The evolving live, virtual and constructive training environment offers military audiences around the globe the opportunity to take training to new frontiers. But technical, policy and other challenges remain to be solved before the US and other nations’ services can elevate this training construct to a higher plateau, reports Group Editor Marty Kauchak.

The live, virtual and constructive (LVC) training environment is back in the spotlight. Fueled by a 2014 I/ITSEC senior leadership panel discussion on the topic, and the military-industry team’s steady pace of successes, community leaders are stepping up their efforts to allow 24/7 participation by individual, unit and staff trainees in LVC scenarios from anywhere in the world.

Several obstacles, including policy and oversight shortfalls and a need to develop select technology underpinnings, cloud the prospects for immediate, wider-scale implementation.

The Potential

There is nothing even relatively new about the notion of LVC. The concept preceded the US Department of Defense’s policy commitment in the early 2000s to support the establishment of this environment for its military services.

While the concept is more than a decade old, incremental progress continues to be made on both sides of the Atlantic to help achieve the potential of long-term savings and other efficiencies from the LVC environment.

Dave Scott, Lockheed Martin’s vice president for Strategy & Business Development, built one compelling case to advance LVC capabilities, citing the need to train to the capabilities of fifth generation aircraft (the F-35 and F-22 for instance) and other new weapons platforms and weapons systems for air, ground and maritime forces. In the case of the F-35 and -22, these aircraft have stealth design, long-range sensors and an overall ability to survey the battlespace and communicate with each other in superior manner when compared to the services’ legacy aircraft. “If you want to train a pilot effectively in those environments it’s a complex scenario we would have to put together over long ranges, because these sensors have long detection ranges against enemy targets. The F-35 and -22 were designed to penetrate sophisticated air defense systems composed of multiple, advanced surface-to-air missile systems. It’s difficult and in some cases impossible to put together a live scenario that can accurately model the environment that the pilot or operator may face in the future,” he pointed out.

With an eye on these and other returns on investment, the military-industry team is recording an increasing number of successes in developmental-level LVC demonstrations and projects.

Lockheed Martin conducted an LVC demonstration last June to advance its ability to meet its customers’ requirements. The scenario included an F-16 on a live mission paired with a pilot in a ground-based F-16 flight simulator. Scott recalled the two “aircraft” operated in a constructive environment populated with air-borne and ground-based threats as a lead and wingman. “We were able to provide the proof of concept in the principle of how LVC can operate –and there were a large number of technologies involved: processing technologies; networking technologies; constructive threat environments, and in the simulator there were display and other technologies. We were able to link the state-of-art of all these together in an effective proof of principal.”

This author attended the December 1st Boeing media roundtable event at the 2014 I/ITSEC featuring Bob Gower, vice president of the company’s Defense training systems and government services group.

While the St. Louis-based executive also sees progress in the LVC domain as evolutionary rather than revolutionary, Boeing continues to complete demonstration projects to advance the domain’s underlying technology. Gower reported the company’s most recent project networked an F/A-18 mission simulator with an E-2D using Link 16.

L-3 Link is moving beyond its “Big V” (virtual) capabilities and integrating the other domains into a training solution. Also at this recent I/ITSEC, Lenny Genna, Link’s president, noted a demonstration at his company’s booth confirmed Link’s commitment to advancing LVC integration. “We’re demonstrating how virtual and constructive simulation will become a natural extension of a warfighters’ live training. We believe this training will more closely match the anticipated combat environment without sacrificing the training benefit that comes from operating live equipment. Our goal is to deliver a better trained warfighter faster and at a reduced cost to traditional training methods.” As significant, the industry leader added, “A prime discriminator we bring to this effort is being able to resolve what instructional features are required to measure the effectiveness of an LVC exercise.”

Lockheed Martin’s Scott pointed out that aside from the technology successes and fielding efforts of LVC-enabled systems in the last several years, the capability remains in the development phase throughout much of the US DoD. Scott observed that while his Orlando-based office is seeing a significant interest across all of the US services in LVC, “the interest at this time is principally in understanding the technologies, what those will enable and how to make the investments that produce the optimum outcome in terms of quality of training and affordability of that training.”

The fact that Lockheed Martin and other S&T industry members continue to expand the LVC technology envelope in an era of decreasing defense budget top lines in the US and overseas was not lost on Scott. He emphasized that while LVC provides a higher approach to that training, “budgets are tight, we also need to do this in an affordable fashion.”

Challenges

The progress occurring throughout the LVC environment is most often in service “silos” – without policy coordination among the services for standards and other technology foundations, and without DoD-wide guidance to industry on LVC program priorities and technology thrusts.

An earlier attempt to advance LVC and other embryonic efforts in the Pentagon’s Training Transformation policy documents of the early 2000s was partially derailed by the department-wide, wartime demands of supporting more than a decade of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. That recent history has not been lost on the current leaders in the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

Frank DiGiovanni, the acting deputy assistant secretary of defense (readiness) and the director for force readiness on the OSD staff, told delegates at a 2014 I/ITSEC panel discussion attended by this author, that while the services are individually doing a great job in advancing the state of LVC technology, a joint effort is needed. To that end, DiGiovanni noted his office “is preparing to move out with three initiatives: developing a tactical strategy, a governance model and a business model.”

An OSD effort to “jump start” a massive technology program is not without precedent. DoD, for instance, in the mid-1990s through early 2000s, helped move the Advanced Learning Initiative from concept to application in public and private sector learning communities around the globe.

DiGiovanni, a former Air Force career aviator and current government executive, promised this LVC project would be a collaborative effort. “Industry will help. DoD doesn’t have all the good ideas,” he added.

Beyond policy, several technology applications and related issues present other growing pains for LVC expansion and maturation.

At the top of Link’s Genna’s list of technology challenges needed to advance LVC was multi-level security (MLS).

MLS remains a vexing challenge in some training system applications. Issues to be addressed include security constraints on the various data flows and interface compatibility mismatches that must be resolved for simulators, and other training devices and systems.

Of particular interest to Genna was integrating different levels of security aboard different weapons platforms. The industry executive continued, “You have fifth generation aircraft, for instance, that need to participate in LVC exercises with older platform types. These fifth generation platforms ‘can’t play’ with everybody due to the multiple and diverse sources of data. This calls for a solution that can successfully tie these diverse data sources together within different levels of security. You have to make sure that all actions during the exercise do not transmit outside of a secure network. So MLS is a major factor.”

Genna also raised the intriguing suggestion that the planning cycle for LVC exercises must be reduced. “Like the gaming community today, you want to be able to ‘opt in and opt out’ and perform your mission. The feedback I have is that it takes days, weeks or months to set up and that it not good, either. You want minimal set up time, have an ‘opt in and opt out’ capability, and support MLS.”

Lockheed Martin’s Scott also declared a significant challenge to advancing LVC is determining the training ‘end state’: whether to have large force-on-force exercises with dozens or even hundreds of air units and ground assets operating in the LVC domain, or dramatically scaled down events with two-or four-ship formations flying in a home station training environment.

One LVC development MS&T will be watching as this issue is being published is a Rockwell Collins effort that goes beyond the flow of electrons in locally coupled or globally networked training devices.

LeAnn Ridgeway, the company’s vice president & general manager for Simulation and Training Solutions, revealed at the 2014 I/ITSEC that her company is nearing completion of a self-launched study which gains the opinions of US DoD leaders about the right balance between LVC training missions. (Editors Note: the study has been completed and is available for download at http://www.govexec.com/gbc/going_virtual_for_new_defense_era/

International Developments

The LVC playbook continues to develop in other nations as well. As Israeli-based Elbit refines its LVC products across the air, sea and land domains it reports the most progress for air applications. Indeed, the company is achieving its successes using its technologies, in particular its helmets, for aircrews’ embedded and other training experiences.

The Elbit LVC training solution has an embedded training foundation, using the helmets and associated avionics systems that permit pilots to plan, rehearse, fly and debrief using their personal helmets. The training enablers allow the pilot to use helmet visor projected imagery and symbology, and precision head tracking and cueing, to gain a representation of all virtual entities on the helmet visor.

Alon Afik, the vice president for Elbit Systems’ Training and Technology Business Line, noted during 2014 I/ITSEC that his company’s toolkit for LVC training also includes a data link which is able to connect a section of planes. “This includes a ground station and allows the aircraft to do distributed simulation while doing the mission,” he pointed out. “We call it a ‘hybrid model’ with real and virtual components.”

The company’s LVC solutions for the air domain are in use by its home nation’s military forces and have been exported to all M-346 advanced trainer users. The Haifa-based Afik, further noted Elbit’s training airborne LVC solutions are focused on increasing readiness for 4th and 5th generation aircraft aviators.

Elbit’s broad research and development technology focus in the next 12 months will reside in bolstering the “L” portion of LVC. “This is the most interesting and demanding area. The number of live training ranges is decreasing and of course the air forces don’t want to fly as many missions to save money. We can insert those requirements into live flying,” Afik emphasized.

The company’s specific technology thrust to support live air missions will further refine its helmets. “Inserting virtual entities into the helmet while flying – missiles, other aircraft and others – is a challenge,” Afik concluded.