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Interview: CAE’s Gene Colabatistto

Sep. 28, 2012 - 04:06PM   |  
By LAUREN BIRON   |   Comments
Gene Colabatistto is the group president of CAE's military simulation products, training, and services division.
Gene Colabatistto is the group president of CAE's military simulation products, training, and services division. (CAE)
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In June, Gene Colabatistto replaced Martin Gagné as the group president of CAE’s military simulation and training division. CAE creates simulators and training tools primarily for aviation, though the company has branched out into healthcare and mining.

Colabatistto, formerly a senior vice president for SAIC’s intel-surveillance-recon group, said CAE plans to continue improving “the basic building blocks” of simulators, including motion and visualization systems, crew environments and the underlying technologies that power them. His goal is to make those simulators more efficient and easier to integrate – something that the U.S. military has started demanding of its contractors in the simulation realm.

Q: How does CAE feel about the current fiscal environment, as it relates to training?

A: I think our thoughts are the same as anyone else’s. Any type of broad-based cut – whether it be sequestration or, quite honestly, large programmatic cuts that don’t use discretion – would be a catastrophe. I think we’ve learned a lot along the way, and I think you would give up a lot more mission capability and readiness for the dollar than you would get back in money. Most of the agencies I’ve worked with over the last three years now have been very aware of this, and they don’t want to make the mistakes they’ve made in the past. The contingencies that they’ve put together so far have really been focused on making smart cuts.

When you look at the way training has supported both readiness and sustainment in the past, and the way we’ve done business, it has been subject to a relatively strong funding stream. I think we’ll find that in the market in general, and the U.S. market, we’ll start to adopt some of the tactics that have been used in the commercial market and also by some of the other military organizations in the world.

There’s a transition cost. We’ll have to do business a different way. In this case, it’s the introduction of more virtual training and simulation versus simply live training. Long term, that should be a money saver, it should be something that actually improves readiness, and because it is cheaper, it becomes more sustainable. If you’re willing to make the investment and take on the transition cost, I think there’s a lot of long-term good to be had.

Q. Are people going to make that investment with tight budgets?

A. They’re spending a lot of money doing that today. But once you buy a device, it’s really a matter of how much use you get out of it. Is the utilization rate 75 percent or 95 percent? So I think in many cases they are making the investment already. They’re not fully taking advantage of the investment. That’s the first step. It’s not simply encouraging people to make a larger capital investment. It’s changing behavior.

Training used to be only about one part of the training life cycle [the cockpit crew]. Today it’s expanded in the training life cycle, the types of people that are trained together, and the types of organizations that train together. It’s not a single aircraft or aircrew. Those are networked together; they’re networked with other partners.

Q. What changes do you expect to see in training because of the drawdown?

A. At the very top of the pyramid, everyone is looking at their force structure. There are units that exist today that will no longer exist. There are units today that exist in the active duty forces but will move to the guard and the reserve. So at the top level, force structure is going to change the training. Maybe not the training requirement, but the techniques and tactics used to meet the requirement.”

I think the second thing that’s happening is that as the budget becomes more austere, there will be force level cuts. There will be fewer pilots and fewer airplanes. So in a sense, it reduces the overall training requirement.

On the other hand, there will be a corresponding reduction in live flight hours. You have to have some way to compensate, because the level of proficiency is not expected to go down. That point there is the one that seems to make everyone nervous – because they’re professionals and they expect of themselves to not let readiness drop. And they understand that all these changes in reality will impact that. That is probably the greatest motivator to replace that one flight hour that you lose with several simulated hours.

Over the last 10 years, many bases have closed. As we start to bring units back from deployments, these bases are going to get a lot more crowded, and training ranges will be in much shorter supply.

The other thing is the nature of the new technology. When you look at the weapons systems we’re deploying, the capabilities of sensors, the range of our vehicles, the speed at which they operate today – the physical size of the training range has to be much bigger than it was in the past. That’s a struggle. You have to fabricate training scenarios within the constraints of the training range.

Q. What are the main challenges facing the training and simulation industry right now?

A. The industry believes it has a great value proposition. When you look at statistics and you compare the use of simulation versus a live training hour, it’s pretty hard to beat.

But you have to be very clear about your value proposition. One of the things the industry has not done is to quantify the value proposition. Some of these things that came out of the Navy or the Air Force or the GAO – they’ve attempted to quantify, but they’ve done it anecdotally. It would benefit all of us in the industry to have a better idea of how much you could save, how much you could improve, and how well you can sustain, rather than just saying that you can.

The greatest challenge is we’re calling for a different way of doing business. That means behavior has to change. If it really makes sense to use simulation for screening or ab initio training, if that really makes sense, it’s really not done that way now. So you would have to introduce the technology, the trained instructors, and you would have to build a course of instruction that integrates the two. To a large part, that doesn’t exist today. It’s not just the physical device. It’s the entire training system that has to change.

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