The Army plans to revolutionize how it trains its troops through the use of virtual gaming and cloud-based technologies. Speaking at the annual Association of the United States Army conference on Tuesday, Army officials described a future where units could be trained with new skills or hone existing ones right before deployment, or in the theater of operations. 

The Synthetic Training Environment (STE) will allow forces to simulate complex operations in dense urban environments, explained Brig. Gen. Maria R. Gervais, deputy commanding general of the Combined Arms Center — Training at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Above all, STE will provide low cost, scalable, multi-echelon training optimized for human performance, she said. 

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A major goal of STE is overcoming the limitations of old-school simulator technology. Current simulators rely on fixed locations, which causes scheduling issues because units must be on site to train. Simulators are also expensive due to contractor overhead and generally have limits to how many soldiers they can train at a single time, Gervais added. These simulators can do an excellent job for certain types of training, such as for vehicle crews, but they are not flexible in that they do not allow war fighters to train "where or how we would fight," she said. 

STE will create an immersive environment that will allow troops to familiarize themselves with an operational environment before they deploy. The capability could also allow units to integrate mission data from deployed forces and site reports to provide a more focused training experience for troops, the general explained. She added that the capability will also allow Army units to train with regional and allied forces and help maintain readiness. 

The Army is currently evaluating a variety of technologies to go into STE. Gervais noted that STE is not a program of record but an evaluation of existing capabilities that will probably result in one or more programs of record. 

The service is currently validating a number of technologies and examining where they might fit into existing gaps in training and requirements. Gervais anticipates that this evaluation process will take 12 to 18 months to complete with the goal of introducing new training technologies as early as 2020 and continuing the process over the following decade to 2030.

One of the driving visions behind STE is to create scalable training scenarios that can be run across and shared with all echelons. The Army is emphasizing the use of common software protocols to ensure that all participating soldiers will have a common experience in a given exercise, Gervais said.

As the Army’s next phase for training, STE will help to make training simulations more flexible and accessible to deployed units, she said. One challenge is that the Army has traditionally consolidated its simulation training centers. In order to facilitate training anytime and anywhere that can scale to accommodate multiple units and echelons, the Army is looking at cloud-based capabilities, she added. Moving to the cloud provides the surge capability to train very large units and also frees forces from having to rely on travel to fixed locations for simulator exercises, she said.

But to reach its goals, the Army has to first evaluate possible technologies and create a common architecture. The general noted that such a multi-domain common architecture would help mitigate some of the interoperability issues faced by current systems.

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Another challenge is creating a global database of high-fidelity, seamless terrain maps of existing cities and potential areas of operation that can be quickly loaded into training software. An important part of this effort is finding or creating an appropriate gaming engine on which to run the training software. An ideal system would run out of the box, so to speak, to avoid the cost and time spent developing an in-house solution. The Army is reaching out to the gaming industry for expertise to develop a gaming engine that can scale to meet the service’s needs, she added.

A final, important consideration is ensuring that coalition partners can use STE, Gervais said. The Army is working with J7 staff and coalition partners to maintain interoperability as new training technologies roll out from STE, she said.