The army motto about being flexible and dynamic goes like this, “improvise, adapt and overcome.” 

For the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) right now, that adage could not be truer. With recruitment and retention, budget, and procurement issues, there is likely much improvisation, adaptation and overcoming obstacles being done. Add in the ever-changing battlespaces that Canada may be involved in – consider NATO’s eastern flank and the vulnerabilities caused by the war in Ukraine – and the need for fluidity is all too apparent. 

And we cannot ignore future weather events (fires, floods) due to climate change – and the need for up-tempo CAF domestic operations to augment civilian operators on the ground. 

All this in mind, the need for dynamic and realistic simulation as part of the training package for future leaders has never been greater. Also, with advancements in AI and virtual reality it is up to the Canadian Armed Forces to identify private sector partners who can help further the art of virtual war and reaction to weather events. 

There are many private sector companies involved in these computer-based initiatives and one that has seen myriad change is Calian. It started with bird tables and enemy and friendly movable pieces and evolved to sophisticated software-based battlespace overviews. The development of immersive simulated training for the future leaders of the CAF, who undergo confirmation exercises after months-long training sessions, is ever-evolving. 

All this activity, as impressive as it is, does not come without challenges. With an eye to the future of simulated war, we spoke with Calian representatives: Stephen Fritz-Millet, Assistant Contract Wide Coordinator and Contract Site Lead, Canadian Army Simulation Centre and Jay Ballard, Military Training and Simulation Lead to discuss those challenges and what just might lie ahead. 

With current real-time operations focused on NATO’s eastern flank, how do you think training simulation should evolve? 

 Stephen Fritz-Millett (SFM) It already has, starting with Ex UR 2022 when the shift from DATE CAUCUSUS to DATE EUROPE was made. The exercise design, development, and delivery (E3D) process drew extensively from retired and serving CAF members with service in Latvia in support of NATO. As time goes on, we anticipate that training focus will further narrow to ensure the CAF are well positioned to deal with current and emerging threats in support of the Government of Canada and NATO. Calian has invested significantly in establishing a virtual training and experimentation network (VTEN) with the potential for extension within Canada (domestic operations) and to overseas locations. Efforts are underway to develop the in-house capability to employ a broader range of command, control, and information systems. In 2025, the Canadian Army Managed Readiness Plan major training event will mark the beginning of a cycle of three US Army Warfighters exercises which will see CAF Units participating from home locations using US C2 and simulation systems to achieve connectivity.  

Jay Ballard (JB) The renewed focus on NATO’s eastern flank will drive training requirements for western nations for some time. Making the scenario reflective of a NATO operation so that it is joint, and multinational will improve fidelity and immersion for the training audience, which enhances the transfer of training and makes the event more efficient to deliver. 

What challenges has the CAF faced in terms of workforce/funding/pace of training? 

(JB) The CAF is facing serious shortfalls in the workforce. Calian’s training contracts with the DND provide an opportunity to capture the skills sets of CAF members that are leaving the forces, so they can still be used to help train the current force. We have seen an increase in training demands from the CAF since the end of COVID and based on the current world situation and Canada’s closer alignment with NATO we expect to see continued strong training demand. 

SIM training in land and air operations is well-developed. However, the naval part is not. Is the CAF working on incorporating a more robust Naval SIM piece to simulation, or is this done separately from regular exercises?  

(SFM) We are doing some work in support of the Navy, mainly modelling for bridge staff navigation and port maneuvering, but have yet to be requested to do true naval warfare simulation. Some naval-maritime has been included in current and past exercises including Ex VIGILANT Shield, an annual joint US-Canada exercise. Other capabilities represented in the synthetic environment on some of our exercises include Cyber, Space and SOF, their inclusion driven by the CAF’s Pan-Domaine Force Employment Concept.  

(JB) Inside the simulation support contract, most training supports the army with air/land integration being a critical component of realistic joint operations. CAF simulation does incorporate a little bit of naval operational play in the NORAD/CANR, US/Canada bi-national exercise Vigilant Shield. Calian is doing some development work with the RCN on 3-D ship modeling and we have developed a replenishment at sea (RAS) augmented reality (AR) simulator for training and rehearsals.  

Russian forces are currently using a vast array of newer UAS in Ukraine conflict, to devastating effect. Is sufficient intelligence being captured on these new weapons and is the CAF pushing for them to be incorporated on SIM?  

(SFM) I would say yes, but it is evolving so quickly that it is often hard to keep up with the changes. We have an in-house professional development program to ensure that our key exercise planners and other specialists are being kept abreast of recent changes. This is especially the case for things like the explosive growth in all forms of UAVs and their integration with joint fires. The Ukrainians are leaders in this field, and we include where possible new concepts, technology etc. in both RED and BLUE Forces. More recently, simulation is supporting efforts by the Canadian Intelligence Regiment to trial and exploit a range of intelligence software applications to broaden CAIR effectiveness. The big delta is in the CAF’s/CA’s ability to keep its doctrine and tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) up to date with these changes. The training we run for the CAF/CA is against specific training objectives that are related to doctrine and there is an increasing risk that some of these training objectives and doctrinal concepts may be overtaken by changes that the CAF will be hard pressed to keep pace with.  

(JB) The Ukrainian Armed Forces initially demonstrated an impressive adaptability by using commercial off the shelf (COTS) equipment in ways we have not in the west with the Russian Armed Forces trying to mimic the Ukrainian’s success. The flood of small and medium sized commercial drones used to correct artillery fire, develop targets, detect mines, and directly attack with air dropped grenades have proven effective against mostly static forces and defences. The introduction and rapid increase in loitering munitions such as the US produced Switchblade and Russian produced Lancet-3, along with the Ukrainian made Rubaka and Iranian produced and Russian employed Shahed-136 have filled the air with lethal wee beasties. At Calian we want to be able to replicate and emulate the current battlespace, which would include loitering munitions and COTS UAS. This would provide the warfighter with a realistic challenge and drive home the need to remain mobile and unpredictable while requiring the forces to be protected by ground-based air defences. 

It has been said that the current Minister of Defence, Bill Blair, will not get more funds for defense spending and will likely focus much of defense spending on domestic operations. Do you believe this will influence Simulation/Training for NATO/UN ops, or are things status quo?  

(SFM) We have been involved in support of Domestic Operations (DOMOPS) with exercise programs for security at the 2010/Vancouver Olympics and for the 2010 G8/G20 and the 2018 G7 Conferences. Ex NANOOK TATIGHT, an annual exercise for Joint Task Force North Headquarters is often centered around dealing with a man-made or natural disaster or humanitarian situation. In 2023, the focus is on a potential large scale ice storm. This exercise series features extensive involvement of the GoC and other stakeholders (i.e., Indigenous peoples). A Tabletop Exercise (TTX) has been developed, utilizing Serious Gaming as the prime training delivery tool, centered on a natural disaster in a fictional country. Entitled the Civ-Mil Interagency Planning Seminar (CMIPS), it has been delivered in-person twice on behalf of the Director of Military Training and Cooperation — the first serial in Colombia in fall 2022 and the next one scheduled for delivery in Indonesia in October 2023. This Seminar features representation from many nations within the region where it is being conducted and includes NGOs, IOs and other key stakeholders in dealing with the effects of natural disasters. We believe we are well positioned to support a greater level of effort in regard to DOMOPS.  

(JB) Nothing is status quo right now. We have seen a significant increase in training demand since the end of COVID and the CAF’s realignment to a more NATO focused approach. Domestic operations training is critical to ensuring that the CAF can go out the door when tasked and execute flawlessly, which makes Canadians safer – and is ultimately the reason any nation’s military exists. This year’s list of natural disasters demonstrates why the CAF needs to be able to respond domestically when tasked, while the war in Ukraine is a daily reminder of the need to be able to project power abroad. Simulation provides the training audience with the ability to train at a high level, for a fraction of the cost of a live exercise in the field. Now there are still many times that you absolutely must have troops in the field, but when used in conjunction with a progressive simulation-based managed readiness plan, more training can be done for the same or less money and you get better results. Therefore, I think the NATO/UN operations training will likely remain at the current levels with the likely result being that more simulation will be used across the board to support CAF training.