The US Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) training system is maturing to eventually train individuals, crews and teams for 32 ships. The system offers insights for the broader simulation and training community, Group Editor Marty Kauchak reports.

The US Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship is a relatively inexpensive surface combatant equipped with modular “plug-and-play” mission packages, including unmanned vehicles. With design flaws, construction delays and other major impediments drifting into the program’s wake, the service’s program of record has stabilized and now calls for buying 32 LCSs, down from a recent budget placeholder of 55 vessels.

There are two ship variants with very different hull designs, giving rise to training implications. USS Freedom (LCS 1)-class ships have a mono-hull which was developed by an industry team led by Lockheed Martin. The USS Independence (LCS 2) is the lead ship of the second class, which has a trimaran (multi-hull) design, developed by an industry team led by General Dynamics. LCS procurement is divided evenly between the two designs.

The two variants are important from another perspective, as their baseline technologies will selectively migrate to support the build of the Navy’s 20 new frigates designated FFG(X), which are expected to be delivered early next decade. The new frigate will be based on either an LCS design or a different existing hull design.

As this issue was published, the Navy and other stakeholders were immersed in very public, spirited (to put it mildly) discussions on how to employ the LCS fleet to better support combatant commanders. What is relevant, beginning with the US Navy’s announcement of the program in November 2001, LCS offers significant insights for the broader simulation and training military-industry team.

Technologies Laydown

A major development is that the Navy and its industry team have successfully established a training infrastructure which is enabling the fleet to operate two different variants. The LCS Fleet is using these modern training systems to provide its sailors with the most realistic off-hull training possible that supports the Train-to-Qualify / Train-to-Certify constructs of the LCS program. The LCS Train-to-Qualify (T2Q) strategy permits sailors to report to crews ready to stand watch and do their job, whereas Train-to-Certify (T2C) has a team/unit-level (basic phase) focus, training watch teams off-ship to perform tasks at advanced levels. A key foundation of the LCS training system is a healthy dose of learning technologies, including virtual reality (VR) and other enablers.

A spokesperson at the Navy’s Center for Surface Combat Systems, providing insights for this article on a condition of anonymity, explained that LCS T2Q and T2C require a robust training facility which is compatible with the Navy Continuous Training Environment. “As such, the Navy has developed LCS Training Facilities (LTFs) in both San Diego, California and Mayport, Florida. LTFs are equipped with high-fidelity simulators, trainers, and Virtual Reality Labs (VRL) that currently support, or will support when delivered, individual and team-based combat systems, bridge, IT and communication systems, and deck and engineering training requirements for the ships.”

The first LTF, in San Diego, opened in 2016. LTF San Diego has two Integrated Tactical Trainers (ITTs) – one each for the Freedom- and Independence-classes, twelve 24-seat Virtual Reality Labs (VRLs), two mission bay trainers (one for each variant), two bridge part-task trainers, and two crane simulators.

The training system continues to rapidly evolve, with LTF Phase IA in Mayport completed this August. The spokesperson pointed out the facility has a Freedom-variant ITT, a bridge part-task trainer, an 18-seat VRL, and a Freedom-variant Launch, Handling Recovery System (LHRS) crane simulator.

Mayport’s Phase IB was awarded in 2016, with delivery expected this December. This phase will contain five additional VRLs, the Freedom crane simulator, and a Freedom Mission Bay Trainer.

Further, Mayport’s LTF Phase II will be awarded in 2019 for delivery in 2021, adding space for an additional two ITTs and 10 more VRLs.

Because of the LCS program change to a Blue/Gold crewing concept,
all deployable LCS 1 Freedom-variant ships will be homeported in Mayport, while the deployable LCS 2 Independence-variant ships will be homeported in San Diego. “Consequently, LTF San Diego will be responsible for training all Independence-variant crews, while Mayport will serve as the training facility for all Freedom-variant crews,” the command spokesperson pointed out, and added, “At ‘steady state’, each LTF will have three ITTs, three bridge part-task trainers, a mission bay trainer, a crane simulator, and at least 12 VRLs.”  

Often overlooked in the details of the LCS fleet’s Blue/Gold crewing construct is the designation of training ships. In the case of San Diego-based Littoral Combat Ship Squadron One, the squadron’s surface warfare-focused Division 11 includes USS Jackson (LCS 6) as the training ship. Replicating earlier, proven strategies used in preparing Blue/Gold crews to support forward-deployed mine counter measure force ships, LCS training ships will conceptually have a unique crewing construct – more senior with some resident LCS expertise so they are able to train and certify the three other Division 11 ships’ Blue and Gold crews, six crews total. With this effort the service has cast its training readiness net beyond simulation technologies – to also emphasize live training.

 

The LCS training system has been responsive to training crews and teams for two ship variants. The LCS-1 class vessel, ready for launch (top) has one hull, and the USS Independence (LCS 2) (below) has a trimaran (multi-hull) design. Image credit: US Navy/Lockheed Martin & Matthew Comer/US Navy.
The LCS training system has been responsive to training crews and teams for two ship variants. The LCS-1 class vessel, ready for launch (top) has one hull, and the USS Independence (LCS 2) (below) has a trimaran (multi-hull) design. Image credit: US Navy/Lockheed Martin & Matthew Comer/US Navy.

Feedback and More

The LTFs are a significant focal point for completing key milestones throughout individual crew member and team continua of learning. 

In one instance, the facilities afford a unique opportunity for curriculum managers to observe T2Q graduates throughout their operational tour as an LCS crew member. “The off-hull proficiency and certification process allows curriculum managers to measure the effectiveness of the T2Q process and stay aligned with evolving tactics and best practices that operational crews bring into the schoolhouse,” the service spokesperson added.

The LTFs and other aspects of the LCS fleet training system have been responsive and resilient, to the materiel changes, operational schedules and other dynamics through the program’s history. The first few years of operational testing and subsequent deployments resulted in numerous changes and revisions to the T2Q curriculums and refinements in the LCS Training and Readiness Manual that quantifies T2C criteria. “The rate of change has decreased as the program has stabilized, but the continuous T2Q/T2C feedback loop enables us to adjust quickly to evolving Fleet requirements,” the spokesperson added.

Another significant return on investment the LCS training system offers is visibility, through metrics and other tools, of deck-level performance.

The spokesperson said, “T2Q will succeed and support mission accomplishment in the long run only if commanders have confidence that the output is valid, reliable, and standardized.” And to that end, “To justify that confidence, training outcomes must mirror, and therefore predict, critical mission outcomes. To achieve that result a set of objective, performance-based measures, metrics and standards has been developed for each watch station and billet requirement. For qualifications to be truly predictive, they must be guaranteed by the application of objective measures to the students’ performance that vary little between evaluators.”

Adaptability

The LCS training system has been built to allow individuals and teams to train to the rapidly evolving weapons systems and modules tailored for the ship – and with good reasons. While the LCS fleet increases in size, so too do the envisioned missions for these ships and vessels of other ship classes, which may use common systems.

In one instance this June, the US Navy selected the Norwegian Naval Strike Missile as its new over-the-horizon anti-ship missile destined for the littoral combat ship and likely the service’s FFG(X) as well. Other plug-and-play modules continue to evolve.

In a second case, the 21-foot (6m) General Dynamics Mission Systems’ Knifefish Unmanned Underwater Vehicle (UUV) uses low-frequency broadband synthetic aperture sonar to find stealthy undersea mine targets. After additional testing and evaluation, the UUV is envisaged to be part of the LCS Mine Countermeasures Mission Package and fitted on other ships.

The Center for Surface Combat Systems spokesperson noted the high-fidelity ITTs used in LTFs use the same hardware and tactical software as the fleet units. “Therefore, when the ship mission package application software baselines are updated, so too are the ITTs. In that way, we can guarantee high-quality ashore training to the Fleet in the same environment they will operate on ship,” the spokesperson said, adding, “Currently, both LTFs are operating surface warfare tactical software, enabling the use of the surface warfare mission package guns and missiles. As tactical updates are made for the mine warfare and anti-submarine warfare modules on the platforms, those same software changes will be introduced at the LTFs.”

The LTFs’ level of training fidelity allows the sites to not only train the combat systems watchstanders, but also the deck crews. The service spokesperson noted with the Mission Bay Trainers (MBTs), which are replicas of the ships’ waterborne mission zones, the LTFs will have the same cranes and mission package vehicles/assets as the ships, and declared, “The MBT training devices will train, qualify, and certify surface warfare capable, littoral combat ship crew members in mission bay operations.”

What Else is New

The LCS training system will remain dynamic in terms of other new offerings and content well into the future.

In December 2016, the Surface Force inaugurated the use of the Immersive Virtual Ship Environment (IVSE) as a vigorous training tool with the fielding of the LCS Engineering Plant Technician (EPT) course of instruction at LTF San Diego. The roll-out of this highly intensive 26-week, game-based training program by the Surface Warfare Officers School reflected the culmination of a nearly five-year planning and development effort funded by the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations (OPNAV N96) and the Naval Sea Systems Command LCS Program Office (PMS-505), and coordinated by the Naval Air Warfare Center Training Systems Division Orlando. The spokesperson explained the objective was to field revolutionary, innovative, and robust training for LCS engineering personnel in a high-fidelity, fully immersive, virtual shipboard environment to support the Navy’s concept of train-to-qualify and train-to-certify shipboard personnel ashore. “Since then, IVSE deliveries have expanded to other engineering watch positions. The Readiness Control Officer course was delivered in September 2017, providing high-fidelity training in engineering plant management. Engineering Watch Team Training will be formally delivered this October, providing an immersive, virtual environment for engineering watch teams to perform standard engineering and drills for pre-deployment certifications,” the spokesperson said.

In 2019, the Center for Surface Combat Systems will accept delivery of its first IVSE courseware, Combat Systems Operations and Maintenance, which will provide the same high-fidelity, fully immersive training to electronics technicians and fire controlman rates. Also, in 2019, the Center for Information Warfare Training will accept delivery of the Information Systems Technician IVSE courseware, providing instruction on the Total Ship Computing Environment resident on LCS platforms.

Cubic is the supplier of LCS training system IVSE courseware. John Freeman, the company’s senior program director for its LCS contract, told MS&T that with the scheduled delivery in January 2020 of the Combat Systems Troubleshooting product, his team will have provided 11 courses to their Navy customer since December 2016.

Of significance, the scope, complexity and magnitude of the LCS IVSE courseware is said to dwarf any current or prior game-based learning development effort with anticipated delivery of more than 4,500 hours and over 1,500 lessons of virtual, immersive instructional content. “The extensive functionality and fidelity of the LCS virtual environment, as well as the depth of immersion, is uniquely designed to meet the US Navy’s objective of Train to Qualify (T2Q), a metric for individual watchstander performance, and Train to Certify (T2C), a measurement of watch team performance,” Freeman noted. He added, “Implementation of cross-functional teams that combine the skills of instructional systems designers, graphic artists, subject matter experts, software engineers, game developers and other technical/human performance expertise creates the ‘secret sauce’ necessary for IVSE courseware production at scale. While no new science had to be invented, Cubic achieved a uniquely effective coupling of tools, techniques, processes and people to yield a highly successful development environment and expansive delivery of training capability.”

Freeman concluded, “It is also important to note that the development of a custom-made Learning Management System was necessary in order to provide US Navy instructional staff with a robust capability to properly manage the learning progression of all trainees.”

Another game changer for LCS crews will occur as new training systems are funded, designed and delivered, the systems are VR-centric. Most equipment and systems, operations and maintenance pipeline courses are VR-based, using a blend of instructor-led, interactive media instruction, and VR technology, augmented with some actual technical training equipment.

Flexibility

The LCS training system appears responsive to permit the continued evolution of the classes’ mission and roles in fleet operations and maintain acceptable readiness levels. As the ships’ operating patterns evolve, and new weapons and other systems populate the LCS order of battle, crew members and teams have the ability to complete overarching, dynamic T2Q/T2C requirements and keep their vessels mission ready.

Originally published in Issue 5, 2018 of MS&T Magazine.