LVC simulation is an essential element in providing bespoke training for Marine Corps urban operations. MS&T’s Chuck Weirauch reports.

There is a growing trend for the world's population to reside in large urban environments on or near coastal cities; it is near-certainty there will be conflicts. And with the US Marine Corps returning to its sea mission, there is little doubt that Marines could be involved - somewhere.

"We know that the world's populations are located primarily in urban areas, and much of that in the coastal areas and most are within the coasts," said Marine Col. Walter Yates, Program Manager for Training Systems (PMTRASYS) at the Marine Corps Systems Command (MCSC)."The point is that we have to be able to tailor our training systems to simulate geographic environments no matter where they are. We believe that a lot of our conflicts will be in urban areas. And our trainers, such as the infantry immersion trainers and all of the virtual environment simulators, should provide that type of terrain and have that kind of database for that environment."

And if there was any further doubt about the role of simulation-based training for the Marine Corps, one might take the time to read the US Marine Corps 36th Commandant's Planning Guidance 2015 released this January and authored by the recently appointed 36th Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen Joseph F. Dunford, Jr.

He states the Marine Corps "will review our plan for live, virtual and constructive training across the MAGTF (Marine Air-Ground Task Force). We will in particular focus on better leveraging modern immersive training and simulation technologies. Our investment in training systems will reflect the priority we place on preparing for combat and be fully integrated with training and readiness standards. I expect all elements of the MAGTF to make extensive use of simulators where appropriate. My intent is for Marines to encounter their initial tactical and ethical dilemmas in a simulated battlefield vice actual combat. "

MOUT Modernization

Military Operations in Urban Terrain (MOUT) sites, the US military's mainstay live training tool for urban conflict, have been upgraded numerous times to provide more immersive and realistic training while improving after-action review capabilities. However, most are still physically modeled after the towns and villages in the Middle East and Central Asian environments. With the change in the emphasis of operations away from these regions, one question is whether it would be cost-effective to change the physical construction and layout of these sites. Even more challenging is determining what environments to replicate, given today's rapid flux of geo-specific regions where conflict might erupt.

A modernization of Marine home station MOUT sites began in 2009 with a nearly $1 billion contract to Parsons Infrastructure and Technology Group to build the next generation of training facilities. In January 2015, PMTRASYS issued the latest iteration of a draft RFP for Training Atmospherics Set Design Enhancements/Upgrades: comments on the draft were due January 23. Atmospherics refers to the need for "set dressings" for MOUT sites to" enhance and upgrade" existing and future MOUT and Home Station Training (HST) areas and ranges. According to the draft RFP, " existing MOUT and planned HST (Home Station Training) area facilities and surrounding Range areas are void of cultural realism. … Generally, MOUT and HST buildings and walls have similar facades and lack the real-world exteriors, interiors, and surrounding areas representative of realistic foreign urban areas needed for vital and realistic mission rehearsals."

"When we invested in home station training in the past decade with MOUT training facilities, they were fielded with the recognition that we are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan and those environments," Yates said. "But they were designed to be transformable into any geographic environment. And we use tools such as atmospherics and battlefield effects simulations to change the look and the feel of those environments -- from the Arabian desert to Middle Eastern or Central Asian environments, as well as to other places, such as the Pacific Islands."

“Our contracts allow us to specify and tell the vendor that we want this MOUT training facility to look like an African village, or a Philippine village or some other place in the world," said Tony Carbonari, PMTRASYS Product Manager for Individual Training Systems. "But as of today, we have to make some general assumptions because right now we don't have a specific area of operations where our forces are committed on the ground or where we are told to prepare for."

MOUT Virtual Prototype

Yates' answer to the dilemma of which geo-specific region to model a MOUT site after is to lead with virtual MOUT prototypes. That approach is not only faster but also far more cost-effective than a physical reconstruction of the site itself, he emphasized.

"Concerning what are we doing to modernize our MOUT facilities, the answer is that until we get a definite requirement, we are going to do that first in our virtual simulations," Yates pointed out. "We can create computer-generated imagery in several virtual training environments, our combat convoy simulators -- all of those that are pure virtual worlds -- more cost-effectively than we can by changing the look of our MOUT training facilities."

"The first thing that we would do while we are not certain where we will deploy next is do the specific changes to our scenarios in our virtual trainers," Yates continued'. "We have libraries of those for virtually anywhere in the world. That doesn't incur a lot of cost, it gives us flexibility and as pre-deployment training for a specific mission becomes more certain, then we will be able to determine whether we will need to update our live training or blended training between live, virtual and constructive."

The virtual model can then be applied to the physical model as a prototype for the MOUT system. If one would want to do geo-specific training, that person would probably tend to do that in the virtual world, rather than move dirt and create berms and the rest, Carbonari explained.

"The difference between the cost of creating a scenario in a virtual environment such as VBS 2 and the Deployable Virtual Training Environment or reconfiguring a live MOUT facility is very considerable. [It takes] time and a significant amount more money [to reconfigure a MOUT site] than to create a scenario in a virtual environment," Carbonari said." It's faster and less expensive, and what you are trying to teach and learn in there in terms of decision-making for the small unit may be effectively accomplished without going to a reconfigured live training environment."

LVC a Major Focus

The emphasis on LVC that Dunford emphasized in Planning Guidance 2015 is being incorporated into the PMTRASYS training direction in several ways that not only enhance warfighter skills, but also improve readiness in an environment of shrinking military budgets, Carbonari and Yates explained.

"We are not fielding a lot of new systems, but one of our main initiatives is to take our portfolio systems that we have -- computer systems in the virtual realm, convoy simulators, driver simulators, and flight simulators -- and connect those to our constructive simulations which are typically stimulating command and control systems to give the common operating picture," Carbonari said. "Then we are pushing all that information into battle staff training so that they are receiving feeds from units in the field using real tactical equipment, as well as receiving intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance feeds from constructive simulations, as well as live feeds such as unmanned aerial systems. And they are getting communications from traffic and track feeds from virtual simulators, both ground and air."

"So the battle staff as the training audience is seeing and reacting to all of the communications and information that they would have in the contemporary operating environment, but with the majority of that actually simulated," Yates added. "There is a small contingent of live forces that are in the field with real, live equipment-- but it appears to the staff controlling those forces that they have a much larger span of responsibility, along with the communications and the events as if they in charge of a much larger live force."

Networking Home Station Training

To enhance training at home stations, the Marine Corps is working to interconnect MOUT and other home station simulation-based training tools together via the Marine Corps Enterprise Network so that Marines stationed at different bases and installations can conduct joint training exercises together in an LVC training environment. The concept behind linking such installations together is that Marines will not have to leave their home station base or station to go to a remote geographical location to train, reducing costs while maintaining readiness.

Improving Decision Making

Another primary focus for the Marine Corps and PMTRASYS is the improvement of decision-making skills of Marines -small squad members up to force commanders - particularly when those Marines are operating in an urban environment. To help develop improved decision making tools for Marines, data from existing simulators and video recordings of live training exercises at MOUT and other live training sites are being analyzed to determine how this information might be used.

"Our programs of record are being adapted in terms of their content and what we capture in terms of the trainees' behaviors -- whether they are actually assimilating the information that we present and making plausible decisions based on that," Yates said. "Most of what we are trying to do is analyze data from our existing simulations and determine why things happen in a training environment and use that as a teaching tool. So consequently, we are focusing on improvement of our video capture systems in the live training environment so that we can replay events both from a simulation view and a camera view and determine why certain trainees, Marines or role players behave the way they did. And with that improved after-action review, we think that we are going to get better decision-making skills."

Validating Simulation Effectiveness Along with the move towards LVC and more simulation-based training, another prime goal for PMTRASYS is to make sure that its training products employing such technology do indeed help enhance the learning of skills. For example, the training agency is currently in the process of the validating of driver skill improvement for its Operator Driver Simulator. "What we need to do is to hold readiness constant or be improving it," Yates said. "We need to enable that same level of readiness with reduced resources. So simulation in the virtual and constructive environment is one way that you can provide that same level of experience and training readiness with a fixed budget." To make sure that the training systems are actually providing readiness in terms of actual skills, PMTRASYS has to go through the validation of its training systems, Yates pointed out. "So across our portfolio we are gathering information to show skills proving or showing evidence of the right skills and avoiding negative training," he summed up. "When we present that data and analysis to the accrediting training and education command, then what will happen is that we will have an approved or accredited method of training that relies on simulation to be demonstrating for it to be effective."