Growing Reliance on Simulation
he degree to which simulators and training systems have become embedded in nearly every aspect of military operations and doctrine became clear before the first ground troops ever boarded an aircraft for the recent mission to Bosnia-Herzegovina. Last summer, pilots rehearsed bombing strikes on a Powerscene computer simulation system, before air crews were sent on missions. After practicing in virtual reality-a simulated world of high-fidelity, three-dimensional landscapes-commanders completed the strikes in only half the expected number of sorties, with no loss of pilots and scant damage to civilian structures. The same virtual reality display of Bosnia was omnipresent during round-the-clock peace talks at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.
Once ground troops began pouring into Bosnia, the U.S. Army set up a global network to supply various training and simulation systems to its commanders. According to the Army's Simulation, Training and Instrumentation Command (STRICOM), in Orlando, Fla., systems requested for Bosnia included the Mobile Conduct of Fire Trainer and Guardfist tank training systems for the M1 Abrams tank and M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicle; JANUS systems used to train platoon and company leaders in tactics and decision-making; and Engagement Skills Trainers used to hone marksmanship.
Also crucial to the support effort in Bosnia, according to STRICOM officials, were four worldwide simulation and training systems support contracts. These contractors maintain training equipment around the world. The big-four support companies include Loral Training & Technical Services, a subsidiary of first-ranked training systems and services company Loral Corp.; Hughes Technical Services, which bought most of the training business of second-ranked CAE Industries last year; AAI Engineering Services; and Pulau Electronics Corp.
Increasingly, weapons are designed on computer screens, produced in virtual factories before metal is ever bent, evaluated on simulated test ranges and used by troops who have been trained to operate them on virtual battlefields. "In the future, we will use advanced simulations not only to train, but to develop requirements, test warfighting tactics and doctrine and even design our force structure," says a STRICOM source.
The Pentagon's enthusiasm for training and simulation systems is evident in the Electronic Industries Association's five-year forecast for the market. According to the EIA, the synthetic environment/virtual reality market-with private and government sales estimated at $100 billion to $200 billion annually-represents "significant potential for new growth."
While the Defense Department has led the way in demonstrating the practical utility of modeling, simulation, simulators and virtual prototyping, the technology is ready to migrate into other government and commercial sectors through dual-use initiatives, many of them funded through the Pentagon's Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA). Three largely untapped markets poised for significant growth include education and training, entertainment, and especially telemedicine. "Dual-use implications via ARPA-sponsored accomplishments are obvious, and the next generation of 'Nintendo Surgeons' are demanding more and more 'telepresence,'" according to the EIA.
While the training and simulation market expands, however, the biggest news in the industry is the shuffle at the top instigated by Lockheed Martin Corp.'s purchase of Loral. That acquisition, while not reflected in fiscal 1995 data on which our rankings are based, will create a simulation heavyweight in the training industry and combined revenues of several billion dollars a year in the defense training and simulation market.
An aggressive acquirer in its own right, Loral was already heavily represented in the flight simulation segment of the market, providing simulators for the Air Force's F-15, the Special Operations Aircrew Training System, and upgrades to flight simulators for the B-52G and T-38A aircraft. The purchase will now give Loral easy entry into Lockheed Martin's inventory of aircraft, including the F-22, F-16 Falcon, C-130 Hercules and P-3C Orion. The business of supplying training devices for weapons systems is one of the most lucrative.
The Loral acquisition highlights the fact that although training and simulation systems are viewed as critical in terms of future efficiencies, no segment of the defense business is immune from the budget pressures now prompting industry-wide consolidations. For example, funding for the Defense Modeling and Simulation Office (DMSO), which builds standard simulation architectures for all the services, was $52 million in fiscal 1996, down by more than $10 million from earlier projections. DMSO works to cut costs by creating a data bank of common reusable simulation components.
The Army, a pioneer in the use of advanced simulations and training systems, has pushed the envelope by committing to distributed interactive simulation. This concept integrates micro-level training simulators, macro-level war games and live exercises into something approaching virtual reality-where real people can interact in a computer-generated world in real time via electronic sensors.
The Army's premier simulation-based training system is the Close Combat Tactical Trainer (CCTT), a follow-on to the ground-breaking SIMNET (Simulation Network) program. Developed by Loral, CCTT will eventually allow geographically dispersed tank, artillery and aviation units to train together on a single, synthetic battlefield. CCTT reached an important milestone last December when the system's latest computer software version won approval by the Army. The 550 simulators to be purchased over the life of the program will interact via a fiber-optic network. Weapons systems represented will include the M1 Abrams tank, M2 Bradley fighting vehicle, M113 armored vehicle and Humvee vehicles. CCTT is the first in a family of tactical trainers called the Combined Arms Tactical Trainers (CATT), which will eventually include manned simulators for engineering, air defense aviation and artillery units. If the Army buys as many simulators as planned, the CATT program could reach $1 billion.
To integrate advanced simulation into its acquisition process, from exploratory development to production, the Army also runs the Battlefield Distributed Development (BDS-D) program, centered at the Army's Aviation Test Bed at Fort Rucker, Ala., and the Mounted Warfare Test Bed at For. Knox, Ky., both run under a contract with Loral. As part of the test bed program, Army crews have fought simulated battles and discovered enemy vulnerabilities to weapons that haven't even been developed yet.
Recently, the Army awarded a $16.8 million contract to Hughes Training, a subsidiary of General Motors, to develop a simulator that can be easily reconfigured to model types of weapon systems. Hughes' Link Division will develop hardware and software for the Battle Lab Reconfigurable Simulator Initiative, with five types of simulators envisioned. The contract is expected to be worth more than $50 million.
The Navy's primary program to develop a new generation of simulators for training deployed battle groups is the Tactical Combat Training System (TCTS). The system will interface with onboard command-and-control systems, with each TCTS capable of simulating the interaction of 100 aircraft, 24 ships and 6 submarines. While TCTS is being developed to train sailors at sea, the Navy's Battle Force Tactical Trainer program is designed to train crews in port. Once networked with a ship's command-and-control systems, the Battle Force Tactical Trainer can simulate an enemy airstrike.
The Air Force has focused on the Special Operations Forces Aircrew Training System, which will link Army special operations forces with a network of 50 crew stations aboard MC-130H, MC-130E, HC-130 and AC-130U aircraft and MH-60G and MH-53J helicopters. The service is also developing a Special Operations Forces Planning and Rehearsal System to assemble computerized mock-ups of any area where forces may have to launch a mission.