In 35 years of MS&T I doubt that its readers have lived through such a period of turbulence and uncertainty in both their professional and personal lives. The disruption has been across the whole S&T community, military, government, industry, and academia. News and opinions age in just a few weeks suggesting that a “new normal” is allusive. Nevertheless, many changes have been made and as you will see in this issue of MS&T the S&T community has responded very quickly. We are seeing an acceleration of a trend towards a long-foreseen digital transformation of training.

When the pandemic first hit the crisis was perhaps unusual in that it affected all parts of the S&T community approximately at the same time and in the same way. It was relatively easy to get consensus on the response; something different had to be done and done quickly. Remote training and working were already a reality for many, so within a few weeks rapid changes were made. Live training, meetings, exhibitions and the like all moved online as far as practicable. Even where training was relatively unaffected, new safety protocols were put in place and in some cases instructors placed remotely. Also, military-driven “tip of the spear” innovation has taken place where existing simulation and gaming software has been exploited for online/remote training.

“... this is a unique opportunity to study the pros and cons of remote training...”

The recovery of the S&T community and broader society looks more difficult. With less consensus on controlling the disease there are many different approaches being taken across the world. There will inevitably be new surges, but they will likely be more localised. Live exercises have started up again and many simulation capabilities will continue running at near capacity where the military tasks are an essential service. Nevertheless, disruption looks set to continue. Remote training and working are likely to continue for the most part. It is now that decision makers are determining where it is essential that training is conducted broadly as before the pandemic and where it can continue to be done remotely. To assist decision makers this is a unique opportunity to study the pros and cons of remote training and working and their associated cybersecurity. If training can be done remotely now why return to what was done before, and if it cannot, how do we maximise the benefits of the “live” element, for example to better support the collaboration, bonding and ideas sharing that being together can bring?

We have also seen unprecedented disruption in education. The implications of being physically away from peers for such long periods of time and living more virtual lives is another area of huge interest with a whole generation of new recruits having lived this experience. What will their attitude to training and education be in the future?

Beyond our immediate responses to the pandemic it is also a time to reimagine training and how it is supported. If the “old normal” is defaulted to, an opportunity will be missed to re-envision what training could look like - what it should look like - for the military user. In any case as the current situation becomes less of a novelty and more the status quo, systems, software and culture will adapt to a dispersed S&T community, and the pull of training centres and offices weaken. So as we think to the future, what might change? Reimagining can be about future-proofing organizations by building greater resilience and agility. It can be about driving improved use of data and analytics so that training can be effectively assessed locally and remotely. It can be driving the full digitisation of training, fusing the physical and biological worlds, breaking down stovepipes, supporting decision makers at all levels, and tracking training though-career. Ultimately providing more cost effective, flexible, accessible and timely training.

At MS&T we are working to inform readers of the latest developments and share best practice as we all navigate these uncertain waters. If you have a story to tell and share, please let us know.