ORLANDO, Fla. — As the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps reshape themselves to defeat sophisticated adversaries around the globe, the heads of the sea services say they need virtual training systems that can go beyond just “reps and sets” and accurately reflect the fight they expect to face as well as demonstrate how well prepared individual sailors and Marines are for that fight.
Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. David Berger said the service is moving with urgency to reshape the force, its operating concepts and its training for the high-end pacing threat of China. But it’s struggling to fully replicate Chinese or other adversary behavior in its simulators and other training systems, and that’s one key area where industry can help.
“We envision our adversary thinking and operating and fighting like we do, which is a big mistake,” Berger said Nov. 30 at the annual Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference. “In other words, modeling and simulation can help bake in how we think the adversary is going to fight, how they are going to operate, which is not necessarily how we would.”
“We need help in creating the software, the simulation, that doesn’t replicate us, it replicates the adversary, whether it’s Russia or Iran or the [People’s Republic of China], [People’s Liberation Army],” he continued. “They’re all going to operate differently, so we need the fidelity there to allow us, our practitioners, to see they’re not thinking like we are,”
Berger noted the gold standard of training is against a thinking adversary that responds to the decisions made by U.S. military leaders and units going through the training, rather than using pre-programmed moves. Still, it’s hard for an American to put aside years or decades of training and fully replicate a Chinese or Russian military unit’s behaviors and mindsets while playing the aggressor in a training scenario, and so a software simulation that can be both accurate to the adversary as well as responsive to actions taken in the exercise would be ideal.
Berger added that, to prepare for a high-end adversary, the services also need training systems that can fuse together with systems from other services and other foreign militaries.
“We assumed that we’re going to need an asymmetric approach. In other words, we’re not going to out-muscle, out-size this pacing threat; you have to have an asymmetric advantage. And the asymmetric advantage that we have is our ability to operate as a team,” he said.
“So how do we take that to the next level? The way we do that, obviously, is to train together. But the impediments against that are, I think, what this forum has focused on for the last few years, is, each one of us has proprietary training systems; now we know we need to operate, train together, but they’re proprietary. How do we fuse them together?”
In addition to creating these training systems to better prepare the force to succeed against a peer threat, Berger and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday said the technology also exists to better track individual proficiency, performance and progress, and they want to use some of that technology to boost the performance of individuals and units.
“What we’re really after is warfighting proficiency, which reps and sets is an element of,” Gilday said. “But understanding how, down to the individual level, not only what we’re good at but what we’re deficient at, and then to focus on those deficiencies in a way to raise the bar for individuals and then collectively across the team” should be the ultimate goal of training.
The CNO described something like a baseball card for each sailor, with clear metrics that can show strengths and weaknesses compared to other sailors.
In the explosive ordnance disposal community, for example, Gilday said sailors train using systems that can measure their physical and mental performance and monitor for signs of strain. That technology could be applied more widely to better understand individual performance, he said.
Additionally, this “baseball card” could include metrics on job performance as well as physical and mental performance. He said the Navy learned a lot in its effort to reach 80% mission capable rates for its fighter jet fleet, when the service fully revamped its maintenance practices rather than spending more money to achieve more readiness. Gilday said the Navy assumed all the maintainers in their jobs were proficient, but some sailors were assigned to jobs — or leading other sailors in jobs — they hadn’t done recently and weren’t properly trained for.
For example, he said, if a sailor hasn’t done an engine changeout in three years, why is that sailor running the shop that does engine changeouts? With a better understanding of each sailors’ past training and experiences, as well as their demonstrated proficiency, the Navy is seeing success in properly assigning sailors to jobs where they can contribute the most, and Gilday said he wants to see that expanded to other communities.
Berger said the technology exists outside the military to do this — in the physical fitness world — and that the military could easily adapt the technology to track service members’ fitness, occupational proficiency, training history and more.
Noting that his hotel here had two Peloton bikes in its gym, he remarked, “you can get on that Peloton bike this morning here in Orlando, plug in your profile if you live in Illinois, and continue your training. And your whole training for the past three years on Peloton bikes is there. Why can’t we do that for jet maintenance? Why can’t we do that for any occupation?”
Megan Eckstein is the naval warfare reporter at Defense News. She has covered military news since 2009, with a focus on U.S. Navy and Marine Corps operations, acquisition programs, and budgets. She has reported from four geographic fleets and is happiest when she’s filing stories from a ship. Megan is a University of Maryland alumna.