U.S. Army Scales Simulation

March 2007
By Rita Boland
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Simulation developers at the Army Program Executive Office for Simulation, Training and Instrumentation are working on tools that soldiers can use from any location. Some simulations will allow soldiers to practice working in teams through networked computers.
Program office is making training more available and interoperable.

Soldiers are receiving better and more convenient simulated training as developers work to increase the scalability and accessibility of their products. Troops are benefiting from training tools they can load onto personal laptops and take anywhere instead of being forced to visit a major simulation facility. The result is that warfighters no longer have to leave a mission to conduct a simulation or to wait for simulation centers to have an opening on their calendar.

The Army Program Executive Office for Simulation, Training and Instrumentation (PEO STRI), Orlando, Florida, provides life-cycle management for interoperable training, testing and simulation solutions for soldier readiness and the defense community. For training purposes, the office’s customers define what they need—from learning about flying a helicopter to understanding how to use a weapon. PEO STRI personnel then determine how to build and deliver the simulation in a format that can be used for many years, and they keep the simulations running. The PEO STRI provides interoperable training solutions to Army troops as well as to the other military services, joint agencies and combatant commands.

The Army makes widespread use of modeling and simulation and generally divides it into three domains: training, exercises and military operations; research, development and acquisition; and advanced concepts and requirements. “The overall goal of Army modeling and simulation is to provide realistic simulations that contribute to the accomplishment of Army missions in each of these domains,” Dr. James Blake, program executive officer, PEO STRI, says.

The leadership at the PEO STRI believes simulation training is changing as developers are scaling tools down to make them more useful for warfighters. Dr. Robert Smith, chief scientist and chief technology officer, PEO STRI, believes that there is an evolution going on. In the past, simulators were built around one large computer in a facility and trainees had to visit the facility for instruction. Now, warfighters have easy access to personal computers and laptops that can be used to perform the same simulations. This computer proliferation allows developers to stop bringing people to one big computer facility and instead to give small computers to everybody who needs to train.

To meet the needs of this evolution, PEO STRI personnel are altering the form of legacy simulations and changing the way new ones are developed. Smith explains that while some training systems can be scaled down instantly, the structure of others makes modification more difficult. Developers are examining ways to redesign and recompete old programs instead of canceling them all together. In new programs, the PEO STRI strives to craft requirements carefully so vendors bid the scalability factor in their proposals. Smith states that even though certain simulations could be scaled, they might not be useful to the warfighter. Requirements writing can help with this issue as vendors develop portability and usability solutions for those who are less than lifelong experts, he adds.

Developers face the problem of how to design simulator training tools so individual soldiers can effectively employ them outside of a simulation facility. In addition to the expertise required to build useful simulations, it can take weeks of training to understand how to run them.

The adjustment to using laptops to perform simulated training follows a line of progression in training ideologies. For years, the philosophy stood that only live training was good training. Over the past few decades, military leaders and developers learned that training in simulators could be just as effective if not more so because of safety issues. Now, they have concluded that the same level of training can be accomplished on individual computers.

For example, soldiers who are well trained in using rifles might need training in urban combat. They could use the simulation without holding a real rifle, learning to work as a team of four by using the computer. The simulation can train them how to move down an alley or work through a building. Through networked laptops, the soldiers learn where they are relative to their teammates.

The scaled-down simulation tools also allow troops in deployed locations to train. If they have the training devices, the soldiers can use the simulations between missions. With the proper equipment, they need only hours to participate in the lessons.

Soldiers reap numerous benefits from having access to the simulation training. Smith explains that while troops coming out of boot camp may look like seasoned soldiers, they still need to learn how to fight wars and drive military vehicles. The simulators enable soldiers to learn to perform necessary functions. The warfighters benefit from repetitive training without costing the Army fuel or breaking tank tracks.

The simulators also give the Army more options in training. Trainees can experience dangerous situations without posing a danger to themselves or others. For instance, they could drive tanks into a river to find out what would happen without any risk to the equipment or trainees.

These benefits give the U.S. Army advantages over militaries in countries that lack the funds for similar training. “Their military forces are not as skilled as our forces are,” Smith states. The training gives soldiers the ability to win wars, he adds.

About 15 years ago, the simulation community categorized the hundreds of simulators and simulations under three main headings—constructive, virtual and live. Since deciding on and defining those terms, developers have been using them to broaden their understanding of how to train people. “I want to create training devices that are all three of these categories, and I don’t want seams between them,” Smith says. He aims to create terrain databases and control tools that are the same for all three categories, eliminating stovepipes and creating simulation interoperability.

Developers are focusing efforts now on the dynamic terrain problem, which involves how the environment changes in response to an action. Computer power available now allows designers to create terrains that change during the simulations as the user moves through them and performs tasks. Earlier models did not show the total effect of an explosion on the area surrounding a target. Current computational power calculates the effect of the blast on trees and buildings in the virtual world. Instead of the ground staying smooth and trees remaining upright, a hole appears.

Blake says that the commercial gaming industry is leading the remarkable growth of modeling and simulation technology and has created tremendous opportunities for the military, particularly in the training domain. The games package high-quality graphics, user interfaces, physical models, artificial intelligence and networking into a product that runs on affordable laptops and desktops. “From a software perspective, this squeezes a lot of power into a hardware platform that is both affordable and very deployable. Potentially we could create and deploy a game-based training application for every military occupational specialty,” Blake states.

The computers also can connect to hundreds of thousands of other players over the network. The massively multiplayer games have resulted in server farms that manage and support these large numbers of participants. “The military customer is beginning to see the potential of making these capabilities accessible and deployable in today’s contemporary operating environment,” Blake shares.

Several major Army simulation programs and projects are focusing on making simulations less stovepiped through sharing databases and information. This effort will improve synthetic environments by providing more detailed information in one location. In the PEO STRI’s One Semi-Automated Force Objective System project, commonly referred to as OneSAF, and the Synthetic Environment Core (SE Core) program, the office wants to reach out to create common environments and share updates and improvements. SE Core will provide a common environment by linking simulations to fully integrated virtual simulation architecture.

Over time, the U.S. Defense Department has built hundreds of simulators and simulation databases. Different people built each of the systems at different times, trying to draw virtual representations and storing data differently. Within PEO STRI-owned systems, a map of the same place could be created 20 different ways. With SE Core, PEO STRI personnel want to create a representation of the synthetic environment that can be used by multiple simulators. The product would come with various software tools that allow users to make changes to the environmental database as needed. Smith explains that the project will cross over several other programs and help the PEO STRI replace at least half a dozen of them.

SE Core will give the PEO STRI a standard toolset it can use for multiple programs. They can use it in various databases and can constantly update the information stored without having to change data five times in five different locations.

Both SE Core and OneSAF are tools being created to support many missions. “Neither is targeted at putting one training simulator in the field for one specific mission,” Smith says. The single database concept will keep the simulated environments more accurate and realistic, allowing soldiers to run a mission before they deploy to the field.

One Semi-Automated Force

The U.S. Army Program Executive Office for Simulation, Training and Instrumentation (PEO STRI) has released a product that will be a common training component on each Future Combat System platform. Known as One Semi-Automated Force (OneSAF) Objective System version 1.0, it enables an embedded training capability. PEO STRI began on-site training with the program in January, and the training will continue for the next two years.

Approximately 120 compact discs and DVDs containing the software program have been distributed to various users. The software accurately represents ground warfare, combat support, combat service support, and command, control, communications, computers and intelligence activities.

OneSAF will result in long-term cost savings for the Army. The simulation meets the needs of all the Army’s modeling and simulation domains and provides interoperability among them. “Each of these domains kind of has home baked its own simulations systems,” Lt. Col. Rob Rasch, USA, product manager of OneSAF, explains. Every year, the military spends a lot of money to update those systems. With OneSAF, instead of maintaining multiple simulations in different domains, the Army has to manage only one.

The program allows discoveries and improvements made in one domain to be shared easily with users in other domains. The software is open source, meaning OneSAF developers provide the code to users and the users can make modifications. Unlike items such as video games where players see only the interface, OneSAF users can access all the government-owned code. They can then find unique uses for it and add functionality to the program. “All I ask is for them to give me their changes,” Col. Rasch says. He and his team can then integrate those changes into subsequent versions so all users benefit.

By having one common system in the various modeling and simulation communities, the communities share data better and can match calendars to conduct training together without worrying about system interoperability problems. Col. Rasch believes soldiers will benefit from OneSAF because of the common link it creates in the virtual simulation community. In the future, programs such as the Close Combat Tactical Trainer, Call for Fire Trainer and Common Driver Trainer all will have OneSAF as the common simulated force. This integration will allow soldiers to have interoperability among all of those virtual simulations. They can link the parts and have different groups fighting on the same battlefield and seeing the same picture.

Col. Rasch emphasizes the significance of OneSAF’s open source nature and interoperability. “There’s a laundry list of simulations that have been used in the community for many years,” he states. With the new software, users have a voice in how the simulation is implemented and changed. “I think that’s important for the community,” the colonel shares.

To further promote information sharing and open access, the PEO STRI and the OneSAF team have a Web site where users can access the OneSAF community. The site includes users portals and opportunities to share ideas and codes.


Web Resources
U.S. Army Program Executive Office for Simulation, Training and Instrumentation: www.peostri.army.mil
One Semi-Automated Force: www.onesaf.net
Synthetic Environment Core: www.peostri.army.mil/PM-CATT/APM_SECore.jsp