SimsSir: modeling and simulation are leading the assault of new learning technologies that are winning favor with the U.S. military.
Simulations played a large part in training soldiers for Operation Iraqi Freedom, and they are starting to play a large part in employee learning The past decade has seen a proliferation of low-cost training systems throughout the U.S. military that will be replicated in the workplace.
Military-style training has these ramifications in both the private and public sectors:
* The Advanced Distributed Learning Initiative. A collaborative effort between the public and private sectors is developing standards, tools, and learning-content software for future Web-based learning.
* Navy E-Learning. The Chief of Naval Education and Training (CNET) has created a Website to launch, track, and manage more than 2000 e-learning courses for more than 1.2 million sailors, Marines, retirees, reservists, and civilians.
* eArmyU. The Army has assembled a collection of 21 colleges and universities so that soldiers seeking higher learning can earn degrees and certificates via the Web.
* Joint Strike Fighter. Military use of the F-35 includes an unprecedented mandate for a common training system, as well as a requirement that training be embedded into the avionics of every aircraft.
You've heard it said many times that Americans who participated in Operation Iraqi Freedom last spring were the best-trained military force ever assembled. Just how much better? Consider that a large number of the American servicemen and women who participated in that action honed their skills and assignments with the latest in computer-based simulation. By contrast, in Operation Desert Storm 10 years earlier simulation training was comparatively primitive.
Surely the past decade has seen a proliferation of low-cost training systems throughout the military. No longer just a device for pilots, a wide range of inexpensive simulators is being used to train everyone from artillery troops to tank mechanics. By training in a virtual environment that replicates their assignments, soldiers arrive in theatre with skills that previously came only with actual tactical experience. Now imagine that the soldiers of the future will put current troops to shame from a training standpoint. They will carry with them all of the training materials they'll potentially ever need, say military planners. Training technology and systems will be embedded within vehicles and equipment that will accompany them everywhere.
It's not hard to figure. Relying primarily on COTS (commercial off-the-shelf) components, the Pentagon is realizing the power of investing in the compounding effect of Moore's Law. By riding the waves of "cheaper, faster, better," the Pentagon can plot a path for future commercial development. If computing power doubles every 18 months, as Gordon Moore first pronounced back in 1965, the performance curve is even steeper in the computer graphics domain, achieving 2.8 performance gains per year and 10 times for every two years, say experts.
Simulation technologies are also hitting new strides as a training tool for the private sector. Just ask the George Washington University Medical Center, which recently contracted with Denver-based Medical Simulation Corporation to establish a medical simulation system at the facility. The interactive SimSuite training system combines tactile force-feel simulation technology with procedures performed on a simulated patient. Even before U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz announced a high-profile plan to transform military training last year, producing the current drive to integrate service capabilities into joint training activities, the military services were exploiting advances in simulations and other learning technologies. The Pentagon's "revolution in training" is well under way, with clear ramifications for private industry.
Advanced Distributed Learning Initiative. This collaborative effort between the public and private sectors is developing standards, tools, and learning-content software for future Web-based learning. ADL's SCORM (sharable content object reference model) has become the standard for granularity and reusability of content. It has recently released a draft of the SCORM Version 1.3, an application profile that introduces the IMS Simple Sequencing Specification and other standardization improvements.
Navy e-learning. More than any other military branch, the U.S. Navy is leveraging e-learning to reach the minds of its personnel. The chief of naval education and training (CNET) has created a Website ** navylearning.com to launch, track, and manage more than 2000 e-learning courses for more than 1.2 million sailors, Marines, retirees, reservists, and civilians. It selected the THINQ TrainingServer LMS to power the enormous system along with an armada of content vendors, all adhering to ADL's SCORM.
eArmyU. This initiative by the Army provides opportunities for higher learning and has assembled a collection of 21 colleges and universities so soldiers can earn degrees and certificates via Web-based courses ** earmyu.com. Soldiers receive up to 100 percent funding for tuition, books, and course fees, as well as a personal laptop, a printer, an email account, and an ISP account. IBM Global Services has the lead contract as program integrator. Other vendors include Blackboard, Saba, and PeopleSoft.
Joint Strike Fighter. This selection of Lockheed Martin's Joint Strike Fighter (F-35) for use by all branches of the U.S. military, as well as certain allies, points the way to future military training. It includes an unprecedented mandate for a common training system, as well as a requirement that training be embedded into the avionics of every aircraft. Training will become an integral part of design, with an emphasis where possible on simulation. Designers are seeking innovative ideas for all aspects of the project, including virtual, constructive, and live training systems.
A decade of training advances
What a difference a decade makes. In the period between Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom, dramatic changes have taken place in modeling and simulation. Every weapons system now has a modeling and sim component to it, supported by a bustling industry of contractors. Much of the research and development activity takes place in a huge Orlando, Florida complex operated by the Navy's Naval Air Systems Command and used by every branch. "We are seeing greater emphasis today on high-end training for flag and general officers, and an increased emphasis on joint training," says one official with the Pentagon's Defense Modeling Simulation Office. Credit the Navy for making the U.S. military's first foray into simulation. Its initial interest followed the Vietnam War, when Navy aviators first realized that if a pilot survived his first six combat missions, he had a very high probability of surviving the rest of the war. The training curve is described in "Training Superiority and Training Surprise," a report released in 2000 by a taskforce of the Defense Science Board. Investments in training that followed the discovery, including the Navy's Top Gun program and the Army's National Training Center, made a convincing case that military superiority benefited greatly. The first real output of that investment was Desert Storm.
"We stand on the verge of a potential training revolution," wrote the Defense Science Board's taskforce. It said the revolution includes an array of such elements as advanced computer learning, just-in-time/just-right training devices, electronic classrooms, distributed learning, advanced embedded training, virtual environments, training administration and resource management, automated courseware development, and automated auto-tutor development.
One expert on the front lines of simulation R&D is Michael Macedonia, chief technology officer of the Army's Program Executive Office for Simulation, Training, and Instrumentation. "The biggest change has occurred since 1992, as technology has convinced the Army to invest dramatically in simulations and simulators," he says. Since Desert Storm, PEO STRI has launched a variety of simulation systems, including the Combat Tactical Training Systems, which seek to develop, field, and sustain high-quality ground combat virtual training devices that meet or exceed the requirements of war fighters. Used around the clock in preparation for Operation Iraqi Freedom, the computerized instruction devices resemble the inside of tanks, fighting vehicles, and other equipment. They are linked together and used to train as a platoon, company, or battalion. Examples include an Engagement Skills Trainer, a marksmanship training system that enables soldiers to almost qualify for marksman in a simulator. They're in use at Udari Range, Kuwait; Bagram Air Base; and Kandahar Air Base in Afghanistan.