While the merging of real and virtual worlds may hold intriguing possibilities for how you spend your recreational time, that same convergence is dramatically changing how militaries incorporate simulation environments into analysis, training and decision-making as they strive to work more collaboratively across large, multi-agency networks.

Following a military career that included 3500 hours as a C-130 Hercules pilot and a term with the Canadian Forces Experimentation Centre where he championed modelling and simulation, Chris Pogue joined Greenley & Associates, a small consultancy acquired by CAE in 2005. Since 2006, he has led CAE’s professional services division on a significant growth path focused on using modelling and simulation technologies to apply independent analysis, system design and development and enhance operational readiness. He spoke with associate editor Chris Thatcher.

Before we turn to the present, let’s begin in the past: how has simulation in support of training changed over the decade?

Thinking back to the Sim TecT conference in Australia in 2008, I recall the presentations of various senior officers responsible for all training for the Australian Defence Forces. There was no longer a debate about whether simulation is a good idea and possibly cost effective; the debate was now about how much and how soon. Simulation-enabled training was now just an integrated part of the offering of any new operational capability. That was a watershed moment – that debate was over.

This really has opened the door to an entirely new debate. It’s now about the other parts of the military decision-making paradigm: analyzing how we are going to operate, training to operate that way, and then supporting those operations with the rapid adaptability offered through simulation that will enable mission success. Those used to be three somewhat separate segments of how we approached the problem space. Today, because of simulation, they are converging on one another. There is not much difference anymore between how we use simulation to analyze future problems, how we then incorporate that into the way we train to operate in those future spaces, and increasingly – particularly through the power of geospatial data sets and the way geospatial information can be visualized – how we use that exact same simulation environment to make decisions while we are operating. That’s the biggest change now. It’s not about to happen – it’s happening already and it will drive the way we look at the next decade.

Is this because of technological improvement or client requirements and the demands of increasingly collaborative operations?

If you look back several years at older training devices, in many respects the visuals were not that good, nor was it a terribly immersive experience – that’s changed. As the technology progressed we had a vision that it was going to get more and more like the real thing, and adoption would no longer be a debate – that’s happened. So the evolution of technology was an enormous driver of that change. And I would argue that has driven the way we use simulation to analyze future problems and it is clearly driving the way in which simulation will affect operations.

But in the same timeframe, we’ve also seen a change in the operational concepts and doctrine. In the late ‘90s, the Forces moved away from the dominant paradigm of army, navy and air forces to a “joint” force. This decade and into the next, it is less and less about joint force and more about multiple agencies and other government departments and other nations and ad hoc coalitions that form and reform as a mission unfolds. Afghanistan is probably one of the best examples of coalitions that exist for several weeks or months and then new partners come in and the coalition changes its character and its culture and its operating parameters.

Simulation enables us to study and analyze all of these things, and to make sure they are effective – you don’t want to be test-driving some of these in the field. These various organizations are working in incredibly complex environments, and increasingly in multiple and complex ways. In fact, the very paradigm of these small “c” coalitions creates another layer of complexity. So, the necessity to understand it is really the sweet spot, if you will, of simulation to support operations.

This is now about connectivity between systems – the ability to bring multiple simulation systems into one playing field?

Absolutely. In the early days of simulation, it was training at the system level – could I fly my airplane better, operate my tank or my armoured vehicle better – and to help users interact with their system. As we moved along it became increasingly about how that system will operate with other systems. Now it is about the mission. The future is about the mission, the dynamics of command and control and rules of engagement that come with that problem space. Simulation is the only way that we have found yet that allows us to analyze those multiple domains and the way organizations might operate more effectively together.

What does this looks like in practice?

Today, we would see a number of simulation devices – simulators or task trainers or computer-enabled simulation devices – being used to train people to operate at the system and mission level, where they would be operating their system but all the other things in the battlefield would be represented by constructive simulation entities or computer-based characters or other people in other places through a distributed network that is operating other systems – they would be interacting with each other in a virtual sandbox.

However, because of the fidelity in the modeling environments and the physics-based character of the constructive simulation environments, those same environments can also be used to actually analyze how you are going to operate. Companies are embedding more and more robust, hi-fidelity physics-based constructive simulations with things like artificial intelligence, human behaviour representation and cognitive decision-making models. It’s traceable to operational doctrine through an operational architecture that represents the inter-connectivity of systems and how they adapt and evolve over time. Now you are connecting reality-based simulation with powerful visuals that immerse the decision-maker.

The convergence I referred to earlier allows us to use that same environment to analyze how we want to operate in the future. For example, if we wanted to understand the capabilities of a new system that doesn’t exist today, we could embed it into the simulation and assess how it might change the outcome of a mission. That’s a powerful tool for analytical support. As we start to develop more hi-fidelity geospatial models of the actual places we are operating, the simulation environment is no longer a generic village but a rendering of the actual village in the actual location that the troops will operate in tomorrow morning, or even in a few hours. Closing that loop is going to change simulation for the next decade – it will very much become the way we’ll make operational decisions. And again, that’s happening today – what is yet to fully occur is closure on the debate of how essential it is, just like the debate we had many years ago around simulation support to training.

If there is less and less lag time between analysis, training and operations, what does that mean for decision makers, and for analysts?

Two thoughts. One, I think that decision makers of today are able to adapt to this changing paradigm because the geospatial visualization is something they are familiar with. And as they trust it, they will make decisions with it. It’s allowing them to deal with the incredible levels of complexity that the modern mission space offers. It’s the only way they can ‘experiment’ and find a way through the very complex situations that they operate in.

The other, though, is the decision maker of tomorrow. He or she will have grown up with this stuff. It won’t be a new paradigm; it will be a very familiar paradigm to them. This is what they will expect, and if we don’t keep up, that generation will not be able to engage because they are already ahead of us.

It will force some to re-think how they do their jobs.

Absolutely. A good example is CAE Deploy, an environment in which we compiled thousands of hours of interviews with paramedic dispatchers. How do they make decisions? What criteria do they use to pick this option over that one? It took a decision-making process that used to be in minutes and brought it down to seconds. But most important, it did not neglect or ignore the human decision maker. You’ve simply taken advantage of thousands of hours of decision makers and embedded that in an environment that replicates the way in which the best practices and the good intentions of all of those decision makers manifests itself into a decision. And it doesn’t remove the person who sits there and says, yes, this is the best option. That’s a real time decision-making system that has taken advantage of analytical tools and moved them into a real time application. And there will be more and more of that. That will be the way analysis will merge itself with the operational decision environments.

This calls for a great deal of agility, not something large organizations like militaries are necessarily known for, does it not?

Each military is adapting a little differently. In the United States, you’re seeing some major programs to coalesce these ideas into deliverables and programs. In Canada, it’s on a smaller scale but you are seeing the same sorts of things – programs that are trying to merge analysis and operations. It seems to be a programmatic-based approach. I think it will skip a generation, though. That generation we spoke of earlier – the ones who will have grown up with simulation as an element of their daily lives – they will trust it, and they will embed it in the way they operate.

And it will change the organizations. Most dramatically, it will enable organizations to move decision making closer to the frontlines. More and more decisions will be made at the face of operations as opposed to headquarters. If I’m a general officer running a campaign, that scares me a bit. But it also means I can expect to be much more agile, I can expect to be self-synchronized, and I can expect to achieve all the things we have in our vision because accountability, responsibility and control will be out on the frontlines.

Who is driving whom? Is the military demanding this or is industry leading the way, or have you reached a point where you can collaborate equally?

It really is a collaborative environment. There is a great quote from Winston Churchill where he says, ‘if only the scientists knew what the soldiers, sailors and airmen wanted and if only the soldiers, sailors and airmen knew what the scientists could deliver. That gap has never really closed.’ But, in general, the collaborative way industry has operated with defence is better than I have ever seen it. That suggests to me that the end user is much more comfortable expressing what outcome they want to achieve, what effect they want on the battlefield rather than an exhaustive list of requirements and specifications. That’s allowing industry to more easily adapt and engage and provide unique and innovative options. In some respects the professional services industry has always behaved that way. We grew up working very closely and collaboratively with our clients, especially with academia. We are able to bring those three pieces together. In the same way that analysis, training and operations are converging, industry, academia and the military are converging to find solutions.

Take us out 10 years into the future: what does this convergence look like? What sort of applications are we likely to see?

The one I always reflect on is not 10 years away – it exists today. You can get an application for an iPhone that allows you to take advantage of its GPS so it knows geospatially where it is, a compass so it knows where you are looking, and maps from Google Maps or other mapping devices, and superimpose other layers of information. So I can take my iPhone, look down a street in a city, and it will know exactly what street I’m looking at, the terrain I’m looking at – it can create a 3-D rendering of that environment. It could then allow me to superimpose multiple additional layers of information – generated by multiple users – historical views of what the street looked like 100 years ago or what restaurants I might want to eat at it, places I might want to go to. It could embed the real environment that I’m in with virtual environment entities – people moving around – and I could play game while sitting on a street corner waiting for the bus. That amount of information in a handheld device will be part of how we operate 10 years from now in the military. The soldier, sailor or airman in the field will be able to bring that level of fidelity and all that information together in a handheld device, and embed layers of additional geospatial referenced information from other sources that will allow them to make decisions.

Not long ago in health care, there was similar expectation about being able to access and update patient information from a PDA. Is it the degree of connectivity and interactivity with others that is rapidly changing the dynamic?

That analogy with the military is absolutely parallel. Through a PDA-like device, medical professionals will have all those records – though we certainly have some security and privacy issues to overcome – to allow them to know what conflicts a particular patient might have with certain types of medication or approaches. What you are suggesting is the next phase, in which that same doctor will now know what hospitals within a suitable travel distance have a bed available for that patient, and if the hospital has the equipment that the patient needs. The hospital, instead of being a standalone thing that can just take care of that patient, will be part of a network, a system-of-systems of hospitals that can deal with what that patient needs and get it to that patient in real time, because the information is being updated in real time. That is exactly what we did with the military: we went from training on systems to training on networks of systems to now, where we are operating with networks of systems.

What are the implications for the cyber battlespace?

The more you become reliant on this kind of information, the more vulnerable you are to cyber warfare. So the more reliant we are on the integrated use of information to support operational decision making, the more vulnerable we become to anybody who can attack any strand of it. But consider the analogy of mesh networks for wireless control. When one part of the mesh goes down, it replicates with other parts of the mesh and continues to feed you the information. So the idea of a mesh so that you have no single point of failure, that’s the way information is being moved today in these operational domains. It does allow you a level of protection against cyber-type attacks.

Given the number of agencies involved, what does a whole-of-government approach look like in the future? What sorts of interconnectivity would we see?

I think you could expect to see defence organizations from multiple nations working in ad hoc, locally configured coalitions, along with multiple government departments from within a particular nation collaborating in meaningful ways with other government agencies from other nations. These coalitions might be military led but they might also be led by other agencies. To do this, though, requires an unprecedented level of information sharing. Typically, when the competency, authority and responsibility to act exist in one operational node, you will have success. If they are shared across multiple nodes and you have an inability to process and share information, then you will have failure. And in every whole-of-government scenario we have tested so far, we have yet to find a single future scenario where competency, authority and responsibility were resident in a single operational node. It just doesn’t happen. So you have to find a way to share that information.

The solution is not to be found in the technology – it will still be through people. It is going to require trust, and trust is only formed through collaborative activities and shared experiences, and the way we will do that is through the increasing use of simulation to allow these organizations to analyze, train and operate together. I guarantee you the real operation will not be like any of the ones they’ve trained for, but because they will have developed that trust and collaborative nature, they will be able to adapt when the real thing happens.


An interview with Chris Pogue