Under Training: US Army cadets use the Dismounted Soldier Training System to practice patrolling as a squad, entering and clearing a building, and other simulated operations. (Rachael Tolliver/US Army)
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WASHINGTON — Next month, US Army leaders will sit down with representatives from industry and academia at Fort Eustis, Virginia, to lay plans for a fully integrated, global virtual training environment, an ambitious project that could vastly streamline and improve how the service prepares its soldiers for their missions.
The central idea of this project, currently called the Future Holistic Training Environment – Live Synthetic, is to combine all of the Army’s current virtual training environments into one program that would allow soldiers anywhere in the world to access the same information and connect virtually.
One of the top items on the service’s wish list is to digitally map the entire globe so unit commanders can pull up training events that exactly replicate the topography of any given area, including population centers.
Dubbed One World Terrain, this Google Earth-like system would be the “digital dirt where [unit leaders] can rapidly construct a scenario and get a feel for the terrain that they’re going to operate on before they deploy,” said Lt. Col. Jason Caldwell, who leads the National Simulation Center (NSC) Futures Division at the Army’s Combined Arms Center – Training at Fort Riley, Kansas.
This will become more and more important, given that the largest formations in the Army of the future will likely be based in the United States and deploy in small regionally aligned teams to various points across the globe.
But One World Terrain will show more than just geography and buildings. Caldwell said the Army wants it also to display the “human terrain” — to allow soldiers to get a real-time look at the political, social and economic climate in a location. This might involve big-picture trends or small but important details unearthed by mining social media.
Caldwell said that paying attention to the fluid nature of regional, local, hyper-local cultures and their interconnected subcultures will allow leaders to “rapidly model what’s going on in the world to provide our soldiers a more rich training experience in this synthetic environment.”
The service is also developing plans to install virtual observers and controllers in the simulations that will tutor the soldiers while they’re still participating in the training event.
In the Army’s vision, the simulated and virtual training program of the future would not be limited by space. It will all be distributed by the cloud, and allow Joint Task Force-level training with multinational and interagency partners.
“No matter where you are around the globe you can participate in these exercises,” Caldwell said.
Since the Army is only now beginning to map out the capabilities it wants, the meeting on June 18 and 19 at Fort Eustis with industry will represent a big first step in partnering with the private sector to take advantage of what it can offer in terms of data collection, cloud computing and terrain mapping.
Part of the goal is to reduce the amount of money the Army spends to get its soldiers ready.
“We have to reduce the overhead of training. Right now for some simulations we’ve got 14 or 15 contractors or personnel that we need to be able to build the exercises, to run the simulations,” Brig. Gen. Michael Lundy, deputy commanding general at the Army Combined Arms Center, told an audience at a January Army Aviation summit. “We can’t afford that. That’s a couple million dollars per installation we’re paying in manpower.”
In the short term, Lundy said, the Army is working to merge at least three current virtual programs so that unit commanders will be able to access a single integrated training environment, as opposed to spending time and money using several systems.
“We want to get away from having multiple environments, virtual gaming and instruction, and go to one synthetic environment, get to a lower overhead and integrate the full operations process according to the common operating picture,” he said.
Caldwell said that today’s integrated environment “is very interested in the execution of training and assessing training after the training is complete. In the future we want to have a system that allows the commander to do all of his or her planning, preparation, as well as the training and assessment in that single environment, so it’s sort of a one-stop shop that connects all of those resources.”
The system of the future would also provide the commander the status of his or her unit’s training, highlighting soldiers who have not yet met certain goals, or are in need of training or education. ■