Defining requirements in a synthetic environment
Throughout the procurement process, from the identification of a capability requirement to the definition of a potential vehicle, ship or aircraft, and long after the platform has been acquired, modelling and simulation play a prominent role. Colonel Mike Nixon, Director of Land Requirements (DLR), spoke with Vanguard about the army’s use of M&S to both acquire its equipment and train its personnel.
Break down modelling and simulation in a typical army procurement process. Where does it start?
The initial modelling and simulation and experimentation would begin with the Directorate of Land Concepts and Designs. To get to a concept, they use both modelling and simulation, which can then become the basis of a Capability Deficiency Requirement (CDR), which then evolves into a defined capability requirement.
Sometimes called the cloud builders, DLCD is involved in the process up until a point where employment concepts are known, and then there is a handoff to DLR to build it. But there is always a continual review. We have a board called the Army Capability Development Board, and every new capability that is determined to be an actual requirement is validated by it. Then there is an analysis process to consider all aspects. If I want to buy a new truck, that truck is going to have to be able to talk to people, so the communications folks have to be involved; the truck has to be maintained, so the maintenance people have to be involved. And that analysis is done through the life of a project up until the point where we are close to an RFP. The RFP is influenced by the Statement of Requirements (SOR), which is influenced by all that work. And it all starts with a CDR.
There are several aspects of modelling and simulation to project pre-definition. Through contracted services or through CORA – our Centre of Operational Research Analysis – we’ll utilize modelling to determine requirements. To use trucks as an example, the size of a force is entered into a model they have created and then put through a pre-determined tempo of activities over time. Based on usage rates on record, on repair parts necessary, etc, they can give us a sense of not only how many of a platform we’ll likely need, but also how much logistics support equipment we’ll need to buy with it. That helps us get the scope of a project before we get into the actual definition phase, which is the nut work that my folks do in DLR, to define the requirement.
And it continues through the life of a program? How might that work with a project such as the Tactical Armoured Patrol Vehicle?
When a contract for something is signed, we still work with the manufacturer to tweak and finalize the platform. So even at this stage there is modelling, for example with human factors such as the exact placing of the seats. The SOR demands room for X amount of people and the bidders will provided vehicles with their version, but now we look at it with our research folks and, based on our knowledge of IEDs and what parts of the vehicle are most vulnerable, we’ll make adjustments. So the likelihood the TAPV will roll off the assembly line looking exactly like the one Textron tested is zero.
Some of the projects you are modelling are, in fact, simulated training systems for everything from small arms modernization to the main battle tank. Can you talk about a simulation initiative that illustrates this?
The Land Vehicle Crew Training System has a lot of potential in what it can bring to the Canadian Forces and the army in terms of enhanced training in a more fiscally austere environment. The scope of LVCTS is to provide both individual and collective trainers. It will be the same mechanism but used with different training audiences at different times. So if I’m a tank gunner and I have to prove myself in gunnery to a certain standard before I pop off my first live 120mm round, this simulation system will provide that capability to the degree that a gunnery instructor will have complete confidence in a gunner before he goes out on the range.
In a Canadian context, it eliminates time because it’s not affected by weather; there’s no wear and tear on the vehicles by inexperienced drivers. It does not replace the real thing, but it gets a driver or a gunner to a point where the amount of time they have to spend in an actual operational platform is reduced substantially. And the intent is to have the system geographically dispersed and networked. One of the largest costs for a collective training exercise for the army is travel. We’ve got brigades in Edmonton, Valcartier and Petawawa. To have three combat teams in each of those locations working together in one exercise, in one simulated environment – the potential is phenomenal.
Are you able to recreate the level of realism and intensity of a live scenario?
My original Regimental Sergeant Major when I was at the armour school spent half an hour with the German Panzertruppenschule in a tank driving simulator – he had 30 years of experience at the time, a lot as a driver – and his comment when he came out of the full motion simulator was: “I remember that queasy feeling I used to get when I was driving a Leopard I.” Not every component of LVCTS is going to be hi-fidelity and full motion, but enough of it will be to achieve that individual piece, and then all of it together will achieve the collective piece. It will become a tactical trainer. So the environment within the simulation environment changes. The gunner is still doing his stuff, the driver is still doing his stuff, but our focus is now on the troop leader receiving and transmitting orders, giving direction and controlling his organization.
Can you integrate the various Land components or even an air wing into that tactical combat training?
From a low level tactical piece, there are certain components that already happen. We want to have the simulators that our artillery folks, especially the forward observation folks are using, to be part of the rest of our Land system. It is getting there. Up until now it used to be stovepipes. I had a tank gunnery system trainer, the artillery had theirs, the infantry had their small arms trainers. To get synergy, we had to go to the field and do it in real time together. Tactical helicopter training systems, that’s the next logical step. We’re actually developing doctrine from the reconnaissance side with tactical aviation reconnaissance, and I’ve been told that at least for the tactical training – squadron training – a wing could be sharing the same tactical scenario. That is the potential we want to achieve.
That was part of the initiative for the resources we have put behind LVCTS. We’ve got a lot of new projects from TAPV to the new main battle tank and we’ve consciously carved off some of their budgets that they had for these stovepipe simulation systems to be able to come up with a unified synergetic simulation system. It’s a complex problem and it has taken us some time to get there, but we will have a much better global system then if we had done individual projects.
Is this training now widely accepted and expected?
The military in general and the army in particular are very good at doing what they have done, and doing it better every time they do it. So when you change the paradigm a bit, and it hasn’t been done before, where do you start the cultural change? Ultimately it is at the individual training, which is where the younger generation is.
When I was at the armour school, we had a course for troop warrants, the second-in-command of a four-tank troop or an eight-car recee troop, that was really the first time they had to receive orders, do a combat estimate, come up with a plan and issue their own version of control. Up until 2007, it was theory and then deploy to the field. In some cases people hadn’t been in a vehicle for a few years because of administrative jobs and it would be halfway through the course before you started seeing success in tactical applications. So in 2007 we introduced Virtual Battle Space 2, simple computer program but with our vehicles. The course before had a 70 percent success rate; this course had a 100 percent success rate. And it also spent $40,000 less because 30 percent of it was done through simulation before they went to the field. In some cases these guys were in their late 30s and there was some scepticism. But not after that. Our cultural barriers to simulation are largely gone.
Has M&S changed how you identify and define a project?
I think we will see a much larger impact in the five years to come then we saw in the past five years. It takes a while in an organization with this structure to make that leap. We follow a chain of command and don’t want to be rogues, and sometimes we have to be beaten by industry to convince us there’s a better way of doing something. Over the past five years, there has been a gradual increase in awareness and utilization. The next five will be exponential. The kinetic environment of Afghanistan and elsewhere took the focus of a lot of people. Now our collective focus is on things like this, and we’re not alone. I sit on the NATO army armaments group and we’re discussing how we can leverage each others’ experiences with simulation and modelling to develop our own products.
There has also been a collaborative effort within NATO, within the ABCA (America, Britain, Canada, Australia) and bilaterally with key allies around collective training – Canada plays a leading role in one of the largest exercises, Active Endeavour – to have simulation systems that can exchange data.
How do you expect to see M&S advance?
I see us getting to a point in the future where our road to high readiness is drastically reduced and the organization is even better prepared to transition to an operational environment without any “I didn’t expect to see this.” We have a phenomenal preparation period for training but operational theatres are in a perpetual state of change, so if you are able to inject those changes quickly into a training scenario, which is much easier to do synthetically then in an actual field exercise, you’ll have a better prepared organization to do the nation’s business.
Will that also mean reduced training budgets? I don’t know that yet and I don’t want to set false expectations. We are trying to define that now. But the cost of moving a main tank in a field exercise versus a synthetic environment is significantly less. An investment in a top notch, state-of-the-art simulation system has the potential to avoid recurring operational costs substantially. It means getting a better trained unit or sub-unit quicker, with less expenditure of resources and less time away from home.
Colonel Nixon will speak as part of a panel on Canadian Forces use of modelling and simulation at DEFSEC Atlantic 2012 in Halifax, September 5-7 (www.defsecatlantic.ca).
An interview with Colonel Mike Nixon.