“I see training technology as a key readiness enabler for our force. We’re so fortunate to be in an era when we can conduct so much training, not only live training which we still do plenty of, but training in virtual simulators and constructive training for staffs and headquarters.”
Group Editor Marty Kauchak completed a wide-ranging Q&A with Brigadier General William E. Cole, the Program Executive Officer for Simulation, Training and Instrumentation (PEO STRI), Orlando on October 12, 2017. Following an introduction in MS&T 6/2017, the interview is provided below in its entirety.
Brigadier General William E. Cole, Program Executive Officer for Simulation, Training and InstrumentationMS&T: Thank you for taking time to speak with us today. While MS&T is aware of PEO STRI and its mission, perhaps you can start by updating us on your command’s role in supporting simulation and training in the Army.
BG Cole (BGC): The Chief of Staff of the Army, General Mark Milley, has stated repeatedly his number one priority is readiness. I see training technology as a key readiness enabler for our force. We’re so fortunate to be in an era when we can conduct so much training, not only live training which we still do plenty of, but training in virtual simulators and constructive training for staffs and headquarters. We think we’re a key component of building Army readiness and meeting General Milley’s objective.
MS&T: You said something important, that the command continues to focus on training readiness for the individual soldier up through the unit/collective level, including staffs.
BGC: Yes, we have collective trainers for everything from the crew level in the virtual domain up to division and brigade staffs, as we train with constructive simulations that simulate thousands to tens of thousands of soldiers in the field, that those staffs would normally command. We use constructive simulations to give those staffs the training they need without having to send tens of thousands of soldiers out to the field.
MS&T: You mentioned different training domains. Please provide a snapshot of the major contracts or programs in place to support training across the different domains.
BGC: Before we go into contracts, I want to also point out that cyber is a domain that we’re getting more and more involved in. We have a testing support mission and we have had that for years. Because of that mission we have grown quite an expertise in cyber testing of US systems.
MS&T: To follow up, how do you see cyber evolving within the Army training community – integrated in the current live, virtual, constructive and serious gaming domains, or as a standalone capability in the next three to five years.
BGC: We’re going to see both and in far less time than that. I do think we’ll start seeing some cyber play at our combat training centers. But even now, we’ve recently been given the mission of establishing the Persistent Cyber Training Environment. We’re excited to have that mission. We have administered the National Cyber Range here in Orlando that was originally started by DARPA [Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency] and then transitioned over to the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD). They have asked us to administer it for them. With recent encouragement from the US Congress, Secretary Kendall [Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics] before he departed office, directed the establishment of a persistent training environment and made the Army the executive agent. We were then given the responsibility as the materiel developer. We’re working to support US Cyber Command and all the service cyber components, we’re helping to grow connectivity and capacity in the different OSD and service cyber ranges, and develop that into a full-fledged, Persistent Cyber Training Environment that all of the joint force cyber warriors can train on and qualify on, not only individually but in collective units as well.
MS&T: You mentioned one instance of joint training – “jointness” appears the direction the services are proceeding in cyber and other missions, when possible, to maximize efficiencies.
BGC: We’re focused on giving all of the services and US Cyber Command all of the training ranges they need to complete all of their training efforts.
MS&T: And some of the major contracts or areas of interest in PEO STRI’s portfolio?
BGC: For about the last ten years we have had the Warfighter Field Operations Customer Support (Focus) Program Contract. It has been a very powerful contract for us. The actual period of performance ends at the end of this month although we are going to extend certain task orders for a certain period of time. That was a massive training support contract that we used in Continental United States for US forces and overseas for both US and partner forces. It included everything from support of combat training centers to home stations to support of our Afghan partners, for example, for providing flight schools and other training services both in Afghanistan and in other overseas locations. Warfighter Focus was a very successful contracting vehicle but is coming to a natural end. We are transitioning to two different contracts. One is focused on maintenance of Army training devices – the TADSS (Training Aids, Devices, Simulators, and Simulations) Maintenance Program. We have many, many TADSS across the US and at Army bases across the world. Maintaining those is an important job, to make sure they are ready when soldiers need to train. The Army TADSS maintenance program will take over that part of Warfighter Focus which handled that maintenance. We should award that in second quarter fiscal year 2018. Similarly, we have the Enterprise Training Services Contract (ETSC) which will take over many of the training services tasks that were conducted under Warfighter Focus. The Army shifted to providing soldiers at home station with local contracts for training services. If units travel away from home station, if they want to do a field exercise at an Air Force base or a National Guard Training Center for example, they can leverage ETSC to get the training support they need there. We can also use the ETSC to continue providing training to our partner nation forces around the world.
MS&T: You mentioned the National Guard. It appears ETSC will support the “Total Army” or “Total Force” – the active component and Reserve and Guard.
BGC: Yes, it is available to both the Guard and Reserve as well as active force. Anywhere they are training, as long as it is not home station, they can leverage ETSC to get training support. We also have a Life Cycle Product Line Management (LCPM) Contract coming up. That is going to give a way to more deliberately look at the hardware components of many of our training devices and strive for commonality and ease of maintenance across our different hardware lines. For example, we have many different training devices which require cameras or other pieces of hardware. Through the LCPM Contract we’ll be able to achieve a common standard across many different training devices to save the Army money and allow our field representatives to be more responsive.
MS&T: You mentioned a common standard which has remained a goal by the military services and industry for many learning technologies through the years. Any initial thoughts on what a common standard might be for an image generator, as an example, or is this a work in progress?
BGC: These would be COTS items – for instance, if we’re going to make a large buy of COTS cameras, we’d rather focus on one or two kinds that could serve in multiple types of training systems, as opposed to a unique one in each training system.
MS&T: The Army also has one or two other major training programs in progress.
BGC: The Army’s big initiative in training is to establish the Synthetic Training Environment STE) – the future training environment to enable commanders to train the way you fight no matter where you are. We have the LVC-IA (Live, Virtual, Constructive – Integrated Architecture) which we have put in place over years, which took different virtual and constructive simulations that were developed independently and managed to connect them, even connect them with live training. We can do that at home station today. For example, Fort Riley [Kansas] runs an exercise for reach of its brigades annually, which will cycle a battalion in the field, a battalion in virtual simulators, and a battalion TOC [tactical operation center] in the field driven by constructive simulation. To integrate that all together into a LVC-IA exercise for each brigade is impressive, but they can only do that at home station. There is a lot of preparation that has to take place beforehand. Our expectation is with the STE we’ll have an integrated training environment which will greatly reduce the burden and overhead required to put together those types of exercises. It will eliminate a lot of those barriers by going to what we call a dynamic model of terrain standard for all of our different simulations. We want it to provide training at the point of need, not just a home station but in armories for the Guard, and especially when soldiers are deployed. If they can train in this type of environment while they are deployed that will be a huge advantage.
MS&T: If STE supports deployed forces, will this evolve into a mission rehearsal capability or tool?
BGC: Yes, absolutely. That would be another great potential advantage of going to STE. And we’re also looking for other technologies that will help us reduce the overhead of our virtual trainers in our training systems.
MS&T: And this I/ITSEC should provide one opportunity to see some of the emerging technologies that will help you meet that and other challenges.
BGC: We’ll see what industry on the floor has to discuss and offer, in particular, the advances they have in deployable, reconfigurable simulators, and in simulators and simulations which are easier for soldiers to set up and support their training objectives.
MS&T: Might there be any other technology topics of interest – augmented or virtual reality, or others?
BGC: Augmented reality is a huge growth area for simulation. I see my kids playing games for pleasure and I also always think are there military applications of this type of technology – and I am sure there are.
MS&T: We also see industry focusing its applications for AR/VR and mixed reality to specific missions and tasks – maintenance for example.
BGC: There are a lot of maintenance trainers that we develop. And if you could make them more effective by using augmented reality, we are very open to that. And I have seen some pretty fun, frankly, gunnery trainers that use augmented reality. I look forward to seeing what other applications may be on the floor at I/ITSEC. Another thing I will be looking at are technologies that will better help a squad train collectively in a virtual or semi-virtual environment whether it is augmented reality or virtual reality. We have systems today that can train multiple soldiers if they are static. But having a capability to train and still have motion, and still be able to interact with each other would be important. We can do that in the gaming environment and that is valuable to some extent. The Army Games for Training program is one of the most widely used training systems we have. This is good for the “crawl” phase of training – to work out your schemes of maneuver, your reporting procedures – gaming is a very effective and low over-head way to do it. But we’d love to see if there is something higher fidelity or more immersive.
MS&T: Are there any other service simulation and training “gaps” you are seeking to close with these emergent technologies?
BGC: We are trying to meet all the objectives of the Synthetic Training Environment. I mentioned the dynamic model of terrain. The ability to train at the point of need, whether it is home station or a deployed area – in an environment that will link all of the simulations together. We managed to do it with our old simulators at home station. Because they were developed independently that was very, very challenging. We need a more coherent environment – a synthetic environment – that pulls all of our virtual and collective trainers together.
MS&T: Highlight the best way for a company or academic institution to contact PEO STRI and raise your awareness about a new S&T technology or capability of possible interest to your service?
BGC: We’re always happy when anyone goes to our website
MS&T: Earlier, you mentioned training the Afghans. What is PEO STTRI’s role in supporting the training and education part of Foreign Military Sales (FMS)? Is this a growth mission for the command?
BGC: It’s a big part of our portfolio – more than one-third. We talk about FMS during the PALT sessions and we’re happy to talk to industry about how we support FMS. We work very closely with the US Army Security Assistance Command at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama. We partner with them all the time to help provide training systems to our allies and partners.
MS&T: Any final thoughts to close our interview, please?
BGC: Yes, we do have a Technology and Industry Liaison Officer and industry can reach out to the office through our web site, as well.