Col. Charles E. Beam (US Air Force)
U.S. Air Force Col. Charles Beam runs the live, virtual and constructive operational training division of the Air Staff’s operations directorate. The division, which handles LVC-OT policy, guidance and oversight, was formed about two years ago in a reorganization that emphasized virtual training.
What is shaping the future of training for the Air Force?
In my mind, there are three driving factors. One is our budget and fiscal challenges that we currently have — not only at the Air Force level or the DoD, but really as a nation in total. Another piece that’s a driving factor in training is the increasing capabilities of our adversaries, and that’s driving more of a need to train in an interoperable-type environment with our joint coalition partners. The third driving factor is a new generation of airmen. They are much more technology-advanced than I am, being an old dinosaur. A lot of the solutions that we see coming out, will come from those airmen working at a squadron and unit level.
Many times, when we talk about LVC, and in the modeling and sim community, LVC is seen as a panacea of solutions, and we can do everything in that virtual and constructive environment. That’s not necessarily the case, but it will provide us a valuable training environment.
In a strategic study, they call for greater emphasis on that integrated interoperability training, with manned platforms, unmanned platforms, space platforms, cyber platforms and their capabilities. That integration is being driven by what our adversaries are doing in their capabilities. It’s not only going to reflect how we’re going to do operations in a combat environment, but it’s also going to drive how we have to do training to meet those operational requirements with those capabilities.
To meet all these challenges, LVC-OT is one of the capabilities that we bring forth and will become prevalent. The days of the live-fly-only things are in the past, and using actual equipment for training as well.
Is the Air Force likely to turn to more simulation or will it be too fiscally constrained to make that upfront investment?
One of the fallacies of training in the virtual constructive environment is that if I take that live-fly hour that I do today, I can immediately fill that training square in a virtual or constructive environment. In order to do that in that simulated environment requires some upfront and in-advance investments. The research, development, the tests, the evaluation, the procurement and the delivery of that capability — there’s a time frame there to deliver that to replace that flying hour.
I think when you look long term, the answer is yes. Now, we won’t be able to replace all that live-fly with training in the virtual and constructive world. When you take a look at those training requirements, some of them cannot potentially be met in a constructive environment. One big part of that is based on the operational mission and the capabilities of that aircraft, platform or system, but it’s also based on what that sim is capable of today.
There’s been a lot of migration of training from the live to the virtual and constructive environment. Our major commands have made significant movements in that area, but we’ve probably, based on our current investment that we have made in the simulator, maxed out the training and sim. So saying today that I could take one live flying hour and do that flying hour in the virtual-constructive environment would require some investment now in order to potentially do that three, four, five years down the road.
But if you just don’t have the money, will we still see more migration to sims?
Absolutely. There will be some risk mitigations that are put in place that will move some additional training in the sims. But once again, there are some sim systems out there that we have maxed out right now. If we’ve maxed out their capacity, they may be able to move some training, but they won’t be able to move all that training. It’ll be a balance between that live and simulated flying environment in order to figure out where we need to put that next piece of training.
What technologies are you focusing on as you adapt and upgrade LVC training?
When we talk about LVC training from an Air Force perspective, we’re really talking about three pieces. The three pieces of that equation are the aircrew training devices, the networks (which allow us to tie those training systems together), and last but not least, regional and functional-type distributed training centers.
When we talk about the training devices, the technology that we want to focus in on is going to be able to deliver the most capable training system that mirrors the actual weapon system itself. Being able to deliver timely concurrency for that sim as it matches the aircraft is going to be, really, our first key principle in ensuring and leveraging technology for the future.
The second piece is sufficient fidelity, and it does come down to this for a lot of our next-generation technologies. When we talk about sufficient fidelity from an Air Force perspective, that’s essentially that we have a virtual environment that replicates everything that I would see accurately in a real jet.
We can do that in the virtual environment. When I talk about that, you need weather, terrain, red air, missile capabilities, your adversaries, and we want to see that same thing in the virtual and have it look just like the real weapon system.
As our weapons systems become more sophisticated, the combat environment more complex, the fidelity piece of the sims themselves is going to be one area where we have to make sure we’ve got those right pieces in the simulators. One of the things that our Air Force Agency for Modeling and Simulation, or AFAMs, is looking at right now is to assess and analyze all the different weapons systems. They’re looking at all those models right now and trying to figure out a best of breed, so we can pull that information from a cloud rather than just being in that sim itself.
When there is a new threat out there, we don’t have to put that threat in 10 different models for 10 different weapons systems. We can essentially hang that threat, the attributes of that threat, the aspects of that threat, into a cloud environment, and it can be pulled down by that sim. That will be a big, big challenge, to get to the future cloud.
The third piece of aircrew training devices is connectivity. This connectivity piece is where we begin to incorporate the other two key components of LVC — those distributed training centers and the network. It ties the three pieces together.
When we think about connectivity, it’s not necessarily that we need a persistent and perpetual network, although we would like it to be available. It’s really going to be more of what you might envision as an on-demand network. Connecting 24/7 is not really the intent. But we’ll need to address it in terms of the war fighters’ requirements and have that on-demand type systems.
Interoperability seems to be a key component. Is it becoming a requirement when you look at new technologies?
It’s not necessarily becoming a requirement. We will take that into account. I think the biggest thing when we take a look at a capability we want delivered for a weapon system is that it meets the war-fighters’ needs and the war-fighters’ requirements. It would be great if we could move to a more nonproprietary-type data.
One of our biggest challenges — and this is a technology challenge for us in the Air Force — has become information security and interoperability within the Air Force, between the services and with our international partners as well. Multilevel security, which means tying platforms that operate at different security levels, and cross-domain solutions, referring to an attempt to try to tie two different networks together, are going to be some of our biggest technology challenges in the future. We need to develop, assess and approve this type of integrated capability not only for day-to-day training but for mission rehearsals and large-scale exercises.
Right now, many of the challenges with that are because we don’t have the technology to address it. There’s one live, virtual, constructive pilot project being conducted by Air Combat Command that attempts to address this from a perspective of tying a live asset into a virtual and constructive environment. They’ve completed two phases of that proof of concept and will continue to try to prove whether or not we can actually tie the live asset into the virtual and constructive environment with those multilevel security issues, especially as we look at our fifth-gen platforms.
What key LVC milestones are coming up?
The first is the LVC Operational Training flight plan. This is a strategic document that lays out the future of LVC capabilities. It provides the Air Force a unifying vision and major actions for implementing this LVC program.
The second big milestone is another initiative in response partly due to a GAO audit last year, but also because we saw the need to actually start capturing what it costs in a virtual and constructive environment and being able to treat it just like the air domain. That initiative is really to provide a greater cost visibility and discipline into that LVC environment — both the investment and sustainment of those investments and capabilities.
Another big milestone that AFAMS has taken on is assessing and analyzing the potential of putting into place and implementing centralized management of key LVC foundations. These are things that one major command or service corps function would not be responsible for because it is a common foundation that would be found across all [major commands] and service corps functions. It includes things like the connecting infrastructure, common data, common tools, common models. It could potentially pay huge dividends — it just depends what comes out of that analysis.
How will training change in response to sequestration?
When it comes to sequestration, from a virtual constructive environment, we are already platform-dependent. Many of those platforms operate on the fringes now, based on the current capabilities of the sim. In fact, in fighter platforms, anywhere from 25 to 30 percent of their training is in the virtual constructive environment. Many of your mobility platforms are upwards of 50 to 75 percent, and if you look even at some of the back end of your mission crews, i.e., your AWACS, upwards of 90 percent of their training is already being done in a sim.
There’s already been a significant shift, pre-sequestration. In order to potentially migrate additional training, it’s going to require that upfront and in-advance investment in the sim, either from a capability standpoint — increasing the capability of those individual sims — or from a capacity standpoint of actually procuring and delivering more sims themselves.
The second piece is the appropriate mix of the live versus simulation. The MAJCOMs continue to assess and analyze that on a periodic basis. They take a look at the current capabilities of the sims and match that against what they’re required to do in order to maintain the combat aviator, and see what they can potentially migrate to that sim from the live.
That appropriate mix will continue to work around the edges and shift, and it’s going to be different platform by platform. As we see new fifth-gen aircraft coming on board, we fully expect that a larger portion of training will be accomplished in a virtual constructive environment versus some of our older platforms. ■