The Homestation Instrumentation Training System sends geo-referenced data to a central control point, tracking when and where soldiers shoot or get shoot. (U.S. Army)
Several U.S. Army posts will get a new tool that combines live, virtual and constructive (LVC) training if leaders at the National Simulation Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., are satisfied with the first field test.
Dubbed the Integrated Training Environment (ITE), the new tool was put through its paces Sept. 10-28 by some 600 soldiers from the Black Jack Brigade at their home station of Fort Hood, Texas. The first two weeks included setup and preliminary tests, while the final week brought all the components together in a live exercise.
Lt. Col. Shane Cipolla, a project lead at the National Simulation Center who is evaluating the system, said the exercise has gone well and all signs suggest leaders will approve the ITE.
“Everything is pointing to that, yes,” Cipolla said.
The ITE links multiple simulators and live players so they can interact in a seemingly expansive exercise. In the live portion, soldiers engage in battles while wearing high-tech laser tag systems that send geo-referenced data back to a central control point, tracking when and where people shoot or get shot.
The virtual portion includes various simulators, such as the Aviation Combined Arms Tactical Trainer, a helicopter simulator; and the Close Combat Tactical Trainer, which simulates tanks.
The constructive training components, where soldiers control computer-generated forces, combine with the live and virtual data at a central command point. Commanders can then make decisions based on all of the amassed information — and the various LVC components will be indistinguishable from one another.
The ITE, if approved, will mark a big step forward for LVC. While such training is currently possible, it is often done in one-off scenarios at individual locations.
“Today, it takes a tremendous amount of time and effort to bring in the technical engineering staff to be able to integrate those systems,” said Col. John Janiszewski, Army Training and Doctrine Command’s capability manager for the ITE.
The big difference is the ITE’s use of the Live, Virtual, Constructive Integrating Architecture (LVC-IA), a set of design standards by prime contractor Cole Engineering Services that makes communication between the various simulations easier and faster.
“With the LVC-IA, that is going to be a software package that is going to reduce the time and preparation required to execute a training event,” Janiszewski said.
While cheaper, streamlined LVC events are the goal for multiple Army posts, the field test must first be approved.
On the exercise’s second day, the commander of the testing troops praised the system.
“Our staff at battalion and brigade level are definitely getting a lot out of this exercise,” said Col. Robert Whittle, commander of the Black Jack Brigade, which is the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division. “It’s been helpful for us, frankly, from a real-world training perspective.”
In particular, evaluators are looking to see if the simulation is realistic, speeds up training, and trains multiple levels of troops.
“I don’t want to underestimate the challenges there are when you integrate multiple software programs that were not designed to interact together,” Janiszewski said. “Consider the challenges you would have if you tried to integrate an Apple Mac operating system with a Windows-based PC system.”
Part of the testing process is figuring out what the integrated architecture can and cannot synthesize. One glitch the team has found is miscommunication between the virtual and constructive components when a minefield is involved.
In the next few weeks, Cipolla and Janiszewski will compile a report that analyzes how well the ITE met training requirements.
If all goes well, the Army plans to field four iterations of the ITE. The first will go to Fort Hood on Dec. 14 and incorporate as many lessons from the field test as possible. In 2013, the system is scheduled to roll out to Fort Bliss, Texas; Fort Campbell, Ky.; Fort Drum, N.Y.; and South Korea.
Each iteration has roughly a two-year development cycle, so the plan extends to 2018 or so. While Army developers are focused on improving the primary functionality of the system, there is thought to eventually introducing additional features, such as gaming and distributed training.
The U.S. military is putting an emphasis on home station training and the ability to train multiple levels of the military together simultaneously. Creating this realistic, expansive type of training requires not only simulation, but also that the various simulators can talk to one another. Interoperability is key for the military, but various levels of technology and security often make it a challenge.
“The state-of-the-art interoperability in the military is at a much different level than we’re used to day to day,” said Gene Colabatistto, head of the military training and simulation group at CAE, the company that developed the common database to improve interoperability and data sharing between sims. “No matter who you buy your phone from, you can always make a phone call. That’s extraordinary from an engineering perspective. The military’s not close to that.”
Army officials hope that the ITE will help improve this level of interoperability between sims, saving time and money during training.
“I think we really feel comfortable about our program being able to — in the long term — save the Army money,” said Cipolla, who added that the program spends roughly $8 million in research, development, testing and evaluation per year.