Navies Go Virtual

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Guest authors Jan Matthiesen and Markus Schuppert describe the German Navy’s approach to fully integrated virtual total ship training.

The guideline underlying this article is the question why so far there is no complete virtual approach to fully integrated training of all relevant systems and equipment on board such a complex weapons system as a naval vessel or submarine?

The logical next question is what this kind of solution might look like and how it can be implemented in the future, taking other important factors such as reduced defence budgets into account.

An excellent example of the concept of fully integrated virtual training is provided by the development of the German Navy’s technology based naval training approach, beginning with e-learning and progressing through the combination of simulation and e-learning to learning programmes that make use of virtual reality techniques, i.e. are based on a 3D engine. The aim of this approach, according to Naval Command, is “to transfer a significant amount of operational training from the ships onto land” [i]. This is reflected in continuous upgrading of the German Navy’s operational training centres.

The first practical question to arise is what means are available to further this aim? If the planning objective is to transfer training from on board the ships to facilities on shore, this is generally possible in land-based sites or using virtual training methods. Training centres on land that are equipped with original hardware have the great advantage that the trainee can learn at his own “real” future workstation. The downside is high equipment acquisition costs coupled with high life-cycle costs, and the impossibility of realistic scenario training (e.g. Emergency-scenarios). On the other hand, the virtual solution is relatively mobile and if used in a network of training centres to manage the impact of the product life cycle, it has the advantages of non-repetitive acquisition and low life cycle costs. A truly holistic concept can only be achieved through the judicious combination of the two solutions. The following comments on a holistic approach to a Virtual White Unit (VWU) [virtual training unit], are primarily concerned with conceptual developments in the field of virtual training.

Especially with a view to future trends towards having multiple crews for identical sister ships an additional virtual White Unit becomes even more important and useful, together with the corresponding continuous functional upgrades and close technical and logistic support. Particularly in respect of life-cycle issues, the cost factor is notable in comparison with a real training unit or one that uses original hardware.

The potential of virtual training solutions is the result of the following points:


  • Increased availability of the ships for operational purposes,
  • Higher quality training due to active participation of every single trainee,
  • Advanced training possibilities (e.g. in emergency scenarios that could never be reproduced in live exercise situations),
  • Higher training capacity (desktop PCs in comparison to original hardware),
  • Flexibility (“move information, not people”[ii]),
  • Attractive aspects of the instruction material, considerable reduction in cost,
  • High resemblance to reality, and
  • Target group is the generation of “games players” – which also increases the attractiveness of the Navy as an employer.

General requirements for a Virtual White Unit

  • Complete 3D realtime visualisation,
  • Systemic modularity and growth capability,
  • Open system architecture (e.g. to allow integration of external simulations), and
  • Multiplayer ability (to allow training of complex scenarios in teams and with entire crews).

These elements not only enable a functional Virtual White Unit (VWU) to be set up in the first place, they also simultaneously generate a considerable increase in training value. A holistic approach needs to have its own modularity, but it also has to be open to existing training means such as simulators.

The approach begins with analysis of the current actual status of existing simulation based training means within the German Navy. Since introduction of the first SIM/CUA F124, a mathematical physical simulation of the frigate’s MTU propulsion systems, the approach to simulation has been steadily adhered to and the number of systems and equipment items has constantly increased. With the Blohm+Voss Class 130 corvette the approach to structured content communication was extended by CBT to work directly with simulation (SIM/SBA). While in the Blohm+Voss Class 130 corvette this training method was still limited to the propulsion system, electrical generators/distributors and freshwater/wastewater systems, by the time of the Blohm+Voss Class 125 frigate the method had been further extended to cover all platform systems as well as the communication systems and the electro-optical tracker SIMONE. These developments were very closely coordinated with the public domain customer and the software company MarineSoft. However, in the existing application there is no direct relation between what has been learned and real spatial conditions on board the ships/boats, making it difficult to visualise and achieve the necessary transition from theory to practice.

A Virtual White Unit

A solution that unites these functional requirements is provided by the “Virtual Ship Training and Information System” (ViSTIS® for short) from ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems. ViSTIS® features modular system architecture and uses CryEngine®, a leading 3D game engine. This technology base and the know-how and experience gained with SIM/SBA and ViSTIS® applications already used by the German Navy will permit realisation of the envisaged kind of VWU for existing and future platforms.

Development within the scope of ViSTIS® with the objective of virtual total ship training has been promoted by ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems since 2008. At the current time two products are being used (German Navy, Maghreb Navy) and two further ones are in preparation for the German Navy.

HDWClass 212A Submarine: Ship’s Technical Systems

Since early in 2013, at the submarine training centre the German Navy has been operating a ViSTIS® solution for operator training for the compensation and ventilation systems of the submarines in the 2nd batch of HDW Class 212A. In addition to accurately detailed virtual presentation of all important spaces on board the submarines of the HDW Class 212A, more than 25 different scenarios were set up, involving complex switching and operating actions for the ventilation and compensation systems. The integrated simulation of technical processes ensures that the virtual submarine reacts in a realistic manner to the trainee’s actions.

Flight Deck Officer Training

With assciated cost savings due to the reduction in live training requirements, the ViSTIS® FDO Trainer provides an individual training solution that reflects the standardised NATO procedure for helicopter operations from ships other than aircraft carriers (HOSTAC) and can be considered the first ViSTIS® off-the-shelf product. The high visual quality combined with realistic scenarios and emergency procedures, and the fact that the trainee acts very much like he would on the actual flight deck, leads to outstanding training outcomes, higher learning outcomes and a better success rate of the trainees. Thus, trainees are well prepared for live training sessions on board the ships. It also enhances the situational awareness of the trainee, while creating mental and physical pressure.

Frigate Orientation

With this project for the Blohm+Voss Class 124 frigates the German Navy together with ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems has taken a new step forward with the introduction of a virtual walk-around for on-board orientation. In an era of multiple crew concepts, reduced training times on board and intensive use of the ships, this learning programme allows training of activities that are not related to a specific discipline

MCGS 127mm F125

The weapon system Oto Melara 127mm is the first part of the Blohm+Voss Class 125 frigate to be implemented in a combination of SIM/SBA and ViSTIS®. With this solution, ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems has made the first learning programme for an element of this frigate available for viewing and operating in ViSTIS® quality. This programme is the company’s first step on the way to developing a complete VWU F125.

The Future

The simulation based operator training ViSTIS® Class 212A, on-board orientation F124 and the MCGS 127mm F125 are the starting point for the envisaged Virtual White Unit. On the basis of complete visualisation of the frigate, the next step is to make more systems and equipment available for simulated operation.

The big step forward to a virtual ship will be made through integration of already ordered SIM/SBA F125 programmes. ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems and its partners are working closely together to plan realisation of this ambitious project. The first step is to combine virtual orientation on board (on the basis of a complete 3D visualisation) with the SIM/SBA F125 simulations already being developed and to make it operable. Another stage involves the inclusion of the unit’s life cycle. Whereas in operational fields the currently available training solutions appear to be perfectly adequate, it is in the fields of the platform, deck operations, flight operations and maintenance where the greatest training benefit will be obtained from a virtual ship. This step-by-step procedure is also found in the major project being implemented for the US Navy’s virtual Littoral Combat Ship.

For the next project after the Blohm+Voss Class 125 frigates, the multi-purpose combat ship MKS180, this kind of holistic virtual training solution can be part of the concept right from the beginning, so that it is fully integrated in the procurement procedure. The experience already gained from the development process of technology based naval training will play a decisive role.


The question asked at the beginning as to why no complete virtual approach has been available until now is easily answered: The major obstacle to a holistic solution up to now lies in the fact that with the currently running procurement programmes (in particular Blohm+Voss Class 125 frigates) the importance of technology based naval training was not fully recognised when the contract was signed in 2007, partly because technological awareness of the use of 3D engines for serious games was then not common knowledge in Germany. ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems has steadily acquired this knowledge over recent years. The question of whether such a solution can be realised depends on how the ideal issue of a holistic approach is viewed. This kind of approach would appear to be especially interesting for future projects and we are closely watching developments in this field. The compelling vision of “go virtual” for navies all over the world is taking on real perspective.

About the authors:

Jan Matthiesen, B.A., Team Leader Modern Training Technologies, ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems, former abstractor at a German regional parliament; Markus Schuppert, M.A., Vice President Training ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems, Lieutenant-Colonel in Reserve (German Air Force).

[i] Holst, Jan Frederick, (KptLt, Ops Dept., German Naval Command); Das neue Ausbildungssystem der Marine [The Navy’s new training system], in: Marineforum 07/2014

[ii] Stricker, Adm. Retired, then CINC German Fleet in 2011.


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