MS&T Group Editor Marty Kauchak sat down for an interview with Rahul Thakkar, President, Bohemia Interactive Simulations. Below is the transcript of their discussion on November 29th, along with an exclusive video capturing the conversation.

MS&T: "Let’s start at a very high level. Where is the simulation and training industry heading, from your perspective, please?" 

Rahul Thakkar: "That’s a very good question. I look at four levels: cost, sustainability, environment, and safety. The world is becoming more expensive. Things, machines, and equipment are becoming more expensive, which leads us to ask: 

  • How do we reduce costs so we don’t have as much of an impact on the environment when we are training or doing mission planning?  
  • How do we give back to the environment?  
  • And finally, how do we make it safer for those individuals involved in training?  

Weapons are expensive and dangerous. Trainees are, by nature, still inexperienced in using those weapons. Can any of that be faked out, where we don’t switch on those weapons or fire those weapons? How can we create a safe training environment as close to the real-world experience as possible? The industry is heading in a direction where we’ll see simulated and actual training — but with an eye toward sustainability to help preserve gasoline and other fuels. It’s exciting."

MS&T: "You hit a very key point on where the industry is heading. Walking around the BISim booth, it’s evident that this is also where your company is going. It appears you have hit a ‘sweet spot’ at Bohemia for addressing these four major areas?"       

RT: "Yes. Bohemia has a series of products designed to hit that sweet spot of balancing sustainability with adequate preparation for potential battle scenarios. Take our VBS4 simulation environment, an application pre-installed on a laptop. As soon as you turn it on, you’re operational and can start working. You don’t need developers to write code to get something done – you are using the user experience to bring you to that point. That is one of the things that is powerful. 

Our terrain generation software, Mantle, is adaptive in nature. Because the simulation is connected to the division level, if something changes in one of the simulations, the information on terrain also changes, so the commanders giving orders and the folks going through the training experience the same environment — a capability that hasn’t been offered before."

BISim Announces New President

MS&T: "You just mentioned division. What I also find intriguing walking around the Bohemia booth at I/ITSEC again this year is some of your industry partners and some of your end-users are looking at using your products at the individual, operator level – for instance Motion Systems from Poland which had a device at your booth  and you are scaling that user up to the division level – it appears you have a full breadth of end-users in mind for your products?"       

RT: "I love the idea that we are building for the end customer — those who are boots on the ground to decision-makers who are also very hands-on and capable of working at any level. Everyone sees the same view. I don’t know if you saw the Sand Table; I love that capability. The partners we have on our booth are a fraction of our total – we couldn’t fit them. I wanted all of them there!  

The BAE Systems booth has some of our other capabilities, like the door-gunner for the BlackHawk. Kongsberg Defense is on one side, Varjo on the other, and we also have the team from Poland, Motion Systems. I may be forgetting ten names right now. They are all so excited to be part of the VBS ecosystem. The interesting thing about it is that all of those companies, with their equipment, can simultaneously participate in the same simulation with a large contingent of individual entities. Everyone — whether a participant or AI — “lives” in the same environment, allowing you to train not only on the machine but you can do so with other trainees." 

MS&T: "You have mentioned some new products, collaboration and partnerships, but I must ask from a professional standpoint, what is keeping you, in your capacity as president, up at night, perhaps supply chain problems in some sectors, perhaps high inflation elsewhere? Conversely, you appear to be pretty excited about the company – does that keep you up at night thinking about your partnerships, products and such? What’s on your mind as a corporate leader?"      

RT: "I look at the customer first. I feel good about the team, which is comprised of excellent, solid individuals worldwide. I am so proud that they can deliver what the customer needs. We want to work with the customer to understand what more they want.  

We’re constantly asking, ‘How can we go above and beyond the toolsets that we have? How can we present to them operational solutions that are a combination of not just our products but also our partners’ products?’  

For example, the door gunner is a fantastic example from Pitch Technologies, where two simulators can talk to each other and Pitch Technologies is the standards-based interconnect between the two. We are working with the partners on the [Sand] Table.  

Thinking about how we can engage with our customers keeps me up at night. I want more opportunities to learn about their needs without the distraction of abstractions like AI or the term ‘interoperability. I want to dive into the details immediately and find a way to speed up the contract process so we’re not waiting for six months, a year, or three years — but instead have a signed contract in a week.    

I want to show potential customers the products we designed to incrementally advance them toward their goals week after week. We aim for users to undergo training aligned closely with their missions. We want to be that active and agile. I know my team can do it. I want to assemble around the customer to support that.” 


MS&T"You said your team can do it. Do you think the US DoD acquisition system is ready for you – when you talk about moving your paradigm from years to a week or two to have a product on your end-users’ hands. Is that a concern or interest of yours whether it is in the US or elsewhere?"         

RT: "The answer is ‘Yes and…’ Instead of saying, ‘No, it cannot be done,’ how about figuring out what needs doing?  

Whatever solution we’re working toward, our goal should always be to get it up and running smoothly, accurately and as quickly as we can. Let’s use the technology we have to get us to a point that reflects the expectations we have in our personal lives. We purchase laptops from Best Buy, and they’re ready to roll as soon as they’re out of the box. We navigate to a channel or app to watch a movie or play a game that’s instantaneously available. We’re no longer beholden to committing three hours to sit in a movie theater — we can build one in our basement. If we can do that, we can do anything.” 


MS&T: "You mentioned some new products. It appears Bohemia is always pushing the technology envelope. You’re up to VBS 4. You mentioned a few others, including Mantle. BISIm appears to also have a pretty robust R&D effort within your team?" 

RT: "Yes! We are a product company, first and foremost. We are a customer company, first and foremost. We will build commercial off-the-shelf products for our customers to keep the integration as low-cost and effortless as possible. We have builders’ tools, so companies like large integrators that want to build specialized simulators can get up and running in days without worrying about picking up, reading and using a manual to figure out how to use the software.  

That’s part of VBS4. If folks want computer-generated forces or AI-based CGFs, we want them up and running with those capabilities quickly without spending hours on the extensive tutorials we have seen in the industry.  

I keep harping on the phrase ‘working backward from the customer’ — a carryover from my past roles. If we continuously strive to embrace that mindset, our products will meet that marker. And when I saw [VBS Blue IG] 23.2 being demonstrated in our office a few days before I/ITSEC, I said to myself, ‘Oh, my goodness, we made it!’ And, of course, the team pushes the envelope.  

So, four things to keep in mind: 

  1. AI is our place of investment – it’s pretty heavy.  
  2. Adaptive terrain goes beyond taking something, building it, and giving it to the customer as a database. Adaptive terrain changes as the environment evolves. You start with what you purchased, then modify and play with it, and return to and update the original — whatever approach makes sense.  
  3. Our image generation and rendering capabilities. The world demands realism, and we’re there. We have weather effects — when your soldiers walk on the snow, they’ll feel the drag. If you drive through the mud, you’ll get stuck. We’ve already made these capabilities available. You don’t have to write any C++ code or any scripting of any kind because they’re built in. How does the wind affect specific ordnance fired from a howitzer? Why should you have to write code for it? It should be part of the system — and it is! Those are some of the minor elements essential in our core simulation engine, which also should look realistic in the image generation engine. 
  4. The software development toolkit is the final key element. You can pull out anything from the engine application and apply it within your simulator. Take Kongsberg, for example, which had a real-world device with many buttons on it that go into their weapons systems inside the machine, which has a switch that flips from the actual, operational mortar to allow you to start using VBS. They didn’t take much time to do it. They just did it, and it works!" 

MS&T: "To follow-up on these four technology capabilities, where then is BISim looking for new business beyond defense?" 

RT: "First and foremost, we want to serve our government customers. We like to ensure they have access to the best technology from the get-go. We like to focus on them. If it means putting on blinders, we’ll do it for them. There is supply-chain risk management, mission planning, and war gaming – the customer wants so many capabilities in maritime, classical combat and defense—air, land, and space. The applications of our product industry are unique. We want to ensure that we will be there where the customer needs us on their terms. And not just with a piece of software or license, it’s the complete solution. We are looking at the whole gamut of capabilities we want to deliver for our customers, not just a license or some training across the board." 

MS&T: "We’re about 20 months into the acquisition of BISim by BAE Systems. A few highlights, please on how that partnership is going, from your time in leadership?"  

RT: "During the interview process, I talked to my future team members and leaders within BISim. I also spoke with BAE Systems leaders. One of the things I loved about my dinner with my leaders was that they were letting me know they were there to help, support, and enable.  

We are an independent entity under their support, ready to do business with the world. I couldn’t ask for more. If I need help or we need their guidance, they are 60 seconds away — and with zero bureaucracy or red tape.  If I need to speak with an individual, the shortest distance is a straight line. They have maintained that level of agility, which we’re genuinely surprised at and grateful for. I value that. And, of course, we have a learning opportunity, and I know we have a wonderful teacher. That’s what I love about our relationship right now.  

Think about it. BAE partnerships have enabled us to work on some awesome projects, like the UK’s Project OdySSEy, which is helping our NATO allies get best-in-class simulation and planning systems. BAE is focused on creating a Single Synthetic Environment by bringing together many technologies, many of which are ours. Many others are from our partners. If we create an ecosystem for our customers, oh, my goodness, they would be so happy. And if it’s all over NATO, it’s part of the US, part of Europe, and other countries worldwide — the 5 Eyes, etc."

MS&T: "What should Halldale Group and others in the very broad simulation and training industry look for BISIm to do in the first-half of 2024  – new products, partnerships and such?"  

RT: "You can never have too many friends. We want to build our partner ecosystem. We want to bring in third-party products and an ecosystem with our best-in-class products. We would love to work with customers with complementary or competing products.  

We want to work in an environment where the customer has priority. And we cannot achieve that goal if we stand alone or stand fighting each other. We have to be better together. Our mission — what drives our purpose — is caring for our people on the ground. We must focus on that purpose and forget our differences, revenue targets, etc. I want to spend the next six months building those relationships and friendships and collaborating to solve customer problems. Yes, we want to win and be successful. But I want to focus on delivering value to our customers."


MS&T: "And any concluding comments or thoughts, please?" 

RT: "I’m four months into the organization and falling in love with the noise and the products. I love the people scattered across the planet in seven, eight, or nine countries. I feel enriched by that culture. Through this conversation, I want my team to know that we are a flat organization; we have come together as a family. We celebrate Christmas, Thanksgiving, Diwali, and many other festivals that represent our diverse cultures. That is my most enriching experience in the last several months."  

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