With hours to spare before the start of summer recess, the US Senate passed the Fiscal Year 2024 National Defense Authorization Act by a bipartisan vote of 86-11 on Thursday, July 27. The bill and the accompanying report.
A number of highlights within the simulation and training sector of the Pentagon’s training and education enterprise are addressed in this bill. Senate members and their staff members again demonstrated a keen awareness and understanding of DoD learning (training and education) issues. The Senate Armed Services Committee and the wider Senate said “Yes,” “No,” and “Maybe – not so fast,” on a number of S&T program issues.
Following are selected extracts from the voluminous reports.
More S&T Requested for Space Guardians
The Senate is eyeing more funds to accelerate the expansion of simulation and training capabilities for US Space Force Guardians. Specifically, $206.2 million is authorized in Research, Development, Test, and Evaluation, Space Force (RDSF) - Program Element (PE) 1206601SF - to allow the service to better support the wide range of modeling requirements, from single-user engagement exercises to global campaign modeling. The report noted, “The lack of a dedicated MS&A tool for the USSF prevents technology developers and USSF acquisition organizations from incorporating new technologies in the most expeditious and cost-effective manner possible. In order to help accelerate the development of a robust and accurate simulation and training environment, the committee recommends an increase of $15.5 million.”
Tapping the Brakes on USAF UPT Innovation
The US Air Force is on track to divest its T-1 training aircraft fleet, with the intent to use its pilot transformation activities simulators and other technologies to help fill the gap in undergraduate pilot pipeline training after this aircraft’s retirement. Senate Bill Section 132 significantly noted: “No divestiture of any T-1A training aircraft may occur until the Chief of Staff of the Air Force submits to the congressional defense committees a certification of (1) the fleet-wide implementation of the Undergraduate Pilot Training 2.5 curriculum and the effect of such implementation on the undergraduate pilot training pipeline; and (2) how the divestiture would affect existing programs of the Air Force that accelerate pilot training.”
Funding Constant for One LVC Effort
The SASC Report recommends holding the FY24 funding level for Air Force LVC Operational Training at 25.1 million (PE 0801380F).
More Simulation for Allied Training
Senate Bill Section 1202 would give a boost to the use of distributed simulation for US service training with allied nations and friends. The section reads, in part, that to enhance the interoperability and integration between the United States Armed Forces and the military forces of friendly foreign countries, the Secretary of Defense, with the concurrence of the Secretary of State, is authorized to “to provide to military personnel of a friendly foreign government persistent advanced networked training and exercise activities” (in this section referred to as ‘mission training through distributed simulation’).
Hold AFWERX’s Funding Level
AFWERX is pacing the way for the entry of eVTOL into US Air Force and other services’ missions . To that end, the Senate is recommending FY24 funding for the organization be held constant from FY23 levels at about $83 million (program element 0604009F).
Tactical AI and ML
AI and machine learning continue to become more prominent in DoD training and mission rehearsal programs, with an eye on use in real-world missions. The SASC Report’s Army Budget Items includes a funding request in Research, Development, Test, and Evaluation, Army (RDA) for PE 63040A Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning Advanced Technologies. In this use case, the Senate Committee indicated the support of the development of an AI-based system framework and enabling tools that support the implementation of advanced ML algorithms at the tactical edge of warfare.
Push for More AR/MR/VR
The SASC report’s immersive training section significantly noted the committee “is aware of efficiencies in training time and increased memory retention afforded to servicemembers through immersive learning, such as that achieved with Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), and Mixed Reality (MR) technologies. More to point, “The committee understands these efficiencies are realized in the form of reduced classroom hours, lower training costs, and more effective use of in-aircraft training hours. The committee notes that a recent exercise conducted at Sheppard Air Force Base resulted in a 46% reduction in training time with a nominal increase in proficiency as compared to the standard Crew Chief Fundamentals course that has been taught in person for decades. Additional advantages to this interactive, immersive learning environment are its affordability and versatility with the lessons being delivered on familiar devices such as tablets, laptops, and VR headsets. Furthermore, a cloud-based learning delivery mechanism makes training accessible in a multi-user setting.” Significantly, in part, the committee encourages the Air Force to evaluate these technologies and consider them for increased use and scale. Additionally, the committee directs the Secretary of the Air Force to brief the Senate Armed Services Committee, not later than March 1, 2024, “regarding the progress made to increase the use of immersive learning platforms across the Department of the Air Force in order to deliver a modernized training capability to the warfighter.”
Reconvene in September
Senate and House of Representatives and their staffs will meet in conference after the August recess to reconcile the two chambers’ versions of the NDAA to produce a compromise bill. The final bill is due on President Biden’s desk for signature not later than September 30 so it may be enacted on October 1, the start of the new US government fiscal year.
MS&T will be following and commenting on the S&T content of the final bill.