Setting up a new training system to match its weapon is just like any relationship. It requires good communication and hard work, and things get stressful when money is tight.
A multiyear study found that when training systems were not acquired, deployed or properly synced with their corresponding weapon, the outcome included improper training, wasted dollars, loss of equipment and loss of life.
“It was frequently the case that training was not available when the weapons platforms or hardware was available,” said Fred Hartman, researcher at the Institute for Defense Analyses and the lead on the project. “As a result of that, we had problems with the operation of that equipment, which in many cases created safety problems. People were even killed as a result.”
Researchers looked at five systems: the Patriot Air and Missile Defense System, Future Combat Systems, the mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle, the Husky Mounted Detection System and the P-8A Poseidon maritime surveillance aircraft. The MRAP and Husky examples showed the danger of rapid acquisitions, where operator training was ineffectively provided after the weapon system was fielded. The Patriot program failed to make upgrades to training that matched the real-world capabilities of the system.
With delays nearly endemic to military programs, it is possible that a similar fate might await major programs such as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter or the KC-46 tanker, which has already seen its Aircrew Training System schedule slip more than once. However, Frank DiGiovanni, director of training readiness and strategy for the Defense Department, said his program acquisition team still reports that the plan is to have a training capability fielded six months prior to the arrival of the first aircraft.
“We’re still relatively early in that program, but all indications from our perspective is that those folks appear to be on track with what’s required in their requirement documents,” he said.
The suggestions from the IDA study seem logical and common sense: Move training earlier in the acquisition cycle, assess the training early and often, make training an integral part of the program, use embedded training when possible, and provide training with the fielded system. Authors also urge making it a requirement to provide network capability and interoperability for sims so that training can be rolled into live, virtual and constructive environments.
Easier said than done.
“As money gets tight, the [program managers] — and the PMs’ bosses and senior decision-makers in some instances, as well — find training an easy thing to defer or cut out of the program in order to fill what they feel are more critical needs,” Hartman said.
And funneling extra money into training, or investing in a simulator up front, means less money to spend on the weapon system in an already constrained environment. “There’s always that tension between funding and operational capability, that one little extra piece of capability — and then taking the resources and making sure that the training is addressed appropriately in the acquisition process,” DiGiovanni said.
With higher-ups hunkered down to determine what to cut in order to meet the required numbers, Hartman said, there is real risk of losing a long-term view about training and simulation. Many within the community firmly believe that incorporating more simulation to training will reduce budget stress in the long term and maintain readiness at better levels.
“As dollars are reduced, the number of people trained, the number of systems to train on are going to be reduced,” Hartman said. “In my mind, the only way we can maintain a reasonable level of readiness and security for the country is to use more training, distributed learning, simulations and simulators, in order to keep our operators as near the cutting edge as we can.”
First, there has to be communication between whomever is developing the trainer and the weapon itself, which can be a tense relationship if the weapon builder doesn’t share specs. On the acquisition side, a big problem is that “the funding lines and the requirement lines for the insertion of operational capabilities into a weapon system are done in a different process than the upgrade and funding and resourcing of the training capabilities,” DiGiovanni said.
Policy-makers also have to communicate to program managers the importance of funding training early and adequately. DiGiovanni said there are challenges in making sure that the information gets out, people are aware of the changes and they understand how to implement them.
Changes to the Joint Capabilities Integration Development System in 2012 mandated that training be included as a key performance parameter, meaning program managers must incorporate training and training plans into the overall system if it meets JCIDS requirements.“By adding training to that [policy], we’re sending a very strong message to the acquisition community,” DiGiovanni said. “It’s a very high benchmark as far as whether or not a system is acceptable to the government, and they’re required to address training.”
But the new acquisition policy is young and has only had two joint capabilities thus far come through that were required to adhere to the new policy. Nevertheless, he called the recent change to JCIDS “a great move forward in helping us make sure that training is an integral part of the acquisition process.”
So how do you make sure that the operational and training communities stay in sync?
“We’re going to have to write some policy that provides them some direction. But I think the biggest thing is making sure the two communities talk,” DiGiovanni said. “There’s a lot of moving parts and a lot of program offices out there.”
Finally, by making training a key performance parameter, DoD is telling weapons manufacturers there’s a need for integrated training, embedded tools and technology, and a comprehensive plan that makes training more than an afterthought. ■