commanding general and say, ‘Sir, your attack failed because automated unit X decided to turn left rather than right,’’’ Black said.

One pitfall of distributed training is that it is only as good as its network connectivity. GSC will use the Joint Training and Experimentation Network (JTEN).

“Right now, from our initial look, it looks like there is plenty of bandwidth for us to push our sims,” said Krogh. But JTEN is downsizing, so the National Simulations Center is working with Network Technology Command to explore connectivity via the classified SIPRNet and non-secure NIPRNet networks. But thanks to the movie “WarGames,” there is a bit of apprehension about using the Pentagon’s regular operational networks for simulated exercises.

“There is really no policy, regulation or law that prohibits us from doing this,” Krogh said. “It really goes back to the 1980s and the movie ‘WarGames,’ where they were concerned about a computer starting thermonuclear war. There has always been this constant fear of simulation data running on our standard command and control network.”

Because of how much money the government has invested, Krogh doesn’t expect existing home station simulation centers to close. Instead of focusing on higher-level constructive exercises, they will likely spend time on tasks such as using training games or practicing using their mission command systems.

Some people expect a rocky ride. Two Army simulations experts contacted by TSJ said the matter was too politically sensitive for them to comment.

“What they [local users] would like to have is to keep what they have right now,” Black said. “They will tell you they want the maximum amount of local flexibility to meet their local demand. You can’t help but sympathize with that argument.”

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