Group Editor Marty Kauchak examines the evolving concept of return on investment for the defense-industry simulation and training community.

Military services in the US and overseas are expanding their perspectives on return on investment (ROI) for simulation and training (S&T) programs.

With the days of hefty budgets for training readiness to support large ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan consigned to history books, the Pentagon and other defense departments’ headquarters are justifying their S&T investments not only in terms of cost avoidance but more significant, the impact of simulation on operator proficiency and other life cycle factors.

The ground warfare domain offers unique and current insights on the rapidly evolving perspective of ROI.

Jim Weitzel, the vice president of Training Solutions for Lockheed Martin's Mission System and Training business provided a high-level overview of this training sector. The industry executive noted that when he looks specifically at Lockheed Martin’s ground training customers, he see a growing demand for anytime, anywhere training to include offering value-added solutions that enable them to extend the returns on their existing training investments. “For example, as deployments come to a close and our customers return to home stations, many look to us to support modernizing their existing training assets and incorporating technology for more realistic and immersive training. We are also seeing increases in synthetic training to model future threats in ways that can challenge trainees so they are mission-ready.”

Weitzel spoke from the perspective of having a strong ground warfare S&T portfolio that includes about 10 customers for the company’s Advanced Gunnery Training System (AGTS) and about half as many fielding its Digital Range Training System (DRTS)-like systems. “We see DRTS-like systems becoming increasingly in demand,” he added.

 Cost Savings and Beyond

An era of defense budget constraints in many nations is encouraging ground forces to wisely continue their S&T investments.

For starters, many main ground weapon platforms have significant life cycle costs. Norbert Trost, the head of sales for training & simulation at Krauss-Maffei Wegmann (KMW), noted the life cycle costs of tracked vehicles and heavily armored wheeled vehicles exceed those of other vehicles; therefore the demand for cost savings is even more important. “Our customers increasingly seek to reduce wear and tear of their real equipment by procuring our training solutions,” he added.

Learning technologies can take the “sting” out of the training readiness budget lines supporting those vehicles’ fleets referenced by Trost, as well as for other ground missions.

Indeed, earlier this year the US Marine Corps announced the results of a study indicating the AGTS significantly improves proficiency while saving millions of dollars in training costs

One "ROI-like" figure derived in the study noted the ammunition cost for an equivalent amount of live-fire gunnery training would be more than $1 million annually for each active-duty crew and $.5 million for reserve crews. While funding for that amount of additional live fire training is not realistically available, the AGTS allows Marines to inexpensively acquire synthetic experience that resulted in measurable improvements in skill, the news release noted.

Similarly, Larry Raines, the vice president of virtual systems at Meggitt Training Systems, provided a similar business case for services to invest in marksmanship simulators of the variety offered by his company. The industry expert noted “Meggitt Training Systems simulators complement live-fire training, which remains a necessary element of marksmanship. However, virtual training can save hundreds and even thousands of dollars compared to live-fire training with a high-value round. This is especially true when one considers the cost of trainer staff, ammunition, logistics and range facilities.”

Beyond Cost

While industry teams are meeting their service customers’ ROIs for cost, other dynamics are in play according to Colonel Gregory A. Williams, the deputy director of the Training

Support Analysis and Integration Directorate (TSAID) at the Army Training Support Center in Fort Eustis, Virginia.

The Center is a subordinate organization of the Combined Arms Center - Training, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

The TSAID conducts Training Effectiveness Analyses (TEAs) to determine if the desired training outcome of a new training system effort involved in using the training enabler is justified by the value provided. “TSAID typically does not look at ROI in terms of dollars,” Williams said, but emphasized the TEA completed for the Engagement Skills Trainer II (EST II) found that from fiscal years 2008 through 13, the Army had spent $495 million on EST II and was spending $66 million per year (subject to inflation) to maintain EST II going forward. “In exchange for that investment, the EST II was providing the Army with a cost avoidance of $225 million in training ammunition per year; a cost avoidance that essentially pays for the EST II program.”

The military S&T expert further pointed simulations can provide a significant ROI in conservation of training time. Games for Training, more commonly known as Virtual Battlespace 3 (VBS3), provides an excellent example. “A platoon can report to the mission training center in the morning, train in VBS3 for an entire day in a complex operating environment on a variety of missions, and go home at the end of the day ready to tackle a new mission the following day. To conduct the same training in the live environment would have required additional days to set up the training area, draw weapons, ammunition and other equipment, clean weapons and turn in, recover the training area, etc.,” he added.

Additionally, the unit would have required outside support to provide the opposing force necessary for a realistic training exercise. “Since training time is our scarcest resource, simulators that are able to provide a complex operating environment, with valuable after action feedback, in support of high value training with low overhead are especially attractive,” the senior officer concluded.

Back on the industry side, Eric Perez, the director of virtual sales for Meggitt Training Systems, cited instances in which some military units may not have immediate access to areas where they can readily train; for example, reserve units that have limited time with assigned reservists, yet must maintain a high degree of readiness. “Simulation training gives those commanders the ability to train in multiple synthetic environments in a very short amount of time. The ROI here is that those troops who may not receive training in an actual desert or urban area will have a better understanding of it regardless. By comparison, those forces which have never seen or trained in environments completely foreign to them will be at a disadvantage.”

Measurements and Beyond

ROI measurement is a topic of increasing importance in this community with original equipment manufacturers and their military end users attempting to find common ground in acquisition program discussions.

FAAC Incorporated’s Chris de Graff shared several other perspectives which take ROI measurement discussions further beyond total cost.

With respect to quality of training, de Graff noted a virtual training system has to effectively replicate form, fit and function of the actual equipment, with the customer defining “effective”. For FAAC’s Common Driver Trainer Stryker Variant (CDT/SV), “this meant creating and reproducing the driver’s compartment to within 1/8th-inch tolerance and developing a subject matter expert-validated vehicle dynamics package.” For the company’s Virtual Clearance Training Suite “key performance parameters included enhanced Instructor operator stations, the physics-based performance of the Buffalo Interrogation Arm, realistic TALON operations, and upgrades to the Husky that allowed proper display and detection sounds for buried improvised explosive devices.”

The Buffalo is an MRAP (mine resistant ambush protected) vehicle; the TALON a tracked, unmanned ground vehicle; and the Husky a wheeled landmine detection and route clearance system.

Yet another emerging ROI area is ease of set-up and modification of training scenarios. “This decreases the burden on unit personnel who have to plan for, set up and conduct the training,”

FAAC’s military business development manager said, and added, “FAAC’s simulators have ready-to-use preloaded scenarios complete with automated grading and continuous data capture that facilitate detailed after action reports. They also provide a scenario stop and jump-back capability that allows the instructor to correct deficiencies and enables the student to correctly perform a task.”

Returning to KMW, Trost noted that as different ROIs emerge, cost savings increasingly are becoming the focal point of procurement programs – perhaps to the detriment of the operator. He recalled that while competition is increasing all over the markets, the primacy of cost savings “seems to endanger other ROIs regarding safety and skill improvement, since lower costs for simulators do not necessarily imply better achievement of improving skills and safety.”

And as crew and individual proficiency derived from an S&T investment is recognized as important on both sides of the Atlantic, KMW’s Trost reported that improving crew skills is another major ROI which is demanded by his customers. “Our systems rely on the skills of their crew and on the quality of teamwork among this crew,” he added.

KMW has similarly tailored its product portfolio to meet the dynamic ROI environment. One device is the Advanced Turret Trainer (ATT) for tanks and artillery systems, which serves the demand of its customers for multiple ROIs – including safety, skill improvement and cost reduction

“With our Advanced Turret Trainer we enable our customers to train the whole turret crew at once in a most realistic training environment. If you combine this ATT with one of our driving simulators you can even train the whole vehicle crew in the same exercise” the Munich-based industry expert remarked. “As a result, the crew can acquire solid skills in numerous demanding training scenarios before even entering the real vehicle for the first time.”

KMW’s activity in the ground training domain also includes driving simulation, which complements other individual and crew training for vehicle operators.

Evolving Business Models

ROIs are also changing to reflect the introduction of new technologies for military learners, defense departments’ acquisition strategies and other dynamics.

Meggitt’s Perez pointed out the S&T industry has traditionally developed its systems for larger training or simulation centers. The “push and pull” of learning technologies is changing this delivery model. “Most people these days have smart phones and tablets that military leaders are leveraging by putting training in their hands,” he said and noted that earlier this year the US Navy issued tablets as a test pilot program referring to a Navy Times story ( military/tech/2015/04/08/first-navy-recruits-issued-tablets-great-lakes/25452877). “I see this type of instant training happening across all the services. Instructors will have the ability to push new training material in a short amount of time” Perez concluded.

Other customers are increasingly willing to leverage new business models and industry best practices to meet their training needs, with many customers finding increased value through performance-based, integrated solutions delivered by companies’ "turn-key training" model, for instance the one offered by Lockheed Martin, Weitzel noted. “Through this type of model, customers may be able to leverage private capital to deliver military training better, faster or more affordably,” he added and continued, “In some cases, customers are considering reducing their own capital assets or their manpower burden over time - both to save on costs and re-direct diminishing resources to better align with their needs. We also see increased interest in non-proprietary, open source solutions.”

Weitzel also pointed out the importance of defense department policy and budgets. While his customers face complex challenges that call for innovative solutions, “At the same time, they must work within their budgetary environment and in alignment with industry directives, such as the US Department of Defense's Better Buying Power 3.0 []. Our scientists and engineers are working to advance simulation and training capabilities to be more realistic and affordable than ever, while maintaining the performance our customers need.”