In this installment of our Experts in the Field series, we spoke with Colonel Timothy E. Beers, commander of the Air Force Agency for Modeling and Simulation (AFAMS). AFAMS is a Field Operating Agency subordinate to Headquarters U.S. Air Force (HAF) A3T located in Orlando, FL. With more than 25 years in the Air Force, Col. Beers offers valuable insights about the evolution of warfighter needs and expectations, and how modeling and simulation today is delivering on those needs in the training phase.
Here’s what he had to share with us in a recent interview:
The Modern Battlespace (TMB) Editors: Tell us how you got started on your career path.
Beers: For nearly as long as I can remember, the military was what I wanted to do for a career. I honestly can’t remember a time when I wanted to do anything else. Like many of my generation, my grandparents served in the military, and undoubtedly, I was influenced by their dedication to our nation. I vividly remember being about four or five years old and seeing an Air Force commercial on TV with an F-15 and F-16 dogfighting each other. I was captured by it and thought that sure looked like an exciting way to make a living. Being a child of the ‘80s, I grew up with Star Wars, Buck Rogers, and Battlestar Galactica reruns; I suppose those heroes further imbued my interest in science and technology. So, at an early age, I knew I wanted to be in the military, and I knew I wanted to be involved in aviation. That set me on a path to where I am today.
TMB Editors: Tell us about your current role and how you are shaping the future of the battlespace?
Beers: AFAMS is focused on operational training and readiness, specifically tackling what I refer to as the paradigm of training. Right now, we’re at this interesting inflection point in our history where high-quality training in peer-to-peer type engagements is more important than ever, but it’s also at the same time more difficult to accomplish than ever.
To illustrate, let’s go way back to early civilization. Imagine two single combatants meeting in battle – there is parity in their weapons; both sides literally have sticks and stones, and ultimately the victor is determined by either sheer motivation or experience. For the next thousands of years, there are always advancements, but for the most part, when a new weapon is developed, competitors eventually learn to adapt to it, and parity is restored. Jump ahead to Post-WWII, and certainly, for the last forty years, the U.S. has enjoyed a period of technological superiority over our competitors. But many defense leaders will tell you that advantage is quickly eroding. Given equal sticks and stones, we appear to be rapidly returning to a period when experience will be the determining factor in achieving victory.
Operating under this assumption, AFAMS is focused on how to increase warfighter experience through superior training, or as we refer to it, establishing a “training overmatch.” Our goal is to maximize quality training opportunities.
The second part of the paradigm is that peer-to-peer type training is increasingly more difficult to conduct: you need a lot of airspaces; a modern, dense and diverse threat set to fight against; and a big chunk of the Radio Frequency spectrum. For these, and a variety of other reasons, “high-end” aircrew training may be driven towards a more virtual environment.
I’ll tell you, having been an aviator my whole career, nothing beats live training. You’ve got to pull the Gs, you’ve got to sweat, you’ve got to be nervous. Simulations are a valuable part of the training process, but they’ve always lacked that level of reality or fidelity. AFAMS is working towards acquiring technologies that will evoke that sense of reality, those visceral reactions, that you experience in live training.
TMB Editors: What are some of the latest developments in modeling and simulation you’re most excited about and how are they contributing to warfighter readiness?
Beers: Something that I’m excited about in development is a program that’s able to basically translate data between disparate databases in real-time, making information more accessible across platforms. This is crucial to our work. Applied specifically in a model and simulation setting, this enables different aircraft simulators to more easily communicate with each other, regardless of their individual proprietary software. That’s key to the capability we need.
Another important area of focus is the electromagnetic spectrum. During the most recent Air Force Association Air Space Cyber Conference, COMACC, General Kelly said, “If we lose the war in the electromagnetic spectrum, we lose the war in the air, and we lose it fast.” We need to find a way to more accurately represent the electromagnetic spectrum and the effects produced when someone enters it and acts upon it. This is something we are working on closely with the industry right now.
We’re also working on something referred to as the Common Synthetic Training Environment, or CSTE. Though a bit debated on how best to achieve the end state; the goal is for multiple warfighters across different aircraft and systems, from different locations around the world, to be able to participate in, and fully experience, the same training event, all taking place within a high fidelity, high relevance, all-domain environment.
It’s a tall order: you’ve got to incorporate all the capabilities of all the players; accurately represent a congested and contested EM spectrum; produce an adversary that’s dynamic and realistic in the way they present and act; all while being security enabled as opposed to security-constrained. And low system latency is imperative for user experience.
What’s more is this environment needs to be able to be updated on the order of hours or days, not months or years. Otherwise, we’re fooling ourselves by facing a non-relevant and non-realistic threat. We’re very excited about CSTE because it delivers on the needs long communicated by warfighters, and I think we’re on the cusp of finally being able to provide it to them.
TMB Editors: Anything else you’d like to add?
Beers: It’s crucial to remember as the battlespace continues to evolve that we no longer fight as individual branches. We fight as a joint team and finding ways to include, not exclude, our joint and coalition partners in training has got to be a big portion of how we go forward.
“The views expressed are those of the author and the subject and do not reflect the official guidance or position of the United States Government, the Department of Defense or of the United States Air Force. “