The U.S. Army will soon begin fielding new technology that allows units to conduct live, virtual and constructive training at the same time.
The Integrated Training Environment “brings together all the environments we train together to where there’s a consistent capability and cohesiveness,” said Col. Mike Lundy, deputy commander of the Combined Arms Center-Training.
The ITE is being tested at Fort Hood, Texas, with the 1st Cavalry Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team, and the capability will soon be available at major posts across the Army.
“Our soldiers’ experience level in combat is higher than it’s ever been before, so [we must be] able to challenge them and get the realism in our training,” Lundy said.
The heart of the ITE is the Integrating Architecture, a combination of hardware and software that synchronizes the three types of training environments and enables them to talk to one another.
Each Army post has its physical training areas, virtual simulators and training software, and units have been conducting blended training exercises, but the Integrating Architecture pulls them all together, Lundy said.
“This takes all these disparate systems and allows them to communicate with each other,” he said.
The ITE is not meant to replace live training, Lundy said.
“It supplements live training,” he said. “It expands the area we can train in. It allows us to add complexity into our training that we either may not be able to afford in live training or it may be too risky.”
Here’s a possible scenario:
For the live training portion, a battalion of troops is maneuvering across the training area equipped with Instrumentable-Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System gear.
As they move, the soldiers interact with helicopter crews training on virtual simulators, as well as tank and Bradley Fighting Vehicle crews in their virtual simulators.
At the same time, the unit’s staff monitors a feed from an unmanned aerial vehicle that’s not really flying overhead but is being constructed using the Army’s training software.
And a sister battalion uses a computer to move icons that represent and replicate the unit and its equipment as though it is on the battlefield.
Using constructive training, commanders can give orders to the battalion just as they would on the battlefield, but instead of putting 800 more soldiers on the ground, role players representing the battalion use a computer to move the unit against opposing forces.
Using the ITE, the unit staff — be it a battalion or brigade, division or corps — that’s monitoring the battlefield can’t differentiate among what’s live, virtual or constructive because all of the data is coming into the command center the same way, Lundy said.
“Let’s say we’re training at Fort Hood, Texas,” Lundy said. “Fort Hood’s got some phenomenal training areas, and it’s one of our largest posts, but you can’t put a whole division out there.”
There also are airspace limitations that restrict the use of UAVs, he said.
“So we take a constructive UAV and fly it over a live training environment, and it can send a picture back to a live [tactical operations center] out there,” he said. “They’ll see this in their TOC, and it’s all done by computer, but they’ll think it’s coming from a UAV.”
Another example, Lundy said, is when a tank company is training on a multipurpose range.
“The targets pop up and move through the range complex. But, beyond that, there’s really nothing out there for the staff. It’s just open space,” he said. “What we can do is tie constructive training to the live event so the staff can see with the UAVs the enemy moving [in the constructive world] and they can talk to the tank crew and the targets start to materialize live, and the staff can battle-track a constructive unit during a live exercise.”
When Lundy commanded a combat aviation brigade, the unit would conduct blended exercises — without the benefit of the ITE, he said.
“It takes a lot of work to bring one of those exercises together, and it’s expensive,” he said.
With the ITE and the accompanying Integrating Architecture software and hardware, combining the types of training should be easier, cheaper and available to soldiers at their home station, Lundy said.
“It allows us to have a persistent capability at home station to where we don’t have to go through this inordinate expense and time to build this training,” he said. “It gets to a greater level of realism, and it also reduces the overhead of the exercise. It also really expands our training areas, regardless of where you’re at.”
During the three-week ITE test at Fort Hood in September, more than 600 soldiers from 2nd BCT, 1st Cavalry Division, participated in the exercise.
“We’ve got the BCT spread across the live, virtual and constructive environments right now,” said Col. Robert Whittle, the BCT commander. “We’re able to look at a common operating picture and make decisions.”
Whittle said a highlight for his staff has been the constructive UAV feed.
“That really enables our staff at the TOC to look at intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance without actually having to fly a real UAV,” he said.
The exercise was a “tremendous opportunity” for the brigade, Whittle said.
“We’ve had 80 percent turnover among our staffs over the course of the last 120 days,” he said. “This training event is really giving us a chance to revise our [standard operating procedures] and train in all the war-fighting functions.”
Lt. Col. Shane Cipolla, a project office lead at the National Simulation Center, evaluated the new training system during the exercise at Fort Hood.
He monitored how well the Integrating Architecture links the three training environments and whether the virtual and constructive simulations were realistic.
“If you’re sitting in a tank in a simulator and you’re looking at a tank in different environment, we want to make sure it’s in enough detail to be meaningful to that soldier being trained in the virtual system,” he said.
Integrating Architecture will be fielded at a few posts per year over the next few years.As the fielding takes place, Lundy expects the Army to continue testing, improving and growing the ITE and Integrating Architecture.
“The objective as we move forward is to do intra- or inter-post training,” he said. “So I can take a unit working at Fort Hood and have one at Fort Bliss and one at Fort Stewart, and through the Army network, be able to pass all this information to a division headquarters, and they’d be able to see this entire fight.”
Lundy said he is excited about how ITE can improve training.
“Regardless of what happens with the budgets and everything, training is going to be the cornerstone of combat readiness for us, and that’s where we’re focused,” he said. “We’re all about making sure soldiers, leaders and units are able to train with the best equipment and the best capabilities we can provide them.”