Iraq, Afghanistan Provide Templates for New Army Simulations

February 2008
By Robert K. Ackerman
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A U.S. Army simulation features an unmanned aerial vehicle flying over Baghdad. The Army’s National Simulation Center (NSC) is producing new simulations to take the place of live training before soldiers deploy to Iraq.
Simulation experts move quickly to ensure accuracy for asymmetric warfare training.

A new world is emerging from cyberspace as U.S. Army simulations draw from innovative technologies coming out of the private sector. These advances are allowing planners to build simulations that can model causes and effects of asymmetric warfare similar to what troops are experiencing in Southwest Asia.

Gaming technology may hold the key to bringing the simulation out to the field commander. Many of the gaming hardware and software hold the promise of extending elaborate training and mission rehearsals down to individual computers in the field. No longer would soldiers have to gather at a fixed facility to conduct effective joint training sessions.

Achieving this capability has become more essential as the Army faces asymmetric opposition in Southwest Asia. Every major unit that deploys into Iraq or Afghanistan goes through a mission rehearsal exercise, and U.S. Army National Simulation Center (NSC) simulations support every one, declares Col. Kevin McClung, USA. The colonel is the director of the NSC, which is located at the Army’s CombinedArmsCenter for Training in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Col. McClung also is the Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) program integration officer for live, virtual and constructive simulations. He notes that each unit headed for Southwest Asia trains on NSC-developed systems, which are updated from lessons learned in countries in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The NSC fields battle command training simulations across the Army, and it constantly is updating those simulations to meet the needs of a changing force amid changing warfare. “Our focus all the time is how we can best train our soldiers so that they are most ready to go out and execute the very difficult missions they’ve been given,” the colonel declares.

One major effort has been the Joint Nonkinetic Effects Model, or JNEM. Under this program, the center has been striving to develop a capability that would allow warfighters to train for activities other than kinetic fights. JNEM is aimed at command personnel brigade and above.

Col. McClung explains that current battle simulations do a good job of training for force-on-force conflict, but the Army has been lacking in effective simulation and training for nonkinetic fights such as information operations and civilian reactions to U.S. military operation. Previously, large command post exercises could incorporate nonkinetic effects only outside of a simulation. JNEM is allowing users at the command post level to explore the effects of those activities.

“The genesis of it was to make sure that when we’re doing an exercise, these nonkinetic items have an impact on the outcome of the exercise,” he says.

For example, if the Army engages in a kinetic operation in an urban environment—a soldier shoots someone on a street—it has an effect on the civilian population in the neighborhood. JNEM allows commanders and their staffs, prior to deployment, to rehearse how to deal with that type of environment and to consider consequences of their actions.

Many human factors can affect a battle simulation. JNEM categorizes combat forces from among regular and irregular military, paramilitary, police and criminal. These forces have relationships with civilian populations and organizations, including governmental and nongovernmental. The cooperation levels among these groups shape their interactions in the simulation.

The colonel explains that JNEM development largely has focused on population groups. The model’s original iteration was broadly based on large Iraqi ethnic groups such as Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds. However, this breakdown was too general, as those groups are not homogeneous even by themselves. So the NSC broke down the basis to the neighborhood level, where JNEM looks at population needs and satisfaction levels. These criteria reflect positive or negative actions by U.S. forces; as local satisfaction levels rise or fall, local cooperation with insurgent forces responds contrarily. Friends can become enemies and vice versa, the colonel explains.

Many different types of events can be introduced to generate reactions in the simulation. These reactive events include assassinations, hijackings, kidnappings and suicide bombings along with increases or decreases in aggression in rules of engagement.

Various effects can emerge from local reactions. As satisfaction with U.S. forces grows, human intelligence reports also increase. A civilian is more likely to walk in off the street to report on an insurgent group operating in his or her area, for example. The simulation takes into account all of these types of factors as it presents a more faithful rendering of conditions that U.S. forces are likely to face in that challenging Iraqi environment.

JNEM is in its third year of development, and the colonel relates that its early iterations already have spurred requests for increased and enhanced capabilities. A requirements control process sorts those requests by priority. The program is entirely generated by events in Iraq.

One of the big challenges that the NSC faced in developing JNEM was to obtain subject matter experts. Col. McClung observes that the key to this simulation was not to develop physics-based models but to model human behavior. So the center brought together subject matter experts from the ambassadorial level at the State Department and behavioral scientists. They were joined by computer scientists and engineers who transitioned their sociological expertise into simulation.

The colonel allows that the first version of JNEM “actually undershot the target” as the center sought to focus on speed of deployment. The goal was to provide feedback into the battle simulation.

 
An NSC simulation leads soldiers through a rehearsal for running a snap traffic control point (TCP) in Iraq. This simulation aims to train personnel in potential outcomes in a TCP engagement, and the goal is to reduce both civilian and military deaths during those activities.
Col. McClung notes that JNEM began as an Army effort, but now it is incorporated into the joint communities’ federation of models. The Joint Forces Command (JFCOM) in Suffolk, Virginia, has a joint, live, virtual and constructive federation that has integrated JNEM. The system has been incorporated into the joint mission rehearsal exercises that JFCOM runs for commands before they deploy in theater.

As the NSC continues to develop better neighborhood models for JNEM, the center also is working on economic modeling that would take into account economic effects that have been lacking in combat simulations. “As we see in Iraq, if you don’t have an economy going, then you’re going to have problems,” Col. McClung observes. “Insurgencies know when the population is economically distressed, so we’re building some economic modeling into the simulation this year as one of our primary areas.”

Most NSC gaming initiatives currently involve commercial and government off-the-shelf products to satisfy training needs at small-unit and leader levels, the colonel relates. These technologies are creating a more immersive environment for training, and the command is prototyping several different systems with both proponents and potential users in laboratories.

These gaming technologies also are used to immerse leaders, the colonel continues. In a large constructive war game, the challenge often has been to involve senior leaders intensively in the exercise. The simulations stimulate battle command systems, but these mostly are in command posts and tactical operations centers (TOCs). A deployed field commander is away from a TOC and thus is absent from the war game environment.

But the new gaming technologies are opening the door to bringing the simulation to the field. Col. McClung describes how a commander might be placed in a room that replicates that commander’s vehicle and its situational awareness systems. The commander would be able to view the battlefield through this gaming environment, which is linked to the bigger simulation. “The technology today has evolved to the point where we think we can do that pretty easily and pretty realistically using commercial products tied to our government simulations,” the colonel offers. “It’s really an integration drill for us.”

Robert Owen of the TRADOC Program Office (TPO) for Gaming in the NSC describes how some laboratory work has generated new capabilities from these off-the-shelf technologies. One creates geospecific terrain, provides real-time scenario creation and modification, and allows interoperability that permits communication with other simulations along with C2 stimulation.

Another product in use is an Army-developed battle command system stimulator known as SIMC4I Interchange Module for Plans, Logistics and Exercises, or SIMPLE. It is part of the constructive federation of simulations, so when it runs, it feeds all of the battle command systems in the Army with the message traffic they would receive in a real operation. This capability stimulates another government product, the Force 21 Battle Command Brigade and Below (FBCB2). The stimulator also is integrated with the Joint Conflict and Tactical Simulation, or JCATS, the entity-level constructive simulation. Col. McClung notes that all of these are government owned and licensed for distribution throughout Army battle command training centers.

The TPO Gaming office aims to develop a gaming toolkit that would push training capabilities down to the soldier level. Owen offers that the long pole in the tent is terrain. Many games in the commercial environment have excellent graphics and game play, but the Army’s simulation environment can require the generation of geospecific terrain for mission rehearsal. Many of these commercial products lack the terrain capability required by the Army, he notes.

Another gap in commercial capabilities is interoperability, which Owen says is “generally not available in a lot of the commercial products out there.” While the Army has told industry that it needs these capabilities and has issued requirements, Owen is realistic about its chances of being able to draw them from the commercial sector. “I don’t think we are going to attract many of the big players in the gaming industry. They’re interested in billions of dollars, not the kind of money that the Army can dedicate into gaming,” he allows.

What the Army is seeking from industry goes far beyond first-person shooter games, Owen declares. Army needs include applications of gaming technology. One such product, Tactical Iraqi, is a language cultural trainer that uses gaming technology combined with Rosetta Stone-type capability. This product was generated by the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technology, an Army research center that performs fundamental research and development. Col. McClung notes that systems such as Tactical Iraqi are moving out of the research laboratory and into the field more quickly than before.

One ongoing program, the Synthetic Environment Core, aims at linking virtual training simulation devices into an integrated system, explains Dan Wakeman, deputy TRADOC capability manager, Virtual Training Environment. The virtual environment efforts focus on simulations that support collective training, such as the Close Combat Tactical Trainer, the Aviation Combined Arms Tactical Trainer, the Engagement Skills Trainer and a raft of convoy trainers.

Wakeman relates that the center has collected all of the common components in its collective virtual simulations—terrain databases, common moving models, dynamic terrain weather effects, after-action review and algorithms for weapon system performance—and has placed them in this program so that it can be fielded once and used many times throughout the Army.

The idea is for these simulations to run off of one chassis. In addition to cutting costs and reducing logistics footprints, it also promotes interoperability among the Army’s various simulations, Wakeman offers. This Synthetic Environment Core program also involves the Army’s One Semiautomated Force, or OneSAF, effort (SIGNAL Magazine, March 2007).

In addition, the NSC is working with the Future Combat Systems (FCS) Army evaluation task force at FortBliss. The center has outfitted close combat tactical trainer (CCTT) modules with communications systems for employment and recovery of new unmanned aerial vehicles being fielded to that task force. The center is working closely with the FortBliss group, Wakeman indicates, because much of that group’s actual equipment has not been cleared for training yet. Simulations take the place of their live training, he adds.

Wakeman relates that when the Iraq war started, the CCTT focused on a force-on-force engagement, which was a legacy of its Cold War origins. It had become lacking because it did not accommodate training in the current operational environment. The SAF work came about because units in the field complained that they could not use the CCTT for their types of operations in theater.

That simulation support to the warfighter can begin before deployment. Wakeman reports that the NSC works with units deploying into theater to help them develop training support packages. This occurs with both the CCTT and the aviation combined arms tactical trainer, or AVCATT, in support of deployment.

The NSC also has updated its Iraq and Afghanistan training databases to ensure that they are contemporary operational environment-compliant. This has entailed making the terrain data more geospecific and having the SAFs acting as they are supposed to in that new type of fight, Wakeman allows.

Other programs are improving marksmanship training. The Engagement Skills Trainer 2000 already has been deployed to theater. Its materiel developers have developed additional products for escalation-of-force scenarios, particularly shoot/don’t shoot scenarios. Soldiers are rewarded for good decisions and challenged with more difficult situations if they don’t react well to the situation they are given.

Snap traffic control points (TCPs), in which troops set up ad hoc road checkpoints, are a major part of security operations in Iraq. The NSC has developed a training video for snap TCPs that is resident on Engagement Skills Trainers throughout the Army. Its development is related directly to feedback from Iraq in which leadership noted that many escalation of force incidents that resulted in civilian deaths took place at TCPs. Lacking a standard operating procedure for establishing TCPs, the Army sought this training element, which the NSC built using video capture gaming technology.

Wakeman relates that the NSC is in contact with the program manager for the mine-resistant ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicle effort. The NSC is working on both a driving and a collective training system for MRAPs.

Web Resources
U.S. Army Combined Arms Center for Training: http://usacac.army.mil/cac/cac-t/index.asp
NationalSimulationCenter: http://usacac.army.mil/cac/cac-t/nsc/index.asp

Army Aims Simulation Wish List At Industry

Many commercial advances are improving Army simulation indirectly. The steady growth of computing power has improved the ability to generate more faithful simulations across the board. Better graphics and image generation cards have enhanced the quality of simulation displayed to the user. This computing power has moved down to individuals, so simulation designers have been able to place simulations on PCs instead of mainframes. This advance also has opened the door to more and better distributed simulations.

Broadband communications pipes have enhanced the ability to distribute simulation capability. Multicore processors and new PCs will provide further advances, declares Col. Kevin McClung, USA, NSC director.

But NSC experts still need advances from industry. “From the gaming side, it’s all about the toolkits that come with the game,” says Robert Owen of the TRADOC Program Office (TPO) for Gaming in the NSC. “They allow the creation of geospecific terrain in a timely fashion.” He also cites the ability to create content at the user level, particularly if adversaries introduce a new device—such as an improvised explosive device—that needs to be incorporated into a simulation. This capability lies at the heart of the future of Army simulation.

“We want to place scenario generation in the hands of the user,” Col. McClung states. Many large virtual simulations have limited terrain databases. When a customer needs terrain for a specific area, that customer should be able to use gaming technology to generate needed data rapidly from any geographic site for which the government has standard terrain products. “It’s content control in the hands of the user,” he emphasizes.

The NSC also is seeking as much open system architecture as possible. This would allow switching out components better, especially as hardware and software upgrades become available. This would avoid having to regenerate all of a simulation’s content for a small but significant upgrade.

“We should only have to pay for the building of a tank one time,” Owen analogizes.

Col. McClung is optimistic that incorporating new gaming technology will provide a cost-effective training solution. He foresees an evolution from the development of gaming technology for training solutions to a crossover into the operational world. Users will be able to employ the technology for mission rehearsals in the field. “It actually will be a deployable capability that you can take forward with you and use to create an immersive environment—a virtual sand table—for mission rehearsal out in the field,” he imparts.

“The days of going out behind the TOC and kicking dirt together and using milk crates, coffee cups and little signs and chalk—we’ll be doing that in a gaming or virtual environment in the future,” he adds.

“As time goes on and the models of the nonkinetic behaviors improve, we’ll see a better capability to model these nonkinetic effects on the battlefield,” Col. McClung says. “I see that as evolutionary rather than revolutionary—it’s just going to get better from year to year as we continue to make improvements.”

Dan Wakeman, deputy TRADOC capability manager, Virtual Training Environment, offers that the next big challenge will be to immerse a dismounted element in a virtual simulation. Troops on foot need to be able to conduct in training simulations the exact same types of operations that they are doing daily in downtown Baghdad.

“In the next couple of years, we are going to have the fruits of the synthetic environment core realized in having a common virtual environment,” he says. “We’re going to have a persistent capability to interoperate virtual simulations.”

Air/ground operations, for example, will not require that participants are co-located to conduct an exercise. Participants will be able to join from their home stations. This especially is important with the new modular force, Wakeman notes.

Col. McClung relates that the NSC has been tasked by the Army G-3 to field a live virtual and constructive integrated training environment by 2016. All home stations have an integrated training environment where the elements of combat power can be brought together in a training exercise regardless of where these stations are located. The Army often deploys with specialty units drawn from different bases, the colonel observes, and the goal is to enable their personnel to train together in a live or virtual environment from their diverse locations prior to their deployment.