By Gary Sheftick
Army News Service
WASHINGTON — The Army is working now to tie together all of its simulations for combined-arms training that will eventually allow inclusion of both joint and multi-national partners.
The result of that effort will be called the Synthetic Training Environment, or STE, and the Army is now validating requirements for this, which will enable the Army’s future training environment.
The STE is more than just simulation — it’s live-virtual-constructive architecture, or LVCA, and it will tie aviation simulators with armor, infantry and Stryker simulations, said Col. Jay Bullock, TRADOC capabilities manager for the Integrated Training Environment.
It will enable Soldiers at their home installation to don goggles and special gloves to train with allies in virtual “megacities” involving thousands of virtual combatants and miles of complex terrain.
“We believe STE will revolutionize training,” Bullock said during a presentation last month at the Washington Convention Center.
Some of this may be years down the road — as the project is just in its infancy. Full implementation of STE may not be available for a decade or more, but Bullock and his team said the Army is already benefiting from some of the concepts being developed.
“What we’ve been discussing may seem like it’s way out in the future,” said Brig. Gen. Maria Gervais, the Combined Arms Center deputy commanding general for training, but she added that it’s closer to reality than some might think.
There are a number of technical hurdles to overcome, though, before the full vision of STE can be realized, she said. Perfecting the gaming engine is one. Interoperability with allies in an open architecture is another challenge, Gervais said.
One of the biggest challenges will be scanning a monumental amount of terrain from around the world into the system.
The vision of STE is to enable training “on the terrain that we will fight on, with the partners that we will fight with and using the mission command systems we will fight with,” Gervais said.
Up for consideration as terrain in the STE is terrain in Syria, Iraq, the Horn of Africa, Korea and dozens of other hot spots across the world. As part of the effort, terrain in those places will be scanned so that trainees will be able to don goggles and experience three-dimensional views of those potential battlefields. The goal is for Soldiers to be able to fight a virtual battle on the terrain of a commander’s choosing.
“We have to figure out how do we get that terrain that represents the world — that’s a pretty big task,” Gervais said.
The Army currently has 47 different terrain databases to support 13 legacy systems, Gervais said. These systems were never designed to be interoperable, but that’s the goal of the Synthetic Training Environment.
In the future, these dozen systems will be merged into just one or two, she said.
Until now, simulations have focused primarily on specific vehicle platforms such as a simulator for the Apache helicopter, another for the M1A1 tank, etc. The Synthetic Training Environment will bring all these platforms together for combined-arms training.
Right now, the simulators for training on different Army equipment typically stand alone.
“You sit inside of a cockpit that is replicated … you put on a helmet that’s got fisheye lenses that project the virtual image,” said Lt. Gen. Michael Lundy, commander of the Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, describing today’s Aviation Combined Arms Tactical Trainer or AVCATT.
“You have all these projection screens in there; there are lots of proprietary computers and software and everything else that are unique to them. And it’s in an environmentally-controlled tractor-trailer truck. There are two of them. There’s about five or six contractors that come with it. It’s got generators. It has power requirements…. All of these things drive the cost up and they’re very, very expensive simulations.”
Lundy said as soon as something changes in an Army helicopter, the software for the simulator must change as well — and that reconfiguration is expensive.
For instance, going from a Black Hawk UH-60 L model to an M model required new software for simulation.
Engineering software updates is very expensive and time-consuming, Lundy explained.
Right now, the Army can spend six to eight months to replicate software for simulations, and then the programs must be tested. It might take 18 months to get the new software in the simulators, he said.
“Well that’s not agile enough,” Lundy said. He would like to have the ability to pull software from an aircraft or vehicle and place it directly into simulators. Proprietary concerns preclude that now, however.
He challenged industry partners: “How do we get simulations to run on native software?”
“This is how we can save a lot of money,” Lundy said. “We can go from a tractor-trailer truck to a couple of hardened tough boxes.”
He said he’d like to see simulators available at the company and battalion level.
“I really want an 11-Bravo to be able to grab this, pull it out — just like he does his iPhone — and be able to use it,” Lundy said.
STE will save tens of millions of dollars and maybe even hundreds of millions over the lifecycle of the program, he added.
Technology today is so much better and cheaper, Lundy said.
“Today we have image generators for some of our simulations that the bulbs cost a thousand dollars, because it’s 80s technology,” he said.
Come about 2025, the current simulators will be unaffordable, he said.
What the Army can’t do today with the legacy simulators is training in scale, because it’s so expensive, he said. For instance, right now, a division only has six aviation cockpit simulators.
“We need to be doing battalion-level operations, brigade-level operations,” Lundy said with as many simulators as aircraft.
“We’re interacting right now with virtual entities,” Lundy said about some of the programs developed at research centers. “You can actually put your glasses on, you can see them; you can talk to them; they’ll interact with you.”
Currently, this virtual training is geared to the individual level, though, Lundy said. STE must enable brigade combat teams to fight combined arms at the corps level, he said.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley has said that Soldiers in the future will need to fight in megacities.
The only way to realistically train in a megacity at scale, Lundy said, is virtually.
Megacities are dense metropolitan areas that exceed 10 million people.
Even if the expansive structure of megacities could be replicated, there’s no way enough role players could be brought in to make the training realistic, Lundy said.
“We can probably get the physical structure to replicate a megacity,” Gervais said.
“But how do you replicate the density of the population that you will encounter?” she asked.
“We believe that through virtual reality, we can actually get to that environment.”
“Every building, every floor may have its own culture,” in a megacity, Lundy said. That could only be replicated virtually.
The complexity of megacities is “just the tip of the iceberg,” Gervais said.
“We have to portray the actors and the terrain in every domain the Army is expected to operate, whether that’s cyber, space or the land,” she said.
Many organizations are working together to make STE happen, Lundy said.
The Combined Arms Center-Training division and TRADOC capability managers are working on requirements. They represent the users, Lundy said.
The Program Executive Office for Simulation, Training and Instrumentations, or PEO-STRI in Orlando, Florida, is the materiel developer. They have a science and technology lab.
The Institute of Creative Technology in California is another player.
Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning, Georgia, helps drive the infantry and armor requirement. For combined arms, all centers of excellence get involved, Lundy said. “That’s why this is so complex.”
The Army G-8 and the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology or ASA(ALT) serve as the approval authority for requirements and long-range investment strategy.
“General Gervais works with all of them to really bring this collective team, this enterprise together to be able to deliver this capability to the Army,” Lundy said. “The sky’s the limit.”
But there’s one thing STE will never do, Gervais said.
“In no way, shape or form are we advocating that the Synthetic Training Environment will ever replace live training,” Gervais said. “That will not be the case.”
Instead, she said, it will enhance live training and enable repetition, and allow units to come into a live training event at a much higher level of proficiency.
See a video of the Synthetic Training Environment presentation by Brig. Gen. Maria Gervais and Col. Jay Bullock https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kAmkw3pNXMQ.