A NATO E-3A (AWACS) Sentry aircraft flies a mission in 2012. NATO wants to use distributed simulation to train crews on a variety of platforms including the E-3A, but member nations must develop their capabilities before they can integrate into a larger training system. (US Air Force)
For a widespread organization such as NATO, distributed simulation and training will grow more important in the days ahead. And while the alliance has a long-term goal of a distributed system connecting partner nations, allowing commanders to train with those they’ll go to combat with, member nations must first build their national systems to maturity.
There are several challenges on the road to distributed simulation adulthood. Financial pressures weigh on how quickly nations — and NATO — can get the distributed simulation systems up and running. Countries also require time and technology to build networks to a certain standard.
“All of that has to be approved,” said Royal Canadian Air Force Capt. Jonathan Gilbert, part of NATO’s E-3A Airborne Warning and Control System component. “But it’s not going to be next weekend that it’s going to be worked out. It takes a couple years.”
The NATO roadmap for fully fleshing out distributed training extends to 2025, but the AWACS component is expected to be ready for distributed sims in 2014. With one proof of concept connecting forces under its belt and another scheduled for this summer, the AWACS component is on track to incorporate more distributed training into its daily routine.
“Thinking ahead, five or 10 years down the road, distributed training is going to help out and solve the problems that we encounter day by day,” Gilbert said.
He said NATO is looking to the U.S. as a model for distributed simulations. The U.S. has networks running out of the Distributed Training Operations Center in Iowa and also at the Warrior Preparation Center near Ramstein Air Base in Germany.
One of the lessons from their research is a need for common standards that NATO partners can build to, eliminating interoperability and security issues for future training. Much like the process for coordinating fighter aircraft, this crucial technology will likely see its own advisory groups, with team leaders from different nations collaborating to establish guidelines for what nations should be doing.
Much of the training done in distributed sims will focus on the mission crew, which includes tactical directors, fighter allocators, surveillance and passive controllers, and other operators. Recent involvement in Afghanistan and Libya demonstrated a need for additional distributed training, Gilbert said.
While the best option is to connect military players who will actually go to combat together, a “white force” running operations will be necessary until member nations build up their own capabilities to a level of security, interoperability and connectivity that lets them mesh together.
One last challenge that Gilbert mentioned was how many distributed simulation facilities are already close to capacity. That can make event planning more difficult as various groups vie for training time, but also shows how valued and necessary the distributed sim centers are.
“That just proves there’s a need for distributed simulation,” he said.
Potential solutions for the overworked facilities include building more centers, relying more on the facilities of partner nations as they grow, and creating an entity that watches over NATO’s distributed sims.
Gilbert emphasized that there is enough capability to do their daily training — and the sims are well-used every day. Further out, he said, the emphasis will be on integrating nations, connecting different groups and keeping the large number of people well-organized.