One of the indelible impressions of the simulation and training (S&T) community this author gained during 2023 was the quickening pace of lines being blurred between the military learning (training and education) enterprise and its counterpart organizations in adjacent safety critical training (SCT) sectors.
Of particular interest, is the quickly expanding simulation envelope, with increasingly common learning technologies helping individuals and teams in the different sectors initially learn and refresh their skills. Digital twins, virtual reality (VR) and broader extended reality (XR) technologies, are among the capabilities being harnessed to provide more efficient learning outcomes.
This is the first in a series of articles to compare and contrast learning activities and their underpinning S&T foundations in military and adjacent SCT learning organizations. The maritime community’s naval and commercial shipping sectors provides a huge, initial opportunity to highlight these developments.
First up, a glimpse of the recent and planned activities in three randomly selected, diverse maritime organizations – in the naval column, the Royal Navy and on the commercial maritime side of the ledger, Samwoo Immersion and Wärtsilä.
A Naval Development: Bolstering RN Collective Training
Naval forces training as a group (collectively) in the virtual and constructive portions of the broader LVC domain is not a recent development as staffs, ships and other forces have ever-increasingly rehearsed and trained in the two latter domains for decades. What is important is the progress being reported to optimize a synthetic training environment to allow service and even joint force units and embarked personnel to better train anytime, anywhere.
A rapidly maturing development is the Royal Navy’s (RN) Platform Enabled Training Capability (PETC), part of the service’s Maritime Operational Training Environment Spartan program. The major RN effort aims to deliver a network of shore-based and ship-based capabilities to generate operationally relevant training environments, allowing the maritime service to train as they would operate irrespective of location.
In June 2023, a complex synthetic collective training demonstration as part of PETC Phase 2, was operated from Portsdown Technology Park delivering training to three platforms docked at HM Naval Base in Portsmouth: HMS Kent, HMS Diamond and HMS Queen Elizabeth operating together.
A QinetiQ press release of last September 4, provided more event details, noting that by connecting into the three platforms simultaneously via satellite communications, the QinetiQ, Inzpire and BAE Systems team enabled the delivery of the complex synthetic collective training environment, through scenarios adapted and delivered by a dynamic White Force. This allowed the crews of the three ships to conduct realistic training against a peer adversary. James Anderson, Senior Campaign Manager for QinetiQ, provided additional insights in the press release, noting, in part, “Building on the first PETC demonstration held in February 2022, which validated the use of the capability on a single platform, this next trial aimed to prove the ability of the approach to deliver a high-end collective training exercise across multiple platforms. The combined strengths of QinetiQ’s management of the synthetic environment and communications, BAE Systems’ integration of the digital shadow of the combat management system into the ships, and Inzpire’s design of the scenario and delivery of the White Force and After-Action Review, resulted in a strong outcome.”
Fast forward to this past December. Anderson and Nick Borbone, Chief of Staff Collective Training and Services, Inzpire, told the author that following the success of the capstone event in Phase 2, QinetiQ and their partners are now working to understand a roadmap that could be followed to enable the introduction of PETC as an integrated training capability that fits with the existing capabilities the RN already employs. “Phase 2 really illustrated the ability to put crews into a fully representative high end warfighting environment, beyond what can currently be delivered in the generation cycle. It is important that we now understand how this can be built into the training cycle. Equally important will be integration with other UK training environments. QinetiQ are working with the RN to identify how this can be achieved.”
Forward-leaning Technologies for Commercial Mariners
The commercial maritime industry’s efforts to elevate its training to higher plateaus include different classes of ships and crew members throughout a vessel – from bridge watch standers to engineers – and key port operations personnel.
In one rapidly evolving development, as part of a South Korean government-led, national R&D project, Samwoo Immersion developed an overarching LNG (liquified natural gas) propulsion ship duty training system, and simultaneously trained professional LNG propulsion personnel through the system’s development. The program’s content provides instruction for: loading, unloading, and transfer bunkering operations between LNG bunkering vessels (ships that provide liquified natural gas to other ships for their own consumption) and ships with LNG propulsion; onboard LNG propulsion ship fuel supply training; and DF (dual fuel) engine operation training. With each detailed duty procedure, an integrated automated station (IAS) operation method, fuel gas supply system (FGSS) instruction, and accident incident education are conducted.
Samwoo Immersion plans to build and scale this education platform to help train and produce about 2,000 professional mariners annually. The company’s strategy to meet this objective calls for operating an XR-based, eco-friendly ship duty training center using its own XR-based education and training platform, SWXR CAMPUS, and operating its own LNG-related professional personnel training course. The full scope of this project is attention-getting as it is conceptually based on supporting a 100-ship LNG fleet and their 10,000 professional mariners.
Similar to flight training devices in the adjacent commercial aviation training sector obtaining regulatory agency approval prior to operation, Samwoo Immersion’s new LNG education system received IGF Code certification (international certification for low flash-point fuels on ships) from Lloyd’s Register. The company also plans to undergo the certification process for education and training centers by the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries of South Korea and The Society of International Gas Tanker and Terminal Operators (SIGTTO).
David Kim, Samwoo Immersion’s CEO, reported the company has delivered the LNG propulsion ship duty training system content to domestic shipping companies (by way of KLCSM) and South Korea-based shipyards.
The CEO provided the author with a further “deep-dive” on the program’s underpinning technologies noting, “This education system is the world’s first, next-generation education and training platform based on VR/XR/CBT, which enables more diverse and realistic LNG-related professional training than the existing simulator-based training system. From the perspective of shipping companies that need to train a large number of LNG professionals in a short time, they will have the opportunity to train professional crew members who can reduce costs and increase work adaptability through a very efficient and effective training system.”
Samwoo Immersion is using the Epic Games’ Unreal Engine for its VR and image generator learning requirements – and with good reasons, as CEO Kim concluded, “By utilizing the Unreal game engine and VR technology, large-scale equipment is converted into virtual equipment, and the opportunity for training is expanded.”
Of further relevance to the quickening pace of “cross-pollination” among high-risk training organizations is the use of Unreal Engine beyond maritime learning https://www.halldale.com/articles/21818-mst-large-scale-digital-twins-as-s-and-t-disruptors and https://www.halldale.com/articles/21825-cat-taking-atc-training-to-new-levels.
[Editor’s note: The Samwoo Immersion LNG training system may be viewed on video, in part, here.]
Another Maritime S&T Use Case
Wärtsilä has installed more than 5,500 simulator systems around the globe, both serving the commercial shipping industry as well as the naval and coast guard segment.
Johan Ekvall, Head of Product Simulation & Training, Wärtsilä, initially provided the author with an overarching view of customer requirements shaping this market. Of no surprise, requirements differ based on the customer profile - from regulatory compliance for STCW (Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping) training providers, to operational excellence for ship owners/managers, and operational readiness for naval and coast guard segments. Differing requirements aside there is one commonality – “All segments utilize a mix of all delivery mediums from stand-alone desktop trainers to networked classes deployed either physically at the training center or online in the cloud, full-mission system, and not least, immersive trainers based on mixed reality technologies.”
Reflecting on new technologies entering this training market, Wärtsilä finds mixed reality (MR) solutions being one of the most interesting. The Wärtsilä executive noted his company has already integrated its own technologies with both VR and XR headsets from Varjo, enabling its simulator software to be deployed in a whole new immersive environment. “The use of Varjo’s virtual reality headsets, for example, provide a fantastic learning environment for ship and tug handling. The same can also be said for solutions for wider training applications such as the Bridge Resource Management with Varjo mixed reality, where the trainee can interact with the real bridge and navigation systems and at the same time interact with other bridge team members. This is a perfect mix of a true high-quality, immersive, 360-degree visual environment and real physical equipment.”
Blended Future and More
As Samwoo Immersion’s LNG-focused training portfolio expands, Wärtsilä also envisions change in this training sector, with Ekvall noting the future of maritime simulation will be ‘blended.’ He added, “We will see a need for the traditional systems which are out there today, but to be able to cover the volumes that will be required for up-skilling our current seafarers and train up new generations, we will see many more VR and XR applications, as well as online simulations services as a part of the blended learning ecosystem. This training will be delivered as both self-paced and self-directed but also as interactive online instructor-led classes. This will be driven by several reasons, including decarbonization and the drive for new technologies to support this, as well as the need to attract a new generation of tech savvy seafarers who will have higher wellbeing requirements. Blended is the future!”