Navy Consolidates Training to Improve Service

April 15, 2008
by Rita Boland

The U.S. Navy has consolidated coordination of distributed synthetic training events into one location. The first-of-its-kind facility will train sailors and joint and coalition forces, improving interoperability and efficiency. The center addresses the expanding technical challenges associated with live and virtual training events and saves funds by reducing the amount of resources necessary for planning and execution.

The creation of the Distributed Training Center Atlantic (DTCL), Naval Air Station Oceana, Dam Neck Annex, Virginia Beach, Virginia, marks the first time that one organization has sole responsibility for the technology behind distributed synthetic training events. It evolved as an effective method for removing the burden of handling technical knowledge and infrastructure for training events from Navy schoolhouses so those education centers can now concentrate only on teaching students. According to Cmdr. Keith Payne, USN, DTCL director, synthetic training events have reached such a large scale that having one central point of contact improves the Navy’s responsiveness to the synthetic training audience. Instead of trying to coordinate with multiple individuals and organizations, game planners can reach out to a single entity for all their needs.

The center does not actually conduct any training events but instead generates the core modeling and simulation games and then distributes those games to the necessary parties. The actual scripting and construction is carried out by exercise control groups. These groups run the script as the DTCL manages and controls the game and troubleshoots any issues that arise during execution.

DTCL officials create their simulations using a live-virtual-constructive model. They employ the Navy Continuous Training Environment (NCTE)—a combination of various live and synthetic systems—to generate the war games. The DTCL serves as the Atlantic hub for the NCTE. Cmdr. Payne describes the NCTE by comparing it to a spider web with the DTCL in the center. Strands of the web reach out to training nodes across the United States and to coalition sites to which the games are distributed. The actual games are created through the Joint Semi-Automated Forces (JSAF) simulation system.

Various types of simulations can be combined to present a coordinated and detailed war game to the audience. Robert George, the DTCL deputy director, says this amalgamation happens in real time, and in fact, the simulations can operate simultaneously across 12 time zones. Simulated events can then flow into live events. After a period of synthetic war gaming, individual ships or entire strike groups can set sail and perform identical live exercises at sea. Personnel on ships participating in the training can act both as generators of their own simulation and as a training audience.

Members of Navy fleets can use the simulations to gain major combat operations certification. The simulations streamline the training process ships go through to receive their certifications, enhancing operations and working out any bugs in the technical systems before ships leave port. Cmdr. Payne shares that when ships leave on deployment, “They’re ready to go. They’re comfortable and they’re confident.”

According to the commander, the more efficient delivery of training to the strike group is the major benefit the DTCL provides to the Navy. By enabling personnel to work on their own equipment on their own ships while still in port, the DTCL offers sailors early control over problems. Subject matter experts can be consulted and issues resolved before ships reach isolation at sea.

The synthetic exercises also allow personnel to coordinate tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) before ships get underway. In the past, troops had to hash out TTPs after setting sail, wasting days of an exercise. The new method saves time and delivers training immediately so ships can spend less time at sea and the Navy can spend less money on fuel. Another benefit of synthetic training is that it allows forces to exercise virtually in areas they could never safely train in the real world.

In addition to managing Navy and joint training events, the DTCL tests new systems before they ever reach an audience. The goal is to present a comprehensive training environment to the trainees, rather than to have them struggle with unknown systems. “We’re not going to make training audiences the victims of experimentation,” Cmdr. Payne says.

The commander knows of no plans for the Navy to open similar centers in other locations, but shares that the DTCL will have to operate, collect data and determine how strike group performance improves before a decision is made about creating additional facilities.