Leonard Genna is president of L-3 Link Simulation & Training. (L-3 Link Simulation & Training)
Last month, the US military simulation and training community gathered at the I/ITSEC show in Orlando, Fla. Leonard Genna, president of L-3 Link Simulation & Training, sat down with Defense News at the show to discuss the industry and whether the US Defense Department will see expanded use of simulation.
Q. Pentagon officials at I/ITSEC talked about the need to move beyond proprietary information and toward open architectures. How will the training and simulation world adjust?
A. Itís happening, but itís not happening easily. The challenge is companies are making investments. When DoD budgets were such that people were making the [profit] margins on programs, they would be potentially more willing to say, ĎI will invest in this with the understanding Iím going to give it away.í Right now, the government doesnít have the money to invest, but they want you to give up intellectual property.
So if youíre big companies and youíre investing in intellectual property and then the government is going to get it, your competitive advantage is you spent all that money. If you give it away, you have to rethink what it is youíre trying to do. In some cases in the commercial business, [it may] push more people into international and commercial.
So the government needs to work on what is the right balance. I think theyíre working through that. Whatís the right common architecture and structure so many people can work on the same device, people can sustain other companiesí devices, those are all the right things. But the problem, is how do you take companies that are willing to invest in that technology and how do they recoup those costs? Thatís always the challenge.
Q. How do you thread that needle?
A. If you take some companies out here, thatís their only business. So if you give away their intellectual property, it could potentially jeopardize their business. In a large business thatís more of an integrator, that may not be as much of an issue.
The OEMs [original equipment manufacturers] are doing it today on all the platforms. Lockheed, Boeing, all those big ones out there today, they control the intellectual property for the aircraft. And thatís where a lot of money has to be spent, either buying it from them or reverse engineering it.
The government is trying to work through that and saying at the end the day, if Iím buying the platform from you, let me use those rights to give it to other people to do training. Itís a happy medium. You donít want to take their intellectual property and give it to someone else so they can compete and create another airplane. But you want to give it to somebody else so they can support and maintain it.
The government needs to work through the safeguards to help the OEMs understand that, and thatís the struggle in the training business. The OEMs that are vertically integrated, that have aircraft and training, they have a competitive advantage. Weíre not tied to an OEM that has that, so we need to go work with those companies and we have to spend money to potentially get that intellectual property, unless the government provides it.
In the commercial world, most of the OEMs will provide you the data. At a price, so they make money on it, but at least going into the business, you know youíre going to pay X amount of dollars for that data package and everyone is paying that price, so thereís not an unfair advantage.
In the military business, you can be anywhere from a competitive advantage to a disadvantage, depending on your access to data and what you decided to invest in.
Q. Has the government moved in this direction?
A. The tanker is the prime example. If theyíre going to buy a platform, they should put in the proper hooks to make sure that data is provided to the training community. With the tanker, they actually provide the data.
To me, all those pieces have to come together. The OEMs spent a lot of money on those platforms, and they need to protect their intellectual property. By the same token, we have safeguards that say, if you give us this [intellectual property], weíre willing to put it in a vault, [with] safeguards to make the OEM feel good. Thatís the challenge for the training industry.
If the government gets us access to that data, we as industry have to make sure we protect it. If we donít, weíre going to find ourselves back to the other way.
Q. Do you expect growth in the simulation and training industry?
A. I believe the simulation and training market should continue to prosper. Whether or not the DoD is going to go through some cycle here, at the end of the day, the demand to do more training is there for many different reasons. We want the men and women who will be trained to be more proficient. More regulations are coming in. Whatever it is youíre doing, whether an airplane, a helicopter, a truck or a train, itís usually more economical and safer to do it in a trainer.
The thing thatís happened in the training industry thatís good for everybody is, because of commercial technology, the costs of those training programs have come way down. Simulators used to cost tens of millions of dollars. You can now buy them, in some cases, for less than a million. That means more people can get access to training. You can train on an iPad or iPhone or a laptop. All of those things are positive.
The ability to do more training is there. The question that comes back is providing the structure to go do that. Then you need to put together the business case, which says there will be up-front costs, but at the end of the life-cycle, the savings are there.
Some [companies invest in simulation] because they have to. The [US Federal Aviation Administration] says you have to do training. Other people say, can I reduce the number of accidents, hereís a return on investment which says training works.
Q. What about technological growth?
A. The technology is there today. Not that it canít continue to improve ó those improvements will be in more fidelity, driving cost down and increased bandwidth. Bandwidth is probably the biggest thing that is out there today, because of wanting to get all of these simulators networked together on the military side, even on the non-military side. Youíre going to need that bandwidth to be able to do that.
I think DoD will benefit from the commercial industry doing bandwidth. Iíd rather they not spend their money on that. They may want to make sure they spend their money on those commercial off-the-shelf [COTS] technologies. Being able to handle secure communications is where they need to spend their money to leverage that COTS. The Yahoos and Googles of the world are spending money on the bandwidth things. Let them spend the money.
DoD should be working on how to protect information assurance and security. On the military side, they can get these LVC [live virtual constructive] scenarios with multiple people in that virtual battlespace and be confident data is not being compromised. When we go to war, itís not just all the US government, itís the international partners. How do they all practice together? The US government is doing a lot on its own, but the reality is most [scenarios] will be working with international partners.
Q. The buzzword for the conference was LVC technologies. Do you share that interest, both domestically and internationally?
A. We obviously will have a hand on the US side, but also internationally. We do a lot of work internationally. We have certain sweet spots that weíre in on with the US that our international users could operate together. From our perspective, we have more international partners not just looking to buy a simulator, but to have those simulators networked. They talk about potentially getting to an LVC-type scenario as well, not just wanting simulation, but some kind of live virtual constructive mix. They can do role-playing and mission type training.
There are customers that are moving along in that path internationally. We have our own set of tools and integrations that have been successful on the US side that we think are natural extensions internationally. We have programs today where we do interoperability at multiple locations at the same time. So weíve gone through some of those integration techniques to understand the pros and the pitfalls and how you work around them.
The big challenge for us on the civil and DoD side is weíre hoping once some stability comes, we would expect an uptick in training. If [DoD is] going to cut the number of flying hours from the 20s or 30s down to the teens or below, in order to keep our mission readiness, training is going to be very important.
The question is how quickly can the military services adapt from all those flying hours and coming out of theater and ramp up? In some cases, those devices are ready to go to handle that throughput. In other cases, theyíre not.
Itís not going to happen overnight, itís not just going to turn a knob and increase this. In some cases, there will be a runway that needs to take place. We want to support all the services in that aspect. We just need the right forms to do so.
Q. Is there one US military service thatís leading the way on simulation?
A. Itís not by service. Itís by program. They can probably all move a little further up the paradigm, but they arenít the same. Savings for an F-35 or F-16 or F-22 [fighter jet], the cost of operating those platforms is pretty expansive. So you save a lot putting it into simulation.
The training industry has to help the government by providing simulations that are good enough that [DoD] can be comfortable in offloading those things. And that is the challenge the simulation industry has. ■