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USAF Sees Healthy Future for Simulation Technologies

AFAMS Chief: 'Support Is Definitely Out There'

Dec. 3, 2013 - 11:50AM   |  
By AARON MEHTA   |   Comments
Col. Franz Plescha
Col. Franz Plescha (US Air Force)
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WASHINGTON — Nestled in the heart of Florida lies a unique collaboration between military services and industry known as Team Orlando. Its goal is to provide the military with the best simulation and training solutions possible.

The Air Force is represented through its Agency for Modeling and Simulation (AFAMS), headed by Col. Franz Plescha, who recently discussed the serviceís increased use of simulation technology with Defense News.

Q. Top Air Force officials have talked about the need for more simulation use, both to save money and increase readiness. Overall, have you found support for increased simulation?

A. Yes. As a matter of fact, Iíve seen zero pushback on any of this stuff. [Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh] was my commander in Europe when I worked at the Warrior Preparation Center [a simulation center in Germany]. One of the first places he came to visit in his first 30 days when he got there was the Warrior Preparation Center. He was always a strong advocate for that type of capability. That hasnít changed with him as the chief of staff.

Naturally, there are challenges to our standard money process. But when it comes down to whether or not it will happen, or guidance that we need from [generals], that part is easy. That support is definitely out there.

How it happens, how itís evolved, the vision for the future ó those are things that weíre getting together still for everybody to come up for a common vision. But, whether or not it needs to happen, and if thereís support for it, yeah, our leadership gets that.

Q. Was this shift to more simulation going to happen regardless of the budget?

A. Sequestration may have expedited some things that weíre considering right now, but it would have happened anyway. All that stuff already existed. People were already working on it.

The only thing thatís changed now is we realize that Ďhey, this stuff is so good now. Maybe we should actually take our entire approach to readiness.í Even if sequestration is a part of why weíve made that turn itís unfair to say that wouldnít have happened anyway.

Of course it would have happened. It already was happening. People were already using all of these tools.

Q. You mentioned the Warrior Preparation Center in Europe. How do the US European allies compare in terms of simulation?

A. Itís difficult for any country to be ahead of our technical knowhow and capability. There are some countries, the UK in particular, whom I would say are just a handful of years ahead of us in the thought process of trying to figure out how to achieve readiness through LVC [live, virtual, constructive]. Thatís our mantra here at AFAMS now ó readiness through LVC. My experience in working with them the last couple of years in my last assignment, they were further ahead in realizing this is the way we have to go. But, when it comes to the ability to put this stuff together and how well we can do it, weíre still the US of A. So weíre still leading the pack on that.

Q. Are there any scenarios or situations where you think simulation is actually not an appropriate way to teach certain skills or scenarios?

A. Yes, there always will be. But my guess is, in a decade or two we may actually find it confusing for folks to know whether or not itís real or simulation anymore because it will get that good.

There are always things that you canít necessarily simulate. My background was as an F-16 pilot in the Air Force. You can put me in a simulator and you can really task-saturate me with the amount of input that Iím getting on the screens ó the work I need to do, the switchology that needs to happen in the airplane, the communication thatís going on ó all of that is outstanding training. And sometimes even better in that sim than I can get live because if I actually go fly an F-16, I donít get to train with 16 other people all the time.

But being wrapped up in all the gear, the speed that things are happening at, making sure I donít make mistakes so I actually live and go land when Iím done, and the G-forces that Iím going through at the time ó some of those things are more difficult or not even worth trying to put in a simulator. You can never replace some of those things, which people unfortunately use that point a little too often. Live is still live. But I personally ó maybe Iíve drank too much of the Kool-Aid, but I personally think where weíre going in the future, itís going to be difficult to tell those two apart.

Q. Can you give an example of how this technology could advance?

A. I can give you an example. There is a dome. Itís a simulator for people to be able to walk into and you can project things on the screen. So itís a mini IMAX theater, if you will. Even standing there when youíre watching some of the stuff, you almost fall over because the visuals are so good and what itís doing to all ... the input that youíre getting. They can put treadmills on there where you can run full speed. They can put weather in there where youíre getting wet. They have two domes next to each other that are linked with projectors and cameras. One guy can pull out a pistol and shoot the other one. The domes can speak to one another so they know where the bullet would have gone. He can be wearing the right vest/equipment but that blood actually starts coming out of his shoulder and they give a teeny little electrical shock, if you will, on where the bullet would have entered.

I mean, you canít tell me weíre not a decade away from actually pulling somebody out from an environment like that and going, ďItís OK. It was just fake. Relax. Youíre good.Ē

So the question will always be in the future ó you know, that kind of stuff gets expensive. So at what point, just because we can do it, do we actually get return on investment worth setting up that type of simulation, or [saying] thatís the kind of thing we donít need to simulate?

Those are all the questions that will continue in every different facet of where people are using them.

Q. A lot of the cutting edge simulation work is being done in the commercial sector. Is there a lot of technology being transferred back and forth?

A. Iím not sure we can call it tech transfer. Itís actually a team effort. We in the military, itís not our forte. The technical skills are in the civilian world, industry and academia. Iím not saying we donít have smart folks in those areas, but the amount of capability and the technical expertise, that really comes from industry.

So itís not an even tit-for-tat transfer. Weíre almost a customer in that sense. What we try to get is, ďhereís the scenario, hereís the integration we need,Ē and then the industry may provide, or academia may provide, the solution for how to get there.

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