Compiled from reports filed by Andy Smith, Halldale Group Publisher, Andy Fawkes, MS&T Editor, Dim Jones, MS&T Europe Editor, Rick Adams, CAT Editor and Marty Kauchak, Halldale Media Group Editor.

The 2020 vIITSEC did nothing less than confirm that the military simulation and training community’s underpinnings are rapidly shifting. The reality of a “full-up” virtual I/ITSEC, and the themes and messages conveyed by military panelists and industry exhibitors during the week-long conference, affirmed that 2020 has been an inflection point for the community. Of added importance, this first MS&T issue of 2021 is published with the S&T industry being more relevant than ever, as it meets its defense customers’ surging quest for efficiencies to address their rapidly evolving mission requirements.

Culture Shift and Adaptation

The virtual construct of this year’s conference was a logical response to the “push-pull” forces at play in the military and defense industry since the start of the pandemic last winter. Defense organizations have been agile and adaptive in shifting live training and learning events, and indeed, their day-to-day routine activities throughout their enterprises, to virtual formats. Nevertheless, the S&T industry experienced supply chain interruptions, facility closures and other challenges in the last nine months. Yet, rigorous C-19 protocols, the embrace of virtual meetings in place of “routine” business travel, and other strategies, have enabled this industry to emerge from the pandemic mostly intact, and ready for a return of a more “normal” business environment.

While younger members of the S&T community were perhaps more agile and adaptive at using technology platforms for learning and more, senior defense personnel and S&T industry members are quickly following on their younger counterparts’ paths – having become more capable of using Zoom and other online audio and web, conferencing platforms, and other technologies. Aside from the not-so-gentle push to use these technologies, has been the pull factor – marked by the quick-paced maturation of virtual technologies.

Some Numbers

These and related developments helped the National Training and Simulation Association achieve key milestones (data as of 15 December 2020) for the first fully virtual I/ITSEC:

5,000 total vIITSEC platform attendees; 1,525 government attendees; 1,000 STEM attendees; 4,000 total visitors to exhibit hall; and 133 exhibiting companies. John Williams, NTSA’s Communications Director, added, “Over 9,000 networking chat messages were exchanged the week of vIITSEC and over 19,000 views of papers, tutorials and special live events occurred the week of vIITSEC.”

This first, full virtual community event, had exhibitors in the “crawl” phase, of a crawl-walk-run continuum. MS&T’s Dim Jones provided context to this reality, noting, “Access to the booths was obviously relatively simple, and certainly a lot quicker than walking around the show floor. The booths varied widely both in quality and breadth, some companies seeming to have made some attempt to tailor their exhibits to this show, and others appearing to have expended little more than token effort, with short promotional video clips which did not convey much information to the visitor.”

New Training Requirements

This virtual conference convened at a time when unprecedented external major forces are converging. At the policy level, the US military is shifting its focus to a near- or peer conflict. To better enable this overarching guidance, DoD strategies are evolving to strengthen the department’s multi-domain operation capabilities, in particular in space. Brigadier General Traci Kueker-Murphy, US Space Force’s Mobilization Assistant to the Director of Integrated Air, Space, Cyberspace and Intelligence, Surveillance & Reconnaissance Operations, first noted the requirements which led to establishing her service www.spaceforce.mil/, in December 2019, and then emphasized during one panel discussion, “Space is hard.” The one-star general noted the service was attending its first I/ITSEC “to come to industry and academia looking for assistance to design those capabilities we need for this warfighting domain.” The Space Force general officer added the command needs simulations and visualization tools to “help us actually understand how combat in space will be different from other domains.”

One attribute of the 2021-era battlespace, which resonated well with delegates, was offered by Mike Knowles, President of Cubic Mission and Performance Solutions and Senior Vice President of Cubic, when he noted individuals, units and staffs, must be trained and prepared to operate and respond “in seconds” – a huge shift from the deliberative planning and long mission cycles of the ground campaigns of the waning US and allied missions in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Squeezing Budgets

As this issue was published, the US, and the governments of many of its allies and other friendly nations, were further preparing to “pay the bill” for strong infusions of fiscal stimulus spending during a year-long pandemic. While the administration of US president-elect Joe Biden administration is scheduled to submit its first fiscal year budget this February, senior Pentagon leadership and many S&T industry executives at vIITSEC expect “flat” defense budgets, at best, well into this decade, as nations attempt to emerge from their increasing sea of fiscal red ink.

At the same time, the instructional designs for military training events and education courses continue to evolve, in most instances inserting a healthy dose of distance learning, simulation and other S&T enablers, permitting learners to socially distance and follow other C-19-era protocols. Indeed, with this confluence of diverse forces, the future has never, in recent years, presented a compelling business case to invest in technologies to train and educate military individuals, units and staffs.

Technology Themes and Trends

Significant technology trends and themes prevailed during conference panel discussions, exhibitor booth presentations and paper presentations. A snapshot of these select developments follows.

Following a trend which resonates well with Halldale’s editorial focus on training for defense and adjacent high-risk sectors, several new products were unveiled that, by design, have dual-use applications. In one instance, Collins Aerospace announced the launch of Panorama HiLite, a new solid mirror display system that brings “world-class accuracy”, lightweight design and an extended 300-degree field of view for side-by-side crew training. Nick Gibbs, vice president and general manager, Simulation Solutions and Services for the company, spoke to the applicability of system for defense as well as civil aviation use cases.

Varjo's new XR-3 supports the "democratization" of high specification or “Pro-COTS” technology with its lower price point/unit, and enables training in different high-risk sectors adjacent to defense. Image credit: Varjo.

Elsewhere, Varjo launched its next generation human-eye resolution XR/VR headsets – the XR-3 and VR-3. These two new professional-grade headsets continue Varjo’s “Resolution Revolution” as the latest devices in a product line committed to delivering visual fidelity across industries where absolute precision is necessary, including training and simulation, design, engineering, medical and research. In a pre-vIITSEC demonstration of the two products for the MS&T editorial team, Urho Konttori, the company’s co-founder and Chief Innovation Officer, noted that beyond the technology enhancements these products provide, he also emphasized they are helping to “democratize the technology” – a reference to the increasingly lower price points of this materiel for training enterprises – the XR-3 at $5,495 (USD and Euros) and the VR-3 at $3,195 (USD and Euros) – which, in essence, are serving as another forcing function to encourage training enterprises to adapt XR/VR.

Also, during this vIITSEC, Cobra Simulation announced the release of its new range of 8K-based fully portable single channel domes – and shone the light on its partnering efforts. Indeed, a company press release noted, “Made possible by the introduction of the new JVC E-shift range of projectors, JVC becomes the first projector manufacturer to achieve certification with an 8K resolution projector combined with the Cobra180 dome.”

“Pro-COTS”

Although consumer technologies are making an ever-significant impact on the S&T community there continue to be companies such as Varjo and Cobra that can be successful supplying higher specification technology to the military and other safety critical domains. Echoing this point, Dave Fluegeman, VP of professional visual display company Barco told MS&T “LED tiles are a dime a dozen but which one of them is going to stand up to a 24/7 critical use feature? We need to raise the quality of a commodity product to a Pro-COTS level.”

Gaming Industry Advances

Any doubts about the influence of gaming technology and its potential to enhance military training should have been cast aside following MS&T’s discussions with Sébastien Lozé, Industry Manager, Simulations at Epic Games (Simulation and Training Anywhere)  and Arthur Alexion, CEO, Bohemia Interactive Simulations ("So Much Opportunity" in the Military Space). Unity also introduced their new Government Solutions group to the community at vIITSEC. While these companies’ ecosystems expand, so too, are the underpinning geospatial and other enablers, capable of supporting more agile and cost effective simulation solutions for the military.

Integrators

This I/ITSEC, even in its virtual format, again allowed the providers of products, services and other capabilities to highlight their latest innovations and prowess. Often lost in the flurry of announcements and activities are insights from another key part of products and systems acquisition life cycle – the integrator. Robert “Bob” Kleinhample, Vice President and Interim Training and Mission Solutions Practice Area Lead, Science Application International Corporation (SAIC), took time to provide MS&T with valuable insights on the integrator’s vital position in the dynamic S&T market space - S&T Integration and vIITSEC 2020. 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 and machine learning. We’re able to bring all of that to bear on a training system – that’s what we pride ourselves with.”

Enablers

Beyond artificial intelligence, 2020 vIITSEC further confirmed the defense community is focusing like a laser beam, on Big Data – indeed, integrating this content for use through the continuum of learning, and in the process, blurring the lines with the operating environment. The military’s quest to use Big Data for training - US Navy Data and Training Transformation - parallels the focus of civil aviation training enterprises to optimize their burgeoning and available streams of data, as often reported in MS&T’s companion publication CAT. While Big Data offers increasing opportunities to strengthen training, hurdles need to be overcome, in particular, effectively using the content beyond after-action reviews.

A Hybrid 2021 I/ITSEC?

MS&T asked Rear Admiral James Robb, USN (Ret), President of the National Training and Simulation Association, for his early perspectives on the construct for 2021 I/ITSEC. The editorial team was referred to Robb’s comments on the topic in the 3 December 2020 vIITSEC virtual Show Daily, with the association staff noting there had been no change in its president’s outlook in the ensuing one week.

To point, Robb emphasized, “We are assessing the pros and cons of virtual. There are a few advantages to the virtual platform. The first is the ability to record every session. These are then available on the platform on demand. In the real show, attendees have to pick from events that are in 6 to 10 simultaneous tracks. This [virtual] format allows the attendees to see all the content when they have time to see it. We also are keeping all the content and the virtual show floor online until the 1st March. We will assess to what degree this is a popular feature. So, the simple answer is that there will likely be hybrid capabilities integrated in I/ITSEC ‘21 to the degree that it makes sense,” and concluded, “Virtual is expensive and requires more staff.”

The Publisher’s Perspective

Andy Smith, Halldale Group Publisher, noted this year’s conference again provided him with the invaluable opportunity to meet, albeit virtually, with exhibitors from throughout the industry. Reflecting on the new announcements released during the week, and the content from the conference panel discussions and leadership briefings, he is further convinced his publications’ 2021 editorial programs are aligned with the quickening pace of activities in the defense and adjacent S&T markets. He concluded, “We look forward to helping lead our communities’ emergence from the corona virus pandemic-era, and contributing to our industry returning to an improved, profitable business environment.”