ORLANDO, Fla. — Industry is heading down a path to create more intricate training environments and missions through virtual reality simulators that better resemble what real-world operations will look like in the future. These disparate systems are being woven together to mirror the challenges and possibilities as the U.S. military and allies work to improve joint operations across air, land, sea and cyber.

What if an instructor training a pilot to fly a tactical jet could change the mission mid-flight, which would require more fuel for the aircraft to complete? The instructor could tap into a network, find a tanker crew in a training simulator somewhere else in the world on an ad hoc basis and link both the pilot’s and the tanker crew’s simulators in order to carry out a refueling mission, Gene Colabatistto, CAE’s group president for defense, described during an interview with Defense News at the recent Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education conference.

Being able to tie together simulators into a network to create more complex scenarios for richer training opportunities falls in line with what the head of Army Training and Doctrine Command, Gen. David Perkins, is looking for.

Combat Training Center rotations are expensive and have high overhead, and brigades only get that level of training every few years. Network simulation could bring a higher level of fidelity to training at a mission level right at home station.

While such training won’t replace large-scale events, training more at home station using live, virtual, constructive training and synthetic training, as well as 10,000 hours of repetition at a much lower level, get soldiers ready for large events at a higher level, Perkins said.

And detailed, layered simulated training would bring the complexity of the world and the future battlefield driving the Army’s Multi-domain Battle concept to the war fighter with much more frequency.

[TRADOC chief: Army needs to break free from ‘tyranny of training’]

“A few years ago, the simple act of connecting my simulator to your simulator was not trivial, we had not gotten there,” Colabatistto said.

The training and simulation industry was very focused on device-oriented training solutions and “point solutions” such as a full-flight simulator, task trainers or desktop trainers, and there were distinct competitors across the sector for high- to medium- to low-end trainers, he said.

Fast forward to now, “it is very much going to be about the ability to connect and the ability to interoperate, and they are separate, different things,” Colabatistto said.

It’s not an easy task because there are cybersecurity concerns related to networking systems and the need for industry to subscribe to a set of open standards so that one company can seamlessly connect their devices to another company’s devices.

The commercial world already does that with smartphones where connecting is institutionally ingrained. Society has forgotten about the technology and stacks driving the whole capability. There’s an expectation that Samsung devices can talk to Apple and vice versa, Colabatistto noted.

“That is where we are going,” he added. “We are going to take something that we could demonstrate and demonstrate components of and make it more of a matter of fact to facilitate team training, mission training and even going across the border so we can do not-just joint but coalition training on a routine basis. Underline ‘routine’ because right now it takes a lot of time and effort to set it up to make this work.”

One way industry is trying to break down barriers to possibly tie together training simulators and devices into wider networked mission-training scenarios is through I/ITSEC’s annual exercise conducted on the showroom floor called Operation Blended Warrior.

The exercise involves almost everyone at the exhibition and the training scenarios have grown more complex with each year combining live training assets like an aircraft, virtual simulators and constructive elements, which are simulated threats.

Vignettes during Operation Blended Warrior have grown more complex. “Several years ago it was: ‘I connected this guy to this guy and look out the window and see him,’ ” Colabatistto said. “It was very simple connectivity. We’ve matured now to the point where are are able to show some operational relevance in the scenarios.”

And the demonstrations also include more complex virtual reality simulations to include augmented reality training ― where simulated elements appear in a user’s live view ―and mixed reality ― where a user can see real elements like his or her own hands or gun in a virtual environment.

Demonstrations like Operation Blended Warrior show there is no technological barrier to tying together simulators in complex ways. “It’s a matter of simply deciding that we are going to talk to each other,” Colabatistto said.

CAE and Rockwell Collins announced at I/ITSEC a joint effort to develop live, virtual, constructive training solutions. At the show, the companies connected a live-flying, LVC-enabled L-29 aircraft simulated to be an F-18 fighter with a variety of virtual simulators and constructive forces to demonstrate an integrated, joint, multidimensional mission training environment.

[CAE and Rockwell Collins join forces to develop live, virtual, constructive training solutions]

“Our customers have been encouraging collaboration with things like Operation Blended Warrior here at the conference,” Nicholas Scarnato, Rockwell Collins’ director of marketing and strategy within its simulation and training solutions business, told Defense News at I/ITSEC. “But I think our customers are encouraging us to collaborate even more with each other because they have some really tough problems to solve in the way of training.”

The level of collaboration is indeed increasing, Scarnato said, but “I think it needs to increase more.”

However, there are challenges to achieving such a complex training framework. “A lot of people will say it’s a networking problem, but it’s a networking problem that has a cyber aspect associated with it and it’s got real world latency issues associated with it and it has bandwidth issues associated with it,” Scarnato said.

The cyber aspect is a major issue to consider, he noted. “We live in an environment where it’s no longer just hacking into a system to try to steal some information, sometimes it’s hacking into a system to cause harm to a particular system, which have grave effects on the users of those systems and, in some cases, society as a whole,” Scarnato added.

And it’s not just protecting the training device and the sensitive data within that training device, he said. “The actual performance characteristics are embedded in that software and you want to make sure tactics are not being stolen.”

It’s also important to ensure the training is designed as closely to how a war fighter might operate in reality.

“You want to train like you fight,” he said. “You want to make sure that that networked exercise is not just an exercise that has been thrown together to say: ‘Oh, look, we are collaborating.’ It has to make sense for what you are trying to do, so that is absolutely critical.”

Scarnato acknowledged military customers are looking for networked, collaborative training to happen faster and more affordably.

“The ability to rehearse something realistically faster and in a fashion that matches the real world, I think that is exactly what they are looking for,” he said.

Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.