Group Editor Marty Kauchak reports on developments in live and virtual training domains that train soldiers to counter threat of improvised explosive devices.
The 11-year effort to defeat the Counter-Improvised Explosive Devices (C-IED) threat in Iraq, Afghanistan Yemen and other contested regions and nations since 9/11 has achieved mixed results.
First the bad news. Despite the Pentagon’s investment of billions of dollars to defeat IEDs, more than 60 percent of U.S. combat casualties in Afghanistan, both killed and wounded in action, are caused by IEDs. Year to date through mid-December 2012, the devices killed or wounded almost 1,900 Americans.
Of particular concern, the typically crude, homemade, but easy-to-use devices are increasingly being used worldwide to impact stable governments. IEDs packaged as vehicle-borne explosives and in other applications are targeting military security forces, law enforcement personnel and civilian populations with devastating consequences.
Mike Macedonia, PhD., SAIC’s chief technology officer for training and operational solutions, summarized the evolving training challenges needed to defeat this persistent, expanding threat. The Orlando-based executive pointed out that fighting the IED battle is more than training people to detect and counter IEDs in the physical space, in route clearance operations, for instance. “It’s also figuring out to how get it into the IED network – to defeat the individuals financing and manufacturing the devices, and beyond,” he added.
Now, for some overdue good news. The military-industry training systems team is stepping up its effort to develop solutions in the live and virtual domains to provide U.S. and other nations’ service members with products needed to accelerate their progress in defeating the IED network.
Live Training Update
Saab Group is increasing the rigor and scope of its live instrumented training services in this sector for the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD). Saab delivers C-IED training technology and subject matter expertise at the individual and unit levels (platoon through battle staff) through five systems: two forward positioned in Afghanistan; two based in the UK for pre-deployment training; and one dedicated to serving the 29 EOD and Search Group and its community’s schoolhouse. Saab’s capability in this sector is called CCT (Counter IED Collective Trainer).
“All of our CCT systems are flexible. If the MoD wants us to move somewhere else we can pick up the capability and fly it wherever, Jordan for example,” Mark Franklin, the company’s director of Current Operations, explained.
One CCT device is a multi-detection sensor that may be affixed to any hand-held metal detector and measures the effectiveness of the use of that detector through different search patterns.
“We also address electronic counter measures (ECM), which is difficult to visualize. We have a simulated ‘bubble’ which appears on a screen, set to the dimensions parameters for the event. In the after action review, the training audience can see whether they operated within that ECM spectrum,” Franklin said.
Other C-IED products in CCT include a simulated, GPS-referenced fully functional training IED device.
Saab has trained about 65,000 troops under its current UK MoD C-IED contract.
Enhancements to Saab’s C-IED training strategy include the instrumentation of IED search dogs in training scenarios.
Rheinmetall has relied on its heritage of using successful base line technologies to meet the technology challenges of C-IED training. In this instance, the company has developed a multi-purpose wireless device that, on the one hand, is used to read the status of man-worn live simulation equipment to allow for a correct choice of first aid and medical treatments in live simulation exercises. On the other hand, the same device is also used as an IED–effects simulator system.
Ernst Christians, the company’s vice president for Live Simulation, explained. “We can place it somewhere, hide it and program it in a way so that it transmits a radio code that corresponds to the scalable, desired effect of the ‘explosive’. Once the training device’s wire is removed and the contacts are open, the device transmits a ‘kill code’ to all MILES or other man-worn or vehicle borne, force-on-force training equipment, indicating those personnel and equipment are IED ‘casualties’.”
Christians pointed out the IED system may be integrated with pyrotechnic devices and other live training equipment.
The company’s C-IED training devices are in service with global customers in Russia and an unspecified military service in the Middle East.
Across the Atlantic, Explotrain featured its new Model X-05 Explosive Simulator at the 2012 I/ITSEC. The product is in service with the U.S. Air Force. The Fort Walton Beach, Florida-based company’s training device has also been delivered to several unspecified overseas nations.
The device offers a number of enhancements to provide a higher fidelity training experience, including the production of a 120(+) dB punch of sound with each “detonation”.
Dean Preston, the company’s president, added the X-05 can be partially buried or submerged, “with the only concern is to keep the opening of the sound chamber above the surface and free of obstructions”. The device’s legs can also be configured so that it can deployed vertically or at an angle for a directed “blast”.
Optimizing the Virtual Domain
Enhanced and new products and systems in the virtual domain are also being fielded to defeat specific IED threats.
An important upgrade is in the works for Lockheed Martin’s UK Combined Arms Tactical Trainer (CATT). The training system permits more than 700 military personnel to train together in real time on a simulated battlefield with realistic threats. The system supports combined arms training for ground, air and logistics missions at the company, battle group and brigade levels.
To address current and emerging training objectives, the company will add system enhancements for dismounted soldier, IED detection and threat analysis training. Sharon Parsley, a company spokesperson, said the visual systems will also be updated with new threat and friendly simulations and a new mission planning tool. “This will be the first time the UK CATT system supports IED detection training,” she noted.
The UK CATT enhancements will be delivered under a UK MoD contract award in three phases, with the first this March and the final December 2013.
MS&T had a chance to catch up with the ongoing ECO Sim project developed by Boston Dynamics’ DI-Guy team. DI-Guy software is used for real time human simulation and artificial intelligence. ECO Sim's development, sponsored by the Joint IED Defeat Organization, has as its ultimate mission to “defeat the network”.
During a December 2012 viewing of their most recent version, we saw a host of improvements to ECO Sim, beginning with characters with impressive, new skin attributes. These characters feature multi-texture shading via bump, specular, shininess, and ambient occlusion channels that dramatically increase the realism of DI-Guy appearances. DI-Guy characters maintain high performance due to their ability to leverage the graphics processing unit and shader code for the majority of the graphics processing.
“DI-Guy character appearances use video game techniques to achieve better realism while maintaining or improving performance,” said Alex Broadbent, DI Guys’ director. Broadbent added that these enhancements are part of a wider effort to meet military customer requirements for more realistic and tactically advanced human characters. “All the characters in ECO Sim, whether they are good guys, enemy soldiers, opposing force IED specialists, or the civilian populace within which the insurgent IED network operates, use advanced artificial intelligence techniques to determine how to act and react to ongoing simulation events, and move about the terrain. We combine intelligent high-level behavior, quality motion, and realistic appearances, and the result is better characters that improve warfighter training.”
ECO Sim exploits DI-Guy's human simulation expertise to better train Marine intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance missions with lower costs. USMC company commanders train by receiving virtual battlefield information described in sensorized unmanned aerial system video feeds and a range of over 30 reports – all provided by ECO Sim. Marine trainers use the simple interface to rapidly develop scenarios for training with no contractor assistance, often in as little as an hour, reducing training prep time and costs.
Other new technologies and their applications are capable of supporting C-IED scenarios, according to industry leaders.
In one instance, NGRAIN’s new Augmented Reality (AR) capabilities hold potential for taking virtual reality and placing it in the operational environment. MS&T participated in an AR demonstration application at the 2012 I/ITSEC.
In the event, the learner was able to view a piece of equipment through an iPad’s window, seeing and accessing information about key equipment including 2-D and 3-D graphical overlays, video, text and other content.
While Gabe Batstone, the company’s CEO, said the capability is an emergent technology innovation capability, it is more than a concept. “We have developed a robust prototype but need market feedback to ensure our future product solves real business problems,” he said.
Batstone also pointed out that while the AR initially emphasizes maintenance training applications, the capability would conceivably allow service members in the field to identify and learn about IEDs and related topics during a mission.
Meggitt Training Systems’ FATS® M100 weapons simulation and training system is approaching production with a number of recent upgrades from the last phase of research and development.
Tom Shirey, Meggitt’s director for Virtual System Products, noted the system demonstrated at the 2012 I/ITSEC was very near the final production system. The integration of a user-friendly interface and final development on fully-sensored weaponry integration were just a few of the advancements to the system.
A C-IED training scenario utilizing CryEngine 3 has been added as one proof of concept capability for the prospective military customer, along with a “gas attack” training scenario utilizing VBS2.
During a viewing of the C-IED scenario, Shirey said one of the advantages of Meggitt's FATS® M100 is the “flexibility this architecture allows. The system is designed to be image generator agnostic – other game engines are also used depending on customer need.” Shirey added, “[CryEngine3] allows us to add a lot of detail. You can see where we can make it difficult to find something, an IED, buried in the ground, for example.” While this C-IED scenario was designed using CryEngine3, other scenarios are designed with VBS2.
The flexibility of the architecture allows Meggitt to design training solutions based on the customer need. “Each of the gaming engines has their advantages,” Shirey said and he emphasized that one engine might allow for greater flexibility on the training elements while another allows for a more crisp design and greater visual detail. The C-IED scenario focused on IED identification, while other scenarios focus on observation and decision skills. A longer, more in depth scenario could be expanded to include convoy operations and other missions typically encountered by soldiers. “We don’t tell our customers how to train, but strive to provide the tools required to fulfill the training objectives. If they ask us to build the scenario for them we will. We have the capability within the product to create entity behaviors, adjust environmental conditions, and set any item to explode – so the sky is the limit,” Shirey concluded.
The company’s initial military customer, an overseas service, is on contract for 18 FATS® M100 systems. A second order for 59 FATS® M100 systems is slated for delivery in early 2013.
Colonel Mike Flanagan, the project manager for Training Devices (PM TRADE) at the U.S. Army’s PEO STRI, provided one insight on the live training devices used by his service to help defeat the IED threat.
Flanagan noted that since 2001, the Army has created a live training architecture, under which any device on the battlefield that is being recreated for training purposes can be interconnected for real effects and data collection. This is important for industry to understand, Flanagan noted. “This makes sense from a cost aspect, because we identify common standards and interfaces. We count on industry to adhere to our standards so we're all recreating the same battlefield,” he said.
PEO STRI’s Flanagan submitted one opportunity for industry to help advance the state-of-the-art in this sector.
In the effort to increase the effectiveness of route clearance missions, the Army operates the Husky Mounted Detection System (HMDS). “Here’s the challenge,” Flanagan offered. “The HMDS detects triggering devices and IEDs buried below the surface. These are the most lethal. But how do you train the Husky operators and crews? In order to replicate real combat, like we typically do at our combat training centers, we want to reinforce good habits and allow soldiers to safely, in a controlled environment, ‘feel the effects’ if they operate a system incorrectly. We need to replicate the Husky scanning for an IED below the ground and if soldiers incorrectly use the Husky, the challenge is automatically detonating a simulated IED so that soldiers learn the cost of improper scanning techniques without actually getting harmed. That’s the challenge,” he concluded.