An MS&T Exclusive Interview with MG Gervais.

Major General Maria Gervais is Deputy Commanding General, US Army Combined Arms Center, and Director of the Cross Functional Team (CFT) for the Synthetic Training Environment (STE).

Major General Maria Gervais.
Image credit: US DoD.

At the Defence Simulation, Education, and Training (DSET) conference at Ashton Gate, UK in March, MG Gervais spoke with MS&T’s Gareth Davies in an exclusive interview.

Having heard MG Gervais’ presentation on STE, we started by looking at the ‘sporty’ timescales that she has been set by the Chief of Staff of the Army. She acknowledged that they were challenging but the pace of development and change of technology is now much faster, which will help. Another challenge is bureaucracy, but the industrial landscape has changed and start-ups and non-traditional firms like a challenge. Both of these challenges have been part of her drive to change the culture of setting the requirements for training systems and then acquiring them.

Next up was the age-old debate on the live/sim balance. MG Gervais was clear that virtual environments don’t simply replace the live environment. The progression from live to virtual, or vice versa, and back again will be decided by working out which progression enables training for excellence (as opposed to competence).

Part of the philosophy of training for excellence is a change of mindset, echoed in the UK, about losing. For too long, losing during training has been seen as failure, but this is no longer the case. Losing, and then learning from the reasons for that loss, is a vital element of training and education and is now accepted practice in armies on both sides of the Atlantic.

We then asked some very targeted questions.

MS&T: What are the expected critical capabilities of STE which will be different from current Army synthetic capabilities? In terms of scale, mobility, fidelity?

MG Gervais: The fundamental difference between the Army’s current simulation capabilities – the Integrated Training Environment (ITE) – and the Synthetic Training Environment is a holistic strategy the Army is taking toward developing the STE. The STE will be realized as a single converged training environment that will operate through the Common Synthetic Environment (CSE). The CSE will be built upon an open architecture using common data, standards, and common terrain thereby providing one common game engine (Training Simulation Software - TSS), one common planning tool (Training Management Tool - TMT), and one common terrain database (One World Terrain - OTW). This is a fundamentally different approach to how the ITE developed as a series of disparate programs in the Live, Virtual, Gaming, and Constructive simulation domains. These individual stovepiped proprietary components were “hooked” together through a simulation translation programme known as Live Virtual Constructive Integrating Architecture (LVC-IA). 

The STE will take Army training to greater levels of scale, mobility, and fidelity. In terms of scale, the current ITE is limited to platoon and above, traditionally available at our twelve Mission Training Complex (MTC) locations, and is limited in the number of units that can train simultaneously. Through the Army’s enterprise and tactical networks, the STE will provide a Live, Virtual, and Constructive training capability from squad level to Army Service Component Command. The STE will be capable of being used simultaneously across active duty Army installations and in National Guard Armories and at deployed locations.

The STE will provide the force with the mobility and fidelity it needs in the Live, Virtual, and Constructive training domains. Through the use of mixed/augmented reality, as well as the latest advances in technologies, the STE is seeking to reduce the requirements for using large bulky hardware and is focused on developing more software-centric solutions. Less hardware means increased mobility. It also increases fidelity by modeling a greater number of the Army’s weapon systems than current simulations and through software updates while lowering concurrency challenges by increasing the number of personnel and units that can train simultaneously.

Bottom line, the STE will enable Army units and leaders to conduct realistic and repetitive collective training on combined arms manoeuvre and mission command tasks in order to enter live training at higher levels of proficiency. This is ultimately the advantage to developing and using the Synthetic Training Environment. As an Army we can easily create battlefield conditions and replicate terrain, enemy formations and tactics in the STE. Then we can conduct multiple training iterations against that enemy in the environment that we will fight him on, from our home station, before we deploy. 

Image credit: US Army Acquisition Support Center.

MS&T: How might the Common Global Terrain/One World Terrain differ from the Army's current variety of databases in structure and capabilities?

MG Gervais: Development of terrain for current legacy training simulation systems is a laborious, manual process which is costly and time-consuming, making it difficult to support contingency operations in new areas. It’s also very limiting because current Army training simulations use “postage stamp” terrains with 57 different data formats. The creation of these disparate terrain databases is manpower – and time-intensive. OWT reduces these different formats to one, saving manpower, time, and money.

OWT will represent the entire earth at a certain resolution with insets of higher-resolution areas for key locations such as home station training areas, combat training centres, and other areas of interest. OWT will be more efficient by relying on a variety of traditional and non-traditional data sources and techniques to collect, process, store, distribute, and render terrain data.

OWT should be understood as more than a terrain database. It is an entire workflow that includes collecting, processing, storing, distributing, and rendering to provide simulation-ready terrain data to support training, mission rehearsal, and operational uses. Because OWT is also Soldier-enabled, Soldiers and units will have the ability to capture their local areas via drones and IVAS devices [Integrated Visual Augmentation System, the military version of the Microsoft Hololens]. This data will then be uploaded to the cloud to be vetted and included in the main OWT database. This ensures the Soldiers will have access to the best terrain data available.

MS&T: How does STE play into the priorities of the new Futures Command?

MG Gervais: STE cross-cuts the Army's six modernization priorities by providing a common training environment to allow leaders and Soldiers to train with the Army's newest and next-generation technologies that will allow them to win on the 21st century battlefield.

Directly, the STE supports the Army’s 6th Modernization Priority – Soldier Lethality – by focusing on tactical level training. Through its Initial Operational Capability in FY21, the STE remains focused on individual soldiers and small teams (fire teams/squads and vehicle crews) as the primary training audience. Moving to Full Operational Capability in FY24, the STE will focus on enabling platoon through company collective training.

MS&T: Where is STE in the timetable? One document suggested prototypes as of mid-2018, another mentioned user assessments in May 2019.

MG Gervais: STE is completing its evaluation of the initial Other Transactional Awards (OTA) contracts this summer. The purpose of the contracts awarded in February 2018 was to inform and refine the requirements for the STE effort. This effort is culminating in a series of User Assessments with Soldiers in April and May of this year. The next phase will be the development of rapid prototypes for the Common Synthetic Environment (CSE) and the Reconfigurable Virtual Collective Trainers (RVCT), Ground and Air. The strategy is for the award of an OTA contract for CSE in June 2019 and an OTA for RVCT in June. This rapid prototyping effort supports the achievement of STE achieving initial operational capability in FY21.

MS&T: What are some benefits, and challenges, thus far of the OTA approach? And of the Training and Readiness Accelerator (TReX) relationship?

MG Gervais: OTAs enable flexibility in acquisition to rapidly develop prototypes and to procure cutting edge, innovative technologies quickly and efficiently – and if the technologies fail, to fail early. OTAs also provide an attractive option for nontraditional defense contractors to do business with the government and bring in industry partners that have traditionally shunned the bureaucracy that comes with FAR [Federal Acquisition Regulations] acquisitions.

TReX has created an environment more conducive to teaming among technology providers through their facilitated design thinking events. This opens access to nontraditional vendors that were previously unknown to the government or were not previously considering the government as a customer. The most recent TReX event brought hundreds of subject matter experts to engage with the military to help inform the STE LIVE requirement as we move to finalization and release of the Live Training Statement of Need. This industry feedback is helping to ensure that we are looking at the most cutting-edge technology and moving to where the commercial technology industry is heading. TReX also has been a significant facilitator in reducing the administrative time to award an OTA and continues to apply efficiency lessons learned to follow-on OTA awards.

As far as challenges, OTAs are still relatively new to many in both the government and private sector, which drives a significant amount of education in understanding what can or can't be done through the tool – as well as how to approach technical problems from an entirely new "business" perspective. The complex needs of STE require collaboration among multiple performers with various parts of the combined technology solution. Another challenge is the shift from detailed specifications. We need to allow maximum flexibility for our industry partners to be innovative. The challenge is being specific but not so specific that we stifle the industry partner’s creativity in identifying concepts and solutions.

MG Gervais concluded with the message that STE is going to be the 2nd “revolution” in training for the US Army. The first was the establishment of the Collective Training Centers.