From Real Dirt to Digital Dirt: A National Training Initiative
Posted: 07/21/2011 12:00:00 AM EDT | 1
Today's military has come a long way in training forces for combat. From live training exercises in the field, we have modernized to simulated training inside a dome with a synthetic environment and virtual combatants. To gain flight experience, pilots have gone from climbing aboard a fighter jet to sitting in a simulator. Simulation training is a way to prepare troops for combat and is expanding as budget constraints and technological improvements develop. Modeling and Simulation (M&S) is the more viable and cost-effective option for tomorrow’s armed forces.
This interview features Colonel Anthony Krogh, Director at the National Simulation Center, who explores the current aims of their programs in giving the Army an edge in combat. Colonel Krogh will speak at IDGA’s Modeling & Simulation Summit, August 29-31, in Orlando Florida.
Colonel Krogh, can you tell us about the aims and current focus for the National Simulation Center?
As the name indicates – National Simulation Center, we see ourselves as one of the leaders of simulation training for the Army. There are many bodies that deal in that, but we feel we have a key leadership role in that.
One of those goals we’re working toward right now is creating what we call the ‘integrated training environment’ for the Army, and that’s pulling together all of our current assets to make sure that all of the simulations and the simulators work well together to enhance the training that we provide our soldiers.
How else does simulation give the Army an edge?
It gives the Army an edge in many ways, first of all; and the obvious ones that started us down the road toward simulation is to reduce cost. Live training is very expensive in terms of ammunition, the assets, the soldiers, the equipment it takes to go do it, as well as the wear and tear it puts on our equipment.
So the first obvious one is reducing cost, but the other one that comes with the simulation training is they reduce risk for both in-battle and risk of injury or additional expenses from using live equipment and using live training, so it gives us the opportunity to put soldiers through the same scenarios multiple times without additional cost and any risk to them or to the training audiences as we’re going to put them.
What is the value in simulation training versus in-field training? How does simulation enhance the training for warfighters?
We like to approach it in what we call ‘Gated Training’. The simulation allows us to break individual tasks down into small parts and let soldiers run through games or through virtual desktop trainers, or virtual simulators similar to the full motion simulators.
So we can break it down into individual tasks and then expand and build on that, and soldiers would have to pass that gate before they move on to the next layer of either ‘complexity’ or ‘difficulty’ in that training. It allows us to do that repetitively over and over again for the soldiers, and for the leaders, and the staffs in particular units before they go out and do it live. We want them to do 90% of their task in virtual or a simulated environment prior to actually going out and doing it live.
By the time they get to putting it into action on the real dirt, they have done it on digital dirt to be able to identify where those challenges in a particular task or the mission that they’re on and work through those issues before they do it for live.
There was a DOD article published in May which you were featured in – called Army Warfighters Go Digital to Hone Skills*. In that article you said ‘training in the virtual world would mirror training in the real world’ – could you explain what you meant by this in more detail?
… and that’s the direction we’re trying to go with the Army; it really was within the virtual world that I was referring to.
The example I have… we now have all of our training records and our training systems migrating to a digital repository. Take me as a soldier; all of my weapons training is kept in that database with all of my PT (physical training) scores and my skill qualifications. As we build these synthetic environments, the soldier’s avatars – as most of us know the term, what an avatar is – as our avatars appear in those synthetic environments, we will be able to link the performance of that avatar to our actual physical capabilities in the real world. What this means specifically is if I go out and do poorly on my PT test, if my physical fitness is low, then my avatar will reflect that low level of ability and it will reflect in the mission.
Now, there are several things we want our soldiers to learn from this. First of all; as the mission goes on, you see the impact of your limited physical fitness on the unit and their ability to do the mission. But also what that means is it’s a secondary incentive for soldiers to go out and do better.
Now, if you’re talking about kids doing gaming today in a commercial product or online, by just repetitively doing it in the simulation, they can improve their skills and their skill sets as they have them. Moving forward we are going to gate our training in this way – so unless a soldier can do it in the real world, they won’t be able to do it in the virtual environment. The same thing goes for weapons.
And so, if I do poorly on the weapons range in my weapons firing live, then correspondingly, my abilities within the synthetic environment will also reflect; we call it probability of hit (PH) and probability of kill (PK).
So those values within the simulation will be reflected, and the only way I’m going to improve my abilities in the simulation or in a synthetic environment is to go out and improve it when I go to the range.
So as I come back full circle, that means I will spend more time with my simulation training and with my weapon so that I get my skills down as best as I can before I go to the range to ensure that I get my score as high as possible. I want to make sure when I’m in my synthetic world, it reflects exactly what the same skills are I have in the real world.
Based on the latest research and developments, what are you learning about the capability requirements of the future? How will gaming assist in the development of these technologies?
That’s a really good question. The evolving capability requirements: First of all, we have some very, very savvy soldiers coming into the Army. The term we use for those who’ve grown up with these technologies, that’s been used many times is digital natives. They’re accustomed to using technology, not only in their personal use day to day, but they’ve adapted quickly for training. We know we can now move more of our training into the synthetic environment into the three different domains – the live, the virtual, and the constructive. The soldiers will pick it up quickly, so we’re struggling to keep up with the technology as we go forward.
As the technology evolves, we have more sophisticated equipment that we use to conduct those missions. That means we need more sophisticated training devices as well. Gaming has revolutionized in a lot of respects all of our training devices.
The first thing gaming brought us was the term we use in the business: a GUI, a graphic user interface. You can buy a gaming system off the shelf at your local electronic store and you can go home and within minutes, have it up and running and using it. We call that the gamer interface. It’s really easy to maneuver through it where you don’t have to learn codes to plug in or certain key strokes, and so gaming has helped us in that regard. Gaming has also allowed us to take situational training all the way down to an individual soldier.
In the past, with the large constructive exercises – the big ‘war games’ as most folks know – it takes entire staffs to conduct training which is usually focused at a small group of people. Let’s say a brigade staff, 20 to 30 people in that training audience. We use what we call ‘pucksters’ – people to puck or to maneuver through the simulation – for the inputs and the outputs. What gaming hasn’t allowed us to do is reduce the number of pucksters that we need for the exercises, but it has allowed us to move more soldiers into the training audience. Then I also see gaming helping us because it provides immersive environments for our soldiers.
Gaming is a very inexpensive application that we use for our training. It allows the soldiers to get the feeling for the cultures, for the environment for which they’re training in, how to interface or interact with people in the countries that they may be deploying to. So gaming we think has got a critical part and I think what you’re going to see in the future is that gaming blends into the constructive and into the virtual world or environments that we create.
Tell us about the elements of VBS2 (Virtual Battlespace 2). How successful has this program been thus far? How do you measure success in the virtual space?
Again, a good question. VBS2 arguably has been the most successful simulation program the Army has ever introduced. With a relatively very small cost in development and fielding, it has trained more soldiers than any other simulation system that the Army has produced. So to say VBS2 has been a success is a significant understatement. As I had just mentioned, it allowed us to take that situational training to the individual soldiers, to put them into those conditions so that they have to make decisions where most of our training had been to teach them skills. What VBS2 has allowed us to do is to train them to think and to react – to make decisions. As I had mentioned for those big war games, we were usually reserving that for our commanders. Now we’re able to do that with the soldiers.
Now, how you measure your success in the virtual space? That is one of the most critical things that we looked at as we brought VBS2 out. What makes VBS2 different than the entertainment games that are out there is they have very clear training objectives and most importantly, an after-action capability. In other words, it takes the soldier through an after-action review like we do in all of the training we do in the Army and so that he can measure how he performs those tasks, what his decision making was, how he drove the vehicle, etc. We were able to quantify and measure that and give the soldier accurate feedback on how he performed.
The fact that we have soldiers training on this program literally around the world, including in deployed locations, tells us that it is a success. We have found in some of our gaming facilities that the soldiers come back after duty hours to continue to do their training because they want to do it. It’s something that they’re comfortable and familiar with, and it’s something that they feel resonates with the training that they’re receiving. At an individual level for measuring success, we see that in terms of how we provide the feedback but also as a program. The fact that the soldiers have adopted so quickly and to be honest, they keep getting back to us because they build new scenarios and new training capabilities within it, so it’s been a great success for us.
COLONEL ANTHONY D. KROGH
Director - National Simulation Center
Colonel Anthony (Tony) D. Krogh is the centrally selected Director of the Army’s National Simulation Center (NSC), a 300-person organization that is the Army’s proponent for training simulations. He was commissioned through ROTC as a Distinguished Military Graduate into the Corps of Engineers in 1986. He has a Bachelor’s degree from University of Alabama and Master’s Degrees from Troy University and the National Defense University. Colonel Krogh is a graduate of Airborne School, Engineer Officer Basic Course, Ranger School, Infantry Officer Advanced Course, Combined Arms Services Staff School, Command and General Staff College, the Senior Simulation Operations Course and the United States Industrial College of the Armed Forces.
Colonel Krogh’s U.S. Army history includes operational assignments in Germany, Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm; Fort Drum, N.Y.; Fort McPherson, Ga.; Saudi Arabia; CJTF-7, Baghdad, Iraq. He’s served in training assignments at U.S. Army Infantry School at Fort Benning, Ga. His simulation operations assignments include U.S. Pacific Command, Honolulu, Hawaii; U.S. Army V Corps, Heidelberg, Germany; Deputy Chief of Staff for Operation and Planning, Department of the Army, Washington D.C.; and the Aviation Center of Excellence, Fort Rucker, Ala.
His awards and decorations include the Legion of Merit, Defense Meritorious Serve Medal, Army Meritorious Service Medal, Army Commendation Medal, Joint Services Achievement Medal, Army Achievement Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, South West Asia Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service and Expeditionary Medal, Humanitarian Service Medal, Kuwait Liberation Medal - Saudi Arabia, Kuwait Liberation Medal, Ranger Tab, Parachutist Badge, and the French Armed Forces Commando Badge.
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