I/ITSEC 2021 Preview: RADM Robb on Adapting to an Unexpected Future

I/ITSEC 2021

I/ITSEC 2021 is upon us, and the Modern Integrated Warfare team is excited to be attending the show in-person this year. From JADC2 to extended reality and AI (XRAI), a lot of ground has been covered over the last year as far as simulation training is concerned, and we look forward to hearing from defense leaders about their paths forward in the connected battlespace.  

To get a glimpse into this year’s show, aptly themed “Innovating and Accelerating Training: Adapting to an Unexpected Future,” we connected with Rear Admiral USN (Ret.) James Robb, President of the National Training and Simulation Association (NTSA). Robb spoke to the importance of rapid innovation and acquisition, open systems, and the increasing demand around simulation training. Read the full conversation here:

Modern Integrated Warfare (MIW) Editors: How is this year’s theme being addressed and what are some of the important lessons learned over the last year that might be fueling this theme.

RADM James Robb: Every service has come to a couple of realizations. The first is that we need to train the workforce to adapt to an ever-changing future. COVID has been an exercise in adjustment and enlightenment. Just like you now go to YouTube to learn how to fix your car at the point of need, the services need to teach the force how to assess problems and find the information that is required to succeed today. Certainly, we need to teach the basics, but more so, we need to teach the force to identify problems and seek solutions and teams of talent that can attack them. When you think of the explosion of AI and XR capabilities, the possibilities to empower the warfighter are endless.

The second is that the acquisition process is too structured to assimilate accelerating technology. For large programs, the technologies envisioned to be central to the solution are obsolete before the prototypes are complete. We need to separate the capability content from the platform and build systems that are made to acknowledge obsolescence and thrive on it. Much of what we build within the component elements of combat systems need to become consumable at the tactical level. Think of how often you buy a new phone.

All these issues will be discussed at I/ITSEC.

MIW Editors: What has the last year taught us about the importance of training at the point of need and making training options more accessible?

Robb: The days of spending large chunks of time teaching memorized content are gone. Think about how much of your education was essentially useless and never really used within your lifetime. New age education will certainly build on basics but will also build a culture of problem solving. In some ways it is a conversion to an open book format concept over a closed book approach with your PDA being a reference. We want the workforce to be able to encounter a problem and know how to find the elements of the problem and teammates that can work together to create solutions. Leave the memorization procedures to the machine components of the man/machine team do the dirty work. Open the brain space to higher level analysis and decision making. AI agents will empower the force as a trusted assistant. We are transitioning to a philosophy of “Ready Relevant Learning” that is part of a life-long approach.

MIW Editors: What challenges are currently being faced as branches move towards a more connected battlespace with efforts like JADC2? How are they being addressed by industry?

Robb: The battlespace is becoming incredibly complex. We are facing competition in all domains and thus, future combat concepts are being driven to an All-Domain Approach. This requires secure communications and decision making at high levels at the speed of light. It also requires the digital integration of units and capabilities. We have been working these same problems in our efforts to integrate simulations.

Industry is fully engaged in working towards open architecture solutions that can readily be aggregated across the force. We are also working diligently to build distributed training environments that can aggregate the force in the training environment. This is the goal of the significant move towards Synthetic Training Environments by every service. NTSA is actively advocating for a synchronization of JADC2 with an environment that will allow the force to train to JADC2.

MIW Editors: Anything else you’d like to add as we launch into this year’s I/ITSEC?

Robb: This is a very exciting time to be in the training and simulation business. Not only are the services becoming more acceptant and demanding of simulation solutions, but they are being driven there by affordability of live training. When you add the fact that the highest level of warfighting can only be trained to in synthetic environment due to classification of capabilities, we are seeing a huge investment my DoD to pivot to virtual solutions as not only the most cost-effective solution, but in many cases, the only solution.

We are also working to free individuals from set piece approaches to measuring their performance and accomplishments. We will build a system where we train to the individual and measure by a much more complete profile of traits, strengths, skills, and accomplishments. If you really want to know the future, go to I/ITSEC this year. The answers are there.

Interested in connecting with the Modern Integrated Warfare team at I/ITSEC 2021? Reach out to us at editors@modernintegratedwarfare.com. Follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn for regular updates from the show floor.