Automatic Training: Meggitt Training Systems has added an automatic coaching tool to its FATS M100 marksmanship trainer. (Meggitt Training Systems)
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The world’s largest military training and simulation conference has expanded to seven themes to cover as much ground as possible, but even larger trends underlying the industry and ITEC itself can be summed up in three words: collaboration, crossover and commercialization.
After a decade that saw intense focus on counterinsurgency training, military forces in NATO and elsewhere are shifting back toward teaching basic maneuvers and skills that can be easily adapted to new threats. Simultaneously, budget cuts mean fewer dollars for research and development, greater competition for contracts, and a demand for training tools that can repurpose existing technology while maintaining readiness. The end result? The three Cs.
“You’re seeing a lot more teams being formed and a lot more collaboration, and with companies you’d never expect to collaborate,” said Stu Armstrong, chief technology officer for QinetiQ Training and Simulation.
Shrinking military budgets are driving big companies to reach out to small ones with niche specialties.
“People have to reach out to get the best-of-breed technology, and partner,” said Waymon Armstrong, president of Engineering and Computer Simulations.
What’s more, companies are willing and often eager to team up to get even a small share of a limited number of contracts.
“Ten percent of something is more than nothing,” said Angela Salva, president of medical training company Simetri.
Collaboration isn’t only between companies on contracts. Different military branches are looking for training tools they can repurpose or share. Everyone is looking to combine off-the-shelf technology with their own tools for cheap solutions with minimal development.
This phenomenon has drawn many companies without much defense-contracting experience to seek ways to apply their products to military use — even as established defense contractors chase revenue by looking for civil and commercial applications for their products.
“Originally, this crossover was dominated by the development of flying skills,” said Simon Williams, chairman of ITEC organizer Clarion Defense and Security. “But it is now broadening out to include the combined response of civil departments, NGOs and the military to natural disasters.”
This is feeding demand for systems to train civil servants such as firefighters, policemen and emergency response workers. There is also a big push to advance medical training and simulation. A swing from frontline and trauma medicine to healthcare in a hospital setting is already underway, Salva said. The high demand for nurses makes a particularly fertile ground for crossover of simulation devices.
All this is subtly changing ITEC, whose 2014 forum will be held May 20-22 in Cologne, Germany.
“The military training requirement is still core to ITEC, but the themes of civil protection, cyber and medical really draw interest from across all users or potential users of these technologies,” said Graham McIntyre, chairman of the European Training and Simulation Association.
In addition to burned and bloodied mannequins and the fifth-generation robots from Marathon Targets, ITEC will feature an updated array of virtual and constructive simulations. Oculus VR returns with immersive 3D, Germany’s ESG is showing off its helicopter sims on tablets, and Finmeccanica’s Oto Melara is focusing on gunner virtual training that can scale up to include instructors, drivers and commanders. MASA will show off new logistics features for the SWORD constructive simulation, CAE its GlobalSim Constructive Simulation, and BAE Systems a Maritime Composite Training System that will be used by the British Royal Navy. It looks to be another year of incremental improvements — a good move, considering the current fiscal climate.
James Robb, head of the US-based National Training and Simulation Association, said the trick for governments and supporting industry is making sure that training remains sufficiently robust. This means improving technology already in place while supporting the limited number of new platforms that are emerging.
Robb said that’s particularly true for countries in Europe. “They’re going to focus on smaller, more distributed types of things that are still of value, but allow them to sustain capability and, for smaller countries, have more impact.”
McIntyre said the cost-effective reuse of technology from the games industry is another strong trend in Europe, with “many countries seeing this approach as the only way forward.”
As home station training ramps up, serious games and distributed, virtual and augmented systems will be even more important for US troops as well. It’s no longer about training the individual, said Tom Baptiste, president of the National Center for Simulation, a US consortium. Instead, the focus is on training teams of individuals — preferably without having to physically gather them in one place.
“In the past, even as we started to scratch the surface with immersive simulations, it was all a very small audience. There’s recognition across the services that we need to do more and broaden the aperture,” Baptiste said.
The trend toward integration and immersion has been evident at the past several ITEC shows, but systems that play nice are becoming a necessity rather than a desire.
“It was always a requirement, but down low on the list,” said LeAnn Ridgeway, vice president of simulation and training solutions for Rockwell Collins. “Now it’s an absolute compliance must-have. You have to be able to demonstrate that you have an open architecture system.”
While the technology exists to link systems, overcoming complications with levels of security and information require patience, time and money.
“In many ways, this industry has become much more about high-level systems integration than it has been systems development,” said Gene Colabattisto, president of CAE’s Military Simulation Products, Training and Services Group.
But even while training teams of individuals, the training is becoming more personalized. Intelligent tutors and adaptive learning systems pull trainee data and react, tailoring content to train students faster and better.
Look for smart solutions from Boeing, which is developing advanced learning technologies for maintenance training, and Meggitt Training Systems, which now has an automatic coaching tool for its marksmanship trainer.
“The one-size-fits-all method isn’t going to work anymore,” Waymon Armstrong said.
This Year at ITEC
Themes for ITEC 2014 are varied and reflect the broad landscape covered by simulation. The topics are cyber; civil support, protection and disaster event management; military operations — shifting from insurgency operations to operational maneuvers; innovative learning technologies; human performance and education (a new theme this year); medical training and simulation challenges; and modeling and simulation technologies and architectures.
With the large amount of crossover and demand in varied fields, some new companies are appearing at ITEC this year, including Olmos, Babcock, Disti and Dignext. The first-time-exhibitor booth will feature Voovio, Cole Engineering, Gaumard Scientific, Kentucky Trailer Technologies, Rebel Alliance, Illogic and Imagine, among others. Members of Imagine attended last year but did not exhibit; they are returning to show off their detailed terrain engine, volumetric snow accumulation, atmospheric and weather simulation, and other improvements in their image-generation software.
“Historically, we have been in the ATC [air traffic control] simulator business,” said founder Grégory Jaegy, explaining why his company is choosing to exhibit. “We strongly believe our technology can be used in other simulation areas and is not limited to air traffic control only.”
Companies returning to ITEC after an absence include Thales, Raytheon, Airbus, Rheinmetall, EST and RUAG, according to Clarion Events.
Almost 40 countries will be represented at the show, with members of the military expected from Australia, Denmark, the Netherlands, Poland, Turkey, Germany, Greece, Singapore and the UK.
With so many minds working on simulation and combining cutting-edge techniques, technology is no longer the limiting factor, QinetiQ’s Stu Armstrong said. Organizations, with the help of science, will have to figure out which kind of simulation actually works the best.
“When you can build anything, what should you actually be building to achieve the training effect?” he said. ■