With ongoing war in Europe and global tensions rising, there was a serious edge to IT²EC 2023 in Rotterdam. MS&T Special Correspondent Andy Fawkes attended.

With principally a military and European emphasis, the International Training Technology Exhibition and Conference (IT²EC) has served the simulation and training community for more than 30 years. With the pandemic hiatus over, the three-day conference and exhibition was a return to form with 45 nations represented, some 70 exhibitors, and according to organisers Clarion, senior VIP delegations and two-star military from across 20 nations. Certainly, it felt a busy and informative event at the Ahoy venue.

There was no shortage of themes to discuss and progress, including the war in Ukraine, how the military and industry can better work together, and the rapid technological developments in areas like AI and XR.

Ukraine at the Forefront

The war in Ukraine was part of many of the discussions of the week, but it was Colonel Hennadiy Kovalenko of the Ukraine Air Force and NATO HQ Supreme Allied Commander Transformation (SACT) who provided sobering first-hand insights built on his experience both on the front line and the international efforts to support Ukrainian military training. In a keynote panel with the theme “Accelerating readiness and capability across all domains”, Kovalenko provided lessons learned from the conflict, including the importance of training the trainer, and that “in order to be a trainer, you need to do it yourself”, not only observe. 

Hennadiy strongly emphasized that the training on the ground must be supplemented by the doctrinal and conceptual. Tough lessons were learnt in 2014 when their forces “suffered a lot because we used the same field manuals, documents and the concepts which the Russians did; they literally read our minds”.   

By creating a defence education advisory group with other nations, they were able to create alternative doctrines and concepts – “since then our casualties were less by 15 times”, Hennadiy explained.

Multi-Company Partnerships

On the exhibition floor there were a number of examples of companies large and small coming together to better integrate innovative learning capabilities for their customers, recognising that in today’s more multi-domain and technological world there is not only one company that can do it all. As example, BAE Systems-led “Project OdySSEy” is a partnership of 8 companies, and growing with the recent inclusion of PLEXSYS, that is developing a single multi-domain simulation built on the latest AI, XR and Cloud technologies. 

“Omnia” is a partnership of 5 companies looking to become the Strategic Training Partner for the British Army’s Collective Training Transformation Programme (CTTP).  

In perhaps a surprising coming together, US display company Immersive Display Solutions and Finnish XR company Varjo announced Varjo’s XR-3 Focal Edition would be coming to Immersive’s training solutions, indicating that domes and XR can live together in the future.  

Lessons from the Future

The closing keynote session was an entertaining but thought-provoking discussion on what the future might hold, titled “2033 Lessons Learned From the Future”. Session chair Rusmat Ahmed, SVP Sales, BISim, and long-standing IT²EC committee member, painted a picture of how the world of 2033 might look before revealing that he was paraphrasing a writing of the fall of the Roman Empire and highlighted the warnings that could be learnt from that. 

Speaking of sector relationships, Sir Stuart Atha, Director of Training Strategy, BAE Systems, made a powerful speech calling for new “commercial borders” and foresaw that by 2033 only those nations that will militarily succeed are those with “the next iteration of relationship between industry, governments and the military”.  

Although set in 2033, much of the language of the panel was similar to the military opening keynotes when Hennadiy had said the Ukraine conflict “shows quite clearly that the level of trust between the industry and its R&D and the soldiers who will be implementing the system must be very high”.

AI Advancing

How the history books will evaluate the last year since IT²EC 2022 is unknown, but AI and data advancements seem very rapid and there was plenty of discussion on such matters in the panels and on the floor. However, it might still be early days for some advancements impacting military training. In a keynote speech, Air Commodore Ian Townsend, RAF, observed, “how many tens of thousands of hours of synthetic training have we all done over the last 10-20 years. Where is that data? Where's it gone?”. He told his audience “Going forward, we need to make sure that we positively plan to collect that data and analyse it and when we analyse it, we need to know the questions that we are asking. Otherwise, it really will be trying to seek a needle in the haystack without knowing what sort of needle you're looking for”.  

On a more positive technology note, it was announced at the show that blackshark.ai’s SYNTH3D AI-generated geo-specific terrain data will be combining with BISim’s Mantle ETM to provide warfighters high-quality, up-to-date 3D data of any real-world location for their simulation systems. 

Beyond AI, XR technology was seemingly to be found in an increasing number of stands and for different use cases such as Czechia Vrgineers’ F-35 MR-based Classroom Trainer or UK RiVR’s VR-based “Classroom in a Box”. XR is certainly not seen as a novelty anymore and is now part of the training mix it would seem.

Return to London

So, a high-quality event with plenty of good conversations and informative talks and demonstrations. (As of this writing, Clarion have not published attendance figures for the event.) There was also much to think about and act on now, given the conflict in Europe and global tensions, and the technology advances in the wider world that will inevitably impact significantly on military training sooner rather than later. MS&T is looking forward to the next IT²EC, which will return to London 30 April to 2 May 2024 at Excel.