In a normal year the MS&T team would attend conferences in person and report on the proceedings. This year, we have not travelled, but logged in. As well as congratulating the organisers for delivering the conferences in a whole new way, what did we learn from the conferences and the pros and cons of these virtual events?


16/18 June 2020 - Chuck Weirauch reports.

Undaunted by the Covid-19 crisis, the success of the virtual 2020 Training and Simulation Industry Symposium (TSIS) held online in June provided an early demonstration of how networked information-sharing can help provide the solutions to physical limitations. During the three-day event, leading procurement officials from the primary US Air Force, Army, Navy and Marine training organizations provided the latest in contract opportunity information from their headquarters’ locations. Attendance was broadly similar to 2019 at over 700. As a nearly 15-year participant in the TSIS event, I can say that this year’s show at least equalled the past few years’ level of participation and the quality of the presentations.

The Air Force had more presence at this TSIS than ever before, with three Service presenters kicking off Day 1. Leading off was Paul Waugh, Program Executive Officer and Director for the Agile Combat Support Directorate at the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. “We need to place an emphasis in building a brand for Agile Combat Support,” Waugh emphasized, and “the key to accomplishing this goal is the development of solid innovation across the Air Force.”

Colonel John Kurian, Senior Materiel Leader and Chief of the Simulators Division, Agile Combat Directorate reported that his division has supported $3 billion in contract activity over 2018-2020. The goal for his organization was to be the “front door” for simulation for the Air Force. “We must become the Warfighter’s Digital Twin by simulating the entire Air Force going to war,” Kurian emphasized. “We really need to look to the gaming industry to replicate that environment and push the boundaries on innovation in terms of cloud and common architectures.”

On the Navy-focused day two, Captain Tim Hill, Commanding Officer of the Naval Air Warfare Center Training Systems Division (NAWCTSD), said that his Command has become the leading training acquisition agency for the Navy. With the Navy’s recent reorganization complete, the Service is preparing for the “high-end fight” in live, virtual and constructive training, Hill said. “We have seen record numbers for training systems utilization in the Fleet,” he added. “We are moving closer towards the Star Trek Holodeck vision, with improved data-driven decision-making.” Other developmental areas were the Service’s Life-Long Learning efforts, implementing intelligent tutoring, and developing embedded training performance assessment. James Geurts, Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development, and Acquisition, also said that the employment of AR and VR technology for training is helping make “our operators more self-sufficient.”

On the third Army-focused day, Major General Maria Gervais, Director of the US Army’s Synthetic Training Environment (STE) Cross Functional Team said that the backbone of the STE is the development and integration of a true Live, Virtual and Constructive training environment. “The issue is whether we have a training evolution or a training revolution,” Gervais emphasized. “The STE Information System is the Army’s revolutionary training platform, with virtual, live and next-generation constructive training,” she summed up. “It is leading the training revolution by accelerating requirements and the development process to rapidly deliver the training capabilities to the Warfighter.” Read more here. 

NATO CA2X2 Forum

22-24 September 2020 – Andy Fawkes reports.

After 14 years of live events the 15th NATO CA2X2 was held in a virtual format. The NATO CA2X2 Forum (Computer-Aided Analysis, Exercises, Experimentation) is billed as an event “where military users, industry and academia can meet and discuss the M&S Discipline, Exercises, Experimentation, Wargaming and Analysis; share lessons learned; and see presentations and demonstrations on the latest technology and trends”. The theme for this year was “Modelling and Simulation Enabling NATO and Nations” and was focused on five main areas: Decision support and analysis; training and education; mission readiness; experimentation; and the effects of the pandemic.

The 2019 live event held in Ecole Militaire in Paris attracted over 300 military, industry and academic experts in M&S whilst this year grew dramatically, doubling to over 630 participants, and this built on 2019 itself having the highest number of participants in many years. As well as the participants, this year there were 124 companies, 59 exhibitors, 11 sponsors, 41 Nations (26 in 2019), and 22 workshop sessions.

The LiveForum-hosted virtual event was run by NATO M&S Centre of Excellence (M&SCOE) staff from the facilities of “Adriano De Cicco” barracks in Rome with some speakers and moderators at the barracks and the rest remote. With 22 sessions held over the second and third days covering a broad range of topics from wargaming to AI and joint plenaries and sessions on standards it was a packed agenda.

The event was opened by three very senior military officers. NATO Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Transformation, General Italian Army Paolo Ruggiero said the “world is changing fast” and that after the pandemic “our planet will not return to the way it was before”. Looking to the future, the General highlighted the importance of M&S to help NATO “cope with similar events should they happen again”. Deputy Chief of Defence Staff, Lt. General Luigi Francesco De Leverano (Italian Army) continued the theme of M&S in decision support and told the audience “we must maintain our focus on where M&S can play a critical strategical role” in NATO. Finishing the session, NATO ACT Deputy Chief of Staff Joint Force Development Major General Guillermo Cavo (Spanish Air Force) emphasized the need for NATO to innovate and that the use of experimentation was vital for its transformation.

2020 NMSG Symposium

22-23 October 2020 - Walter Ullrich reports.

This year, the organisers of the annual MSG symposium only had one option and hold a virtual event. And so, the NATO Modelling and Simulation Community did not convene in Bath, England, but at home in front of their own screens. The topic “Towards Personalised Training and Decision Support On Demand” somehow fitted in well at a time of social distancing however, as the conference showed, the issue of “from a distance” will continue to gain importance beyond the pandemic.

NATO Chief Scientist, Dr Bryan Wells, senior scientific advisor to NATO leadership and Chairman of the NATO Science & Technology Board, gave the keynote speech. Wells, in office since 1 July 2019, told the assembly that the reputation of NATO's science and technology network has never been higher. He went on to say that the Science and Technology Organization (STO) would have a strong advocate in the person of NATO's Deputy Secretary General who is passionately and sincerely committed to S&T.

Wells further noted that on-demand personalised training is important to enhance the readiness of national forces, in response to a more unpredictable security environment. Nations and NATO commands do need an online M&S-based operational decision support tool to support the strategic and tactical command staff, helping leaders make the right decision, not only with regard to a successful outcome of a conflict but also to its prevention. NATO has also recognised the importance of ensuring technical awareness in NATO's leadership with personalised online training available for otherwise non-technical personnel.

The structure of the online symposium, jointly chaired by Wim Huiskamp, TNO (NED) and Bharat Patel, Dstl (GBR), differed little from previous events except that the number of lectures was reduced by a third due to the shorter duration of the event (to accommodate the time zones across NATO). The twelve presentations were grouped into four thematic areas: Personalised Training; Towards Capabilities; Decision Support; Novel Approaches.

The papers and five posters compiled by the MSG-177 Programme Committee focused on upgrading military M&S systems so that they would meet the needs of “digital savvy” soldiers. In particular, the presentations described how modern simulation solutions (e.g. Mixed Reality, M&S as a Service, AI-based simulation) could provide cost-effective personalised training at the point of need. Also, they dealt with timely decision support or planning tools, for rapidly changing and complex operations in hybrid warfare or in the grey-zone.

The quality of the presentations was consistently high; many inspired further reading and reflection. An interesting statement was made by Ian McNeil, head of Slitherine/Matrix Games in his presentation “Wargames for Command Decision Support”. In his opinion, it is not just about training the frontline soldier. Their commanders as well must be trained digitally. At present, too much emphasis is being placed on the lower ranks, whereas history shows that it is much more important to have great leaders than great ordinary soldiers. Because military leaders are a force multiplayer, for the good or the bad, he said.

Overall, the symposium was well received. The Technical Evaluator of the event, Prof Dr Axel Lehmann from the University of the Bundeswehr in Munich was impressed by the quality of the contributions. “The methods and technologies presented during the symposium will open up opportunities for intelligent solutions,” said the professor. “However,” he continued, “it must always be examined whether these innovations are really needed for the intended purpose”. The audience as well was satisfied, with 90% of participants finding it worthwhile to attend and 86% rated the symposium as very good or excellent. 93% felt that the symposium had been effectively organised and moderated.

As a matter of fact, the event ran very smoothly. 140 people had registered for the event and about 85 to 90 people on average listened concurrently. All the speakers were remotely connected, and the Cisco Webex video conferencing enabled the two chairs to moderate the virtual meeting and the interaction between speakers and audience which increased steadily throughout the event. All presentations were live and streamed from the Modelling and Simulation Coordination Office (MSCO) at the NATO Collaboration Support Office (CSO). According to Commander Santiago Fernandez-Dapena, Head MSCO, the effort for the preparation of this virtual symposium had been greater than for a normal live conference. Nevertheless, the organisers demonstrated that a virtual symposium can be successfully conducted across continents and time zones and that military, science and industry experts can meet and exchange ideas virtually, albeit without the coffee break networking.

The Co-Chair Wim Huiskamp told MS&T that the symposium had “contributed to briefing our community of recent S&T developments and led to a good exchange of thoughts” although “creating new networks of experts to tackle emerging challenges is less effective in an online setting”. The symposium had shown that advances in technology offer “a great opportunity to enable on-demand distributed M&S capability to meet the needs of training and decision support” Huiskamp told us. “We must take advantage of that trend and not hesitate to leverage developments in the commercial world, particularly from the Gaming and ICT sectors, including mobile and social media.”

The 2021 symposium will be held in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, 21-22 October. Will the organisers introduce a virtual element as well, one that has worked so well in 2020?