After decades of in-house maintenance and development, the Brazilian Army decided a new COTS solution would provide significant benefits and ROI. The result is COMBATER, a constructive simulation system that is meeting their expectations. Lt Col Sergio Martins Rocha, Brazilian Army, tells the story.

The Brazilian Army has experienced the benefits of a dedicated simulation center for the provision of training, planning and evaluation since the 1990s. Key military decision-makers have repeatedly asserted that simulated training scenarios not only reduce the costs but also improve the quality of training.

Consequently, we have developed in-house a number of different simulation systems over the last two decades and our most recent constructive simulation system has been operational since 2004. The maintenance and development challenges associated with this process –using, upgrading, and maintaining an in-house system by ourselves – quickly became prohibitive, as successive updates were required to accommodate new operational challenges, rapidly evolving training requirements, and the impact of new equipment.

By 2011, we changed our approach: we decided to divert investment away from in-house development and replace our existing constructive simulation system with a commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) product easy to customize with our doctrine and equipment. Constructive simulations use computers and software to simulate both friendly and opposing forces (referred to as Computer Generated Forces or CGF). The benefits of such a system are that unit and formation staff can be trained without deploying higher and lower control (HICON/LOCON) personnel, flanking formations or a civilian population (CIVPOP). Costs are also saved by training these forces in a classroom without the need to deploy into the field.

The decision to seek a COTS solution was inspired by a wave of recently developed, next-generation simulation tools characterized by flexibility and the need to reduce associated personnel costs. Boosting in-house development would have required an enlarged team with a reduced turnover rate in order to keep abreast of software engineering developments: an expensive and unlikely eventuality given the occupational mobility that characterizes our Army.

In order to successfully replace the current simulation system and be cost effective, the COTS solution had to be:

  1. Ready to meet the latest training challenges such as asymmetric warfare, public safety and peace-keeping operations;
  2. Easy to customize to our specific needs;
  3. Easy to upgrade, while remaining compatible with all customization developments;
  4. ‘Smart’, by using Artificial Intelligence (AI), to reduce the number of operators;
  5. Open and easy to integrate with C2 systems and other simulation tools; and
  6. Use LUA Code

By the end of 2012, we had completed a deep analysis of all the constructive simulation tools available on the market, drafted all the system requirements, and we were ready to launch a competitive process to acquire the new system.

The Selection Process

The Brazilian Army’s Land Operations Command (the Comando de Operações Terrestres – COTER), which runs the Army’s Command Staff Training Center in Santa Maria, was responsible for the selection process. COTER’s wide responsibilities include the preparation and employment of land forces in accordance with the policies and strategic direction of the Army’s Command Staff. Within this context, the primary function of COTER has been to focus on simulation as a means of preparing individuals and units for the wide range of challenges coming from operational needs.

Following the initial Request For Information (RFI) process, between August and November 2012, COTER pre-selected seven system integrators to participate at the final procurement process; five of these candidate solutions were powered by SWORD, a fact that we found particularly interesting. Subsequently, out of the four final shortlisted bids, three of them included SWORD. The final electronic bidding process took place in February 2013, leaving the three best priced bids in the competition powered by SWORD. In the end, Dec@tron presented the lowest priced proposal and was selected to provide SWORD to the Brazilian Army and customize it in order to deliver a cutting-edge simulation system for training centers across Brazil within a 13-month long contract.

Prior to the final contract award, the Army carried out a series of tests on SWORD to ensure that the software satisfied all contract requirements, including interoperability features. The last test was a two-day brigade level exercise, in which more than 50 operators participated to validate system performance and stability. All tests and exercises were carried out using the generic NATO-based doctrine and equipment databases provided off-the-shelf with SWORD.

Brazilian troops using a bespoke SWORD solution in a recent large-scale brigade-level exercise. Image source: Author
Brazilian troops using a bespoke SWORD solution in a recent large-scale brigade-level exercise. Image source: Author

Why SWORD?

Once SWORD demonstrated that it met the system specifications defined by COTER and completed the preliminary technical validation phase, Dec@tron was officially awarded the contract with MASA Group as the technology provider. Developed as an aggregated, constructive simulation SWORD is powered by an Artificial Intelligence engine that allows unprecedented high-level automation and realism, offering the Brazilian Army unique behavior/doctrine modeling capabilities. Simulated commanding agents can now distribute orders to simulated agents on the ground, react dynamically in response to changing events and execute missions with respect to our specific operating doctrine. These characteristics were all delivered with the required excess capacity to reproduce large-scale military maneuvers involving thousands of units – over areas typically up to 1,000 x 1,000 km depending on the scenario and terrain characteristics. Furthermore, SWORD’s inherent elements also offer adaptability, complete customization options, an intuitive user interface, rapid operational deployment, an open simulation platform, accessibility via the cloud, and multi-language support.

 A screen shot of COMBATER, powered by SWORD, taken during the above-mentioned exercises. Image source: Author
A screen shot of COMBATER, powered by SWORD, taken during the above-mentioned exercises. Image source: Author

The Project

Project ‘COMBATER’ was officially launched at the end of May 2013 by a team including subject matter experts and engineers from the Brazilian Army, Dec@tron, and MASA Group. Responsibility for the project’s management was held by Dec@tron. MASA provided technical expertise and customization support, while our own trained engineers and experts supervised the overall project execution and ensured that the product customization satisfied our bespoke requirements.

The project schedule for 2013 included three weeks of training followed by two adaptation phases dedicated to the customization of the most important military and public safety equipment and doctrine missions. Two weeks of November 2013 were dedicated to three brigade-level exercises to be held in the Santa Maria training centre, located in the state of Rio Grande do Sul. A third phase to complete the customization of special military units and two more division-level exercises will be completed in 2014

The training phase covered a wide range of topics, from end-user to system administrator training, and system deployment to customization and programming. The first two months of the customization work served as on-the-job training by MASA engineers for both our own Army engineers and those of Dec@tron. From the outset, SWORD’s flexibility was evident, enabling ready adoption of our military doctrine and rapid configuration of the system with the technical specifications of the Brazilian Army’s equipment.

The adaptation work performed by Dec@tron has included not only the translation of the system’s interface and user manuals from English to Portuguese, but also the customization of all simulation reference data, replacing generic NATO-based equipment and missions with specific Brazilian material and doctrine. Besides the normal mission fine-tuning process, a special effort has been carried out to recreate the 15% of missions that are specific to our operational envelope, a derivative of our country’s unique topography and the special capabilities we have developed to operate within it. In addition to equipment and missions, Brazilian military units and terrain have been added to create the most realistic scenarios possible.

COMBATER’s first operational exercises involved command staff from the 6th Armored Infantry Brigade based in Santa Maria, the 8th Motorized Infantry Brigade based in Pelotas and the 3rd Motorized Cavalry Brigade based in Bage. The three exercises were carried out without difficulties and provided precious feed-back to the project team in order to be able to further fine-tune the system’s configuration and databases.

Rapid Deployment and ROI

The speed of the project execution, from contract signature to deployment, represented a significant achievement within the Military Simulation and Training (MS&T) sector. Just six months after the contract was signed, COMBATER was already almost completely customized and was used to conduct Brazil’s first major C2 simulation exercise.

Compared to our previous entity-level simulation systems, SWORD is faster to configure. Indeed, as an aggregated simulation, SWORD has a higher abstraction level and focuses on the overall effects rather than on non-relevant details, thus requiring less information in order to simulate realistic outcomes. The omitted information is, in any case, useless for a brigade or division command post training exercises: if added to the system, it inevitably clogs it up with unnecessary data.

The result is a compact and agile system that, by working with the right amount of information, helps operators focusing on the military maneuver; increasing the overall realism of the simulation. However, moving from the type of entity-level simulations that we previously used to an aggregated simulation required a period of adaptation to focus only on the information actually relevant for a brigade or division command post.

All of SWORD’s customization work to the Brazilian doctrine is saved in external files and scripts, and is kept independent of the simulation software’s core. This allows us to benefit from new product features included in regular product updates – generally two major releases per year – without running the risk of compromising any existing customizations or incurring expensive system upgrades.

Early indications from the November exercise suggest that COMBATER (powered by SWORD) is offering an immediate return on our investment, validating the product’s status as an efficient training tool.

Remarkable speed of deployment has been matched by important returns on investment regarding price, resource deployment and training efficiency. The high automation level made possible by SWORD's AI technology has allowed a reduction of the number of operators required to control the simulation; hence the possibility to launch larger exercises with fewer resources. Based on current results, we believe that we could reduce the personnel required to provide brigade-level training by roughly 30%. In addition, SWORD's intuitive yet powerful user interface has reduced our operators' training time and removed the likelihood of mistakes when entering the trainees’ orders into the system.

COMBATER’s Future

Our experience of working with MASA Group and its partners since the acquisition of SWORD as the core of our new COMBATER system has been extremely positive. The tool is currently located at one training center in Santa Maria and current plans include equipping several more training centers with the system within the coming years as well as ensuring the system’s lifetime for at least the next ten years, taking full advantage of regular product releases.

COMBATER’s capabilities were widely demonstrated during the last WSTM trade show (Workshop of Simulation & Technology for Military) held in Brasilia in October 2013 and were proved during the first brigade exercises in November. Several military schools and government organizations have noted the system’s potential. It is not difficult to imagine that in a short period of time SWORD might be used in different contexts, from army corps exercises in military academies to public safety scenarios designed for other state departments and ministries in Brazil.

About the Author

Lieutenant Colonel Sergio Martins Rocha, Brazilian Army, is an advisor in the Brazilian Army Simulation Division.