The budget bar, that is. CDT concepts and evolving technology are combining to lower cost and provide effective driver training for military vehicles. MS&T’s Chuck Weirauch writes.

Driver Trainers: Stretching the Budget

Strategies such as building reconfigurable trainers, and exploiting commercial technologies are driving the price of driver trainers down, and effectiveness up. MS&T’s Chuck Weirauch writes.

The December 14 release of the final iteration of the US Army's Tank-automotive and Armaments Command (TACOM) RFP for Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP) and Full Rate Production for the US services' Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV), clears the way for training providers to accelerate their efforts to develop a driver trainer for this replacement of the Humvee. The driver training solution for JLTV will be based on the Common Driver Trainer (CDT), a Program of Record, as stated in the US Army's 2012 JLTV Concept of Operations: "the JLTV fits into the existing set of common driver trainers with little modification, meaning JLTV-unique driver trainers are not required."

The Program Executive Office for Simulation, Training and Instrumentation (PEO STRI)'s Product Manager for Ground Combat Tactical Trainers (PM GCTT) office was not able to confirm an impending RFP for the JLTV CDT at the time of publication. However, it did share that the reconfigurable CDT platform currently supports training for the M1A2 Abrams, Stryker, Mine Resistant, Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle, MRAP All Terrain Vehicle (MATV) and the Abrams Tank Engineering Variant (TEV).

According to CDT provider Leidos' senior program manager Bob Hatton and senior hardware engineer lead Kevin Chastain, the company is currently working with a couple of original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) that are preparing to compete on the JLTV contract, and is formulating options with them to include driver trainers as part of their solution. Leidos would offer its current MRAP baseline product and redevelop it into the JLTV cab design, they said.

Dave Hutchings, Raydon's senior VP for strategic business development, indicated the company, as the U.S. Army’s prime contractor (awarded in 2013) for the Tactical Wheeled Vehicle/ Common Driver Trainer (TWV/CDT) program, will be leveraging that platform.  The CDT contract is a five-year ID/IQ that includes 56 reconfigurable TWV CDTs, of which 14 have been exercised at this time. He said, “For the JLTV (Joint Light Tactical Vehicle) program, we envision adding new dash panels, driver scenarios, and JLTV- specific vehicle dynamics to the existing CDT platform … We do not see a need for a separate JLTV Driver simulator at this time.”

Operator Driver Simulator (ODS)

More certainty of the application of the CDT concept to the JLTV platform comes from the Marine Corps Program Manager for Training Systems (PMTRASYS) office. According to Col. Walter Yates, the reconfigurable ODS, Marine equivalent of the CDT, will be employed as the Marine Corps trainer for the Marine variants of the JLTV. The ODS, equipped with a 3 degrees of freedom (3DOF) motion platform for the driver and 180 degrees of visual display, currently supports the Marine Medium Tactical Vehicle Replacement (MTVR) truck, the up-armored MTVR, the Up-Armored HMMWV (Humvee), and MRAP vehicles.

" Our driver trainers are made to be reconfigurable to whatever the vehicle is," Yates said. "You change out the dashboards, the windshields and the cabin so that your view is what would be from that particular vehicle platform. When the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle goes into a production configuration and the requirements are locked down, we can very easily and economically add that to our Operator Driver Simulator. This would be primarily software and a little bit of hardware."

What Yates cited as the main advantages of the ODS -- an economical means to adopt existing technology to new and different vehicle platforms with the resulting cost-savings -- is really the core rationale of the ODS/CDT concept. With the recurring threat of a reduced US military budget, developing cost-saving solutions for future training requirements has become the Holy Grail for military training providers. While the employment of driving simulators for training as opposed to the actual vehicles has saved millions of dollars, the reuse of the common components in the reconfigurable devices has eliminated the need for completely redesigned individual stand-alone devices for each vehicle type.

According to Hatton and Chastain, since Leidos' MRAP CDT program deliveries, the company has designed and built Husky driver trainers in support of the Virtual Clearance Training Suite (VCTS) program. However, while additional vehicle concepts have been discussed, with the uncertainty of what vehicles may be fielded next by the government, it is unlikely that prototypes will be built with R&D dollars in the near future, they said. But in the meantime, Leidos has invested in adapting the entire CDT baseline into a common I/O system.

“Recently we modified and built two Stryker CDT cabs with the WAGO I/O system," Hatton pointed out. "We also built the TANK cabs with this same I/O. We have plans on adapting the MRAP into the same I/O, which would put all the existing CABs on the same baseline. Commonality between the I/O subsystem allows the software team to share code across multiple cab configurations, which in turn brings the systems up to a more stable and common baseline, and can reduce the logistical footprint across the CDT family of trainers."

The Drive to Lower Costs

Raydon’s Hutchings pointed out that their business model is driven around fully understanding the customers training requirements and evaluating, proposing, and producing cost effective solutions that meet those requirements.  “For example,” he said, “our Army National Guard customers could easily take advantage of the driver curriculum being hosted on the CDT high-fidelity 6 DOF motion platform by porting the content over to their Virtual Combat Operations Trainer (VCOT) produced by Raydon”. He added that this low- cost approach for adding additional capability to the VCOTs could maximize the ARNG trainer utilization rates.

With the goal of reducing driver training costs with its current partnership on the Virtual Clearance Training Suite (VCTS) program, Leidos delivered a low cost non-motion base vehicle cab design that supplies route clearance training to both the National Guard and active duty soldiers, Chastain said. These non-motion base trainers provide realism through their integrated seat shakers and high-fidelity cab structure and vehicle dash panels, he explained. The Leidos’ engineering staff has also investigated multiple different solutions for motion system for driver trainers to help reduce costs.

"With many different options available from motion seats to 3-DOF and even low- cost 6-DOF system, the opportunities are endless," Hatton said." The increase in low-cost commercially available racing and driver simulators with high- end gaming engines for visual graphics has forced the military trainers to take a different approach to motion systems. Leidos is currently working as a subcontractor on a program developing a rotary wing flight trainer for the Army National Guard, with the use of motion seats for motion cueing. This is one way that Leidos has learned from the commercial market to provide lower cost but adequate motion cues for training devices."

And D-BOX comes from a strong background in designing and developing motion systems intended for the entertainment and industrial simulation industries. D-BOX started with simulators in the construction industry, where costs have always been lower than in the defense industry, said Sebastien Lozé, the company's director of Training and Simulation, Industrial. According to Lozé, several European, Canadian and US training groups are now leveraging D-BOX as part of their driving simulators. The company's most recent low-cost solution for driver trainers has users plugging in their D-Box motion platform-based trainers into a computer running VBS2 or VBS3 environments software via a USB port. VBS2 and VBS3 users can directly download their free D-BOX plugin at the BISim web site. The quality of movement (movement, vibration and event) cueing generated with D-Box actuators is proven and is streamlined and cost- efficient to install, Lozé related.

Value of Motion

Some might consider a fixed-base driver trainer the cost-saving answer. After all, as Hutchings noted, not all of the driver curriculum/scenarios require a full 6 DOF motion platform. On the other hand, there are driver tasks that require motion cueing. With lower cost hardware and software solutions emerging, it's not only possible to retain physical motion cueing, but to enhance it as well.

"Leidos’ engineering staff has investigated multiple different solutions for motion systems for driver trainers," Hutton pointed out. "With many different options available, from motion seats to 3-DOF and even a low- cost 6-DOF system, the opportunities are endless. The increase in low-cost commercially available racing and driver simulators with high-end gaming engines for visual graphics has forced the military trainers to take a different approach to motion systems. Leidos is currently working as a subcontractor on a program developing a rotary wing flight trainer for the Army National Guard, with the use of motion seats for motion cueing. This is one way that Leidos has learned from the commercial market to provide lower cost but adequate motion cues for training devices."

D-BOX integrated with VBS3 at SIMTecT 2014. (Image credit: D-BOX Technologies)
D-BOX integrated with VBS3 at SIMTecT 2014. (Image credit: D-BOX Technologies)

"We believe that to ensure a proper training environment, and to augment the training transfer in a simulation, you need to validate two criteria; trainee engagement and trainee delivery," Lozé said. "Given these explanations, you need to add some cueing of motion as you create cueing of sound and of visuals in any simulator you build to ensure engagement and training transfer efficiency. From our point of view, a solution is far from being complete if you miss the stimulation of one of the most important awareness senses (imagine a simulator with no visual). So an 80 percent fit simulator? Well, this might be what our customers are developing. But then again it would be 80 percent with respect to some simulation certifications. We think that the moment you have the right cues for all senses in your simulator, if your training curriculum can be addressed with it, it is 100 percent ready."

Lower Cost AND Higher Fidelity?

Gaming engines for commercial video games have driven military simulation and training to a new level of fidelity and realism, Hatton and Chastain pointed out. The fact that these gaming engines are driving more data faster -- with hardware and software that is becoming less expensive -- is helping training providers reach towards the goal of not only lower driver trainer costs, but actually increasing simulator fidelity as well.

"Many image generators are stepping up to include or adapt gaming engines such as HAVOK," Chastain said. "Gaming engines, such as HAVOK, introduce realism into modeling and simulation. Issues, such as polygon count, still remain in gaming engines as they do within traditional special purpose image generators. But gaming solutions typically leverage their larger market solution space for lower-cost alternatives. For example, with higher resolution comes higher polygon count, requiring greater processing power from the CPU. Gaming companies are working with field of view, or even satellite imagery as an offset to the distance. As objects appear in the distance, they would be imagery, as they approach, they become polygon-based objects. This helps with reducing processer power from the CPU."

"The life of a soldier in a vehicle depends on the perceptions he absorbs from his environment -- such as driving in the dust, or a radio sending loud commands," Lozé said. "These perceptions allow them to trust one sense, their sense of touch – the famous gut-feeling. During training, trainees need to get used to these interactions with other entities. With systems improvements, more interactions and more vehicles are simulated. A motion system needs to be able to replicate all these discreet events, all these cues, which are not only DOF related, that will convey a proper training experience and make the environment less sterile for the trainee. So higher fidelity for us means higher levels of details, so a higher frequency of movements."