Navy to Showcase MRTS Submarine Training System at West 2016
Non-submariners can get a rare sneak peek into the bowels of a submarine’s control centers during the upcoming sea services conference in San Diego next week. Well, sort of. It’s not a peek into an actual boat's radio control room, for example, but an opportunity to see and touch equipment that simulates a variety of shipboard systems.
Don’t feel cheated, however. The display features the same equipment submariners themselves train on. The Navy plans to showcase its new 3-D, Multipurpose Reconfigurable Training System (MRTS) at West 2016 at the San Diego Convention Center on February 17 to 19. The 5,000-pound MRTS system features multitouch liquid crystal display screens that precisely simulate the real thing, experts say.
The technology makes the most of commercial-off-the-shelf hardware and software components, and a single trainer can shift between multiple applications within minutes to provide sailors the capability to use a device that offers photo-realistic virtual training on several different systems in a single day, says Bruce Rasmussen, training MRTS lead at Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Atlantic.
The MRTS provides a virtual alternative to more expensive training systems and lets the Navy migrate away from using actual tactical equipment at its training sites—saving millions of dollars, Rasmussen says. For example, tactical training equipment for a common submarine radio room used to cost the Navy about $22 million, plus $5 million to modernize and another $500,000 a year to maintain. “Imagine how many students were touching that— flipping switches, turning knobs—it breaks,” Rasmussen says. Today’s MRTS devices cost about $1.2 million and can be developed and operational within nine months.
The Navy has 11 devices up and running at seven submarine training sites. The simulators align with the Navy’s Navigation Plan 2015-2019 that calls for increased “development and fielding of live, virtual and constructive training environments to provide more realistic training at a reduced cost.”
Not only do the devices drastically reduce investments in expensive systems, but they let instructors uproot shipboard systems in ways they could not previously do, such as simulating cut wires, firesaults or damaged parts, says William Gutierrez, a Common Submarine Radio Room-MRTS technical lead. The ability to experience a catastrophic systems shutdown without causing an actual and costly systems shutdown provides valuable teaching moments to the service's nascent submariners, he offers. And instructors can vary scenarios to keep the training fresh. “One thing that we’ve heard from instructors over the years, like high school or college professors who use the same test, you know what’s coming up,” Gutierrez says. “That was kind of the same case with training on the same piece of real equipment over and over again.”
Additionally, the simulators contributed to a 31 percent to 33 percent increase in sailors’ level of knowledge during modernization training, Rasmussen says.
The devices also train to a variety of experience levels. They are used for sailors right out of boot camp and for those who have served for a while and need modernization training, Rasmussen explains. Also, instructors can program the devices for pre-deployment training and customized lessons for specific mission environments, or used the MRTS systems for what is called “responsive training,” or the targeting of certain weak areas for focused training.
Trainer usage rate is high, typically more than 95 percent, officials says. “We have to beg them to take it down so we can clean the glass on them or vacuum out the filters,” Rasmussen jests. “They are used that much.”