This 25 November, Andy Fawkes, MS&T Editor and Marty Kauchak, Halldale Media Group Editor, completed a wide-ranging interview with Robert "Bob" Kleinhample, Vice President and Interim Training and Mission Solutions Practice Area Lead, Science Application International Corporation (SAIC). Kleinhample is additionally the 2020 vIITSEC Conference Chair. The participants spoke about SAIC’s product portfolio, current and emerging S&T technologies and this year’s vIITSEC event.
Rapid Change and Adaptation
While MS&T often focuses on developments within individual S&T industry sectors, the discussion with Kleinhample provided a unique opportunity to obtain insights on trends, opportunities and challenges across the community – from an integrator – SAIC, in this instance. Indeed, the corporate executive said he likes to define SAIC as a “technology integrator”, and, as such, finds it “really exciting to be able to reach across our entire digital suite of technologies, from the Cloud to cyber, to analytics, artificial intelligence [AI] and machine learning. We’re able to bring all of that to bear on a training system – that’s what we pride ourselves with.” Asked to prioritize his customers’ current and changing, requirements and priorities from the menu of technologies and capabilities he presented, Kleinhample responded, “This ties into the theme of a lot of what I have been thinking about –where we’re going. Our customers are coping with the rapid change of digital technologies, both their ability to adopt these new technologies in their organizations, as well as adapt. Now they are introducing them to their workforce as well as adapting their workforce to take full advantage of it.” The industry expert then cited common themes among his customers’ goals. While the US Army, for example, discusses “training to the point of need. I like to describe it as training where and when needed. And the light is shining on this because of Covid.” Another prevailing theme is modernizing legacy infrastructure to advance the rapid pace of technology change. Kleinhample emphasized that requirement is common and emerging across the warfighting domains, and stated the challenge to industry teams. “We need to be able to bring the realistic environments, with cyber implications, as we talk about getting training to service men and women’s homes, and the like. It spans the whole spectrum.”
Integrating Technologies to Bring in Novel Ways to Achieve Outcomes
Acknowledging the reality of near-term no-growth or decreased defense budgets, as the US and other nations grapple with the reality of “bills due” from pandemic relief spending and other macro-economic forces, Kleinhample, noted SAIC is focused on continuing to help its government customers do more and better – within their budgets. One US DoD effort in which SAIC is meeting this challenge is the US Air Force’s Pilot Training Next (PTN) program, which is increasing the pipeline throughput of qualified pilots. The SAIC executive recalled, “One of the ways we did that, is allowing them to do that better and faster, so that now they are increasing the speed of the introduction of pilots. It’s also really an opportunity for cost savings. It’s better and its faster!” Kleinhample provided another important integrator perspective. While noting large, multi-million dollar, six-degree of freedom, flight simulators have their place in the continuum of learning, he said, “we also need to look at other strategies. Perhaps you need to train on the ‘80% is good enough solution’, and you look at other strategies to fill those gaps to get them to that experience level you ultimately want. To me, you focus on the performance outcome you are looking for and come up with those strategies to get them there. That’s where we see our plan – SAIC has not been out there building these big, super high-fidelity simulators. We are integrating technologies to bring in novel ways to achieve the same.”
Leveraging and “Glueware”
While Kleinhample was asked, and declined, to note any specific new products by brand his team is interested in integrating into its programs, he did offer that he “really likes the idea of the commercial game engines and is leveraging those.” He emphasized ‘leveraging’ was a deliberate word choice, as there has been a “huge investment in the commercial industry and those products. Similarly, SAIC is not building VR/XR/AR goggles and like materiel. Rather, “it goes out there and searches for the most effective goggles, headsets, displays and other content with AR/VR and other interfaces to bring those in. We’re integrating them, we’re not building them. We’re the ‘glueware’, we’re doing the smart, the hard-to-provide interoperability among those systems, for instance, MOSA [Modular Open Systems Approach] and those areas.”
Embracing Innovation and the Non-Traditionals
Kleinhample provided another key datum point on current US military training, when he offered, he is observing that training community embrace the “non-traditionals”. In one case, he noted the Pentagon’s increased use of OTAs (Other Transaction Authority) in contracts is requiring integrators such as SAIC, to include non-traditional capabilities to bear in its contracts. “We are in, and I have also seen the military embrace, innovation incubators, such as Techstars, Capital Factory and the like, in which innovative and small companies are trying to work on cutting-edge, new and novel ways of doing things, which we are embracing. They don’t necessarily know how to do business with the government, we do. We bring them to the government in our solutions. The military has the desire. We have the desire. It’s a good marriage to embrace it.”
“SAIC is really focused on the US market”
In terms of current and projected regional market shares, the corporate executive declared, “SAIC is really focused on the US market, in particular, in what we do well. We are going to concentrate our efforts there.” To follow on, Kleinhample, was asked about SAIC’s interest in pursuing business S&T opportunities beyond defense, in adjacent high-risk spaces. At the top of his list, he noted SAIC is on contract to provide the US FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] with all training and training program support services. “With Covid we’re also helping them with a cultural shift, as well as a move toward web-based training, to provide more instructor-led training and converting their content over to these new delivery methods. They are making the change.” SAIC is also “moving into the medical area with training,” he added, and then called attention to SAIC’s “virtual mission trainer.” While the observer sees a training device with goggles and other interfaces, he emphasized, “the magic, what people get excited about, is the ‘ecosystem’, the environment around it.” Attributes in this ecosystem include the underpinning game software, the dashboards, the analytics and machine-learning, among others. The sum-total of this materiel make the trainer a system for the Air Force and other military services, “as well as a system for TSA [US Transportation Security Administration], if you put in the skills one has to use to work a scanner. You are using the same analytics behind that person and that performance to operate the scanner in often stressful environments. There are other use cases for these solutions beyond the military.”
Strategies Validated by the Pandemic
MS&T has reported on the impacts of the pandemic on S&T industry companies in terms of sales, productivity, workforce levels and other metrics. Kleinhample first observed that as he likes to see “the goodness of how the pandemic has affected us,” this epoch has shown that while there is still tremendous value in face-to-face meetings, “we are realizing there are real benefits in virtual technologies, that we can use them to augment our programs. There are things we have to do, to augment and go forth.” Further, the Covid-era has “validated a lot of the strategies I have talked about earlier – point of need training when and where needed. The pandemic has validated that idea that this is more important and that those who are ready to do it, are able to achieve their mission. If you weren’t, you took some steps backward. Covid has validated, to me, that what we are doing is right.” More significant, Kleinhample said, “I definitely see this ‘sticking’ going forward. The reason being, too, when you talk tightening, if not, declining budgets, you have to ask what you do about that. They are going to have to look at immersive training. Live training is very expensive. I am not saying to totally take away live training. This is an augmentation strategy to look at instances where you can augment that training with synthetic and immersive technologies. It is going to be embraced.”
Analytics and AI as Enablers
MS&T continues to observe military programs increasingly using analytics, AI, big data and other capabilities as enablers. For its part, SAIC similarly sees analytics and AI as important capabilities in its programs and called attention to its support of the development and research side of Air Force’s PTN. “Analytics is providing that information to both the instructor pilot as well as the student. We also have this in our virtual mission trainer to provide to other customers. It’s about, what’s that data and information they used to pass right, the data and information that they did it wrong, the information they are in the ‘training zones’. From the AI perspective, did they do the task right, comparing here’s an example of ‘right’ and here’s what you did, and then comparing the two. That type of information is very valuable and has proven it’s very valuable in that particular program, and very valuable in our offering that we have for that multi-variant platform.”
Benefits of a Virtual I/ITSEC
Kleinhample, was asked, in his capacity as Conference Chair, for his perspective about the general state of the S&T community as the world attempts to emerge from the C-19 pandemic. The conference executive offered that what the industry does “has been validated, and what we do with the I/ITSEC conferences has been more than validated, and it’s strong right now. As I have said earlier, we have a flattening budget. As I also said, it’s not a trade – it’s not don’t do any more live training. You augment with these synthetic solutions. When you go to I/ITSEC and walk the trade show floor, and see those technologies, a lot of them are the synthetic products, solutions and capabilities to augment live training. For those strategies that we’re talking about: how does one learn; how do you enable that learning; how do you create the more realistic environments, for me, it is now more important than ever, especially when I see what I/ITSEC has and what it has to lend to the defense community for training and simulation. It is strong, very strong and we’re not taking a step back. And while I am a bit biased, I would encourage even greater use of it, especially when you see the value, and it is synergistic to me, when you do leverage and use these technologies.”
vIITSEC is Expanding the Reach of I/ITSEC
And while Kleinhample emphasized NTSA, and the community at large, want to “strongly get back to the face-to-face” conference construct, there is the goodness that the conference organizers and leadership are learning from this year’s iteration, to include an expanded reach to the S&T community and the ability to add high-quality speakers and panelists, who heretofore may not have been able to attend the Orlando-based conference, for special events. “We’re looking at strategies to bring them into special events and bring in very-high quality panels like we have this year. And then there is the expanded reach – in defense as well as industry and academia. We have always had employees who could not attend because of the added expense – it’s very expensive to travel for a week-long activity.
“Companies now have materiel throughout the year to use”
If we can figure out how to bring them in, there’s a huge value to that,” he added. From an industry perspective, one of the lessons learned team vIITSEC is receiving, is that exhibitors have had to create virtual demonstrations. Because they have created these virtual demonstrations, the companies now have materiel throughout the year to use, they don’t have to pack out simulators and other products to the customer. They will say, ‘If you want to hear information about this, let’s watch this virtual demonstration capability.’ That’s another goodness that will carry over, that industry is realizing.” The virtual construct for this I/ITSEC is further expanding the S&T community’s STEM outreach – bolstering its ability to better reach and influence prospective members of tomorrow’s workforce.