How Simulation Can Make “Training Like You Fight” Possible

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An F-35A Lightning II takes off, March 2, 2023, at Luke Air Force Base, a fighter pilot training base. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Elias Carrero)

There is a common phrase in military training circles that says, “Train like you fight.” It’s a simple concept that makes sense. After all, how can warfighters appropriately prepare for combat if they’re not training in the same operational conditions they’ll face on the battlefield?

Unfortunately for the Department of Defense (DoD), it’s becoming increasingly difficult to conduct physical training operations and field exercises in a way that would allow warfighters to truly, “Train like they fight.”

Advanced weapons systems and platforms move so quickly and cover such broad areas that it’s difficult to find training ranges and locations large and remote enough to accommodate them. Also, our adversaries have developed such advanced ISR capabilities that they will invariably watch any physical training exercise conducted outdoors.

So, how do we train in this new era of warfighting? The answer most likely lies in new simulation technologies that can mimic real-world environments in a virtual world.

To learn more about these training challenges facing today’s military, we sat down with members of the training and simulation team at Collins Aerospace, including:

  • Britt “Mega” Hurst, Director of Business Development, Simulation and Training Solutions
  • Lance Moss, Product Line Manager
  • Mike Blackford, Director of Business Development, Air Transport, Rotorcraft and Commercial Simulation

During our conversation, we asked about simulation’s role as a complement or replacement to physical training. We also discussed a new solution from Collins Aerospace called Arcus, which promises to democratize high-fidelity training simulation for all warfighters and coalition partners.

The Modern Battlespace (TMB): How have field exercises changed in the past decade? What new challenges does the military face when conducting live training in the field?

Britt Hurst: The threat environment has changed significantly over the last decade. Encroachment on training ranges, including physical ground, airspace, and electromagnetic spectrum, has increased, limiting the operational realism warfighters can simulate in peacetime.

Today’s modern, near-peer adversaries are also more capable of observing physical training exercises than ever before. Operational security requirements have increased as potential adversaries have improved their land, air, space, cyber, surface, and subsurface ISR capabilities.

“Given the limited space available for live exercises when compared to the range capability of various sensors, it is becoming increasingly difficult to achieve all the desired training tasks in a live exercise.” – Mike Blackford

These restrictions make it impossible for warfighters to train as they will fight in combat.

Finally, the cost to operate vehicles – especially aircraft – continues to increase to the point where it is not worth the time to accomplish low-end tasks or training.

TMB: How does simulation help the military overcome these challenges?

Britt Hurst: Simulation – both virtual and constructive – enables warfighters to train like they fight. There are no physical limits to training ranges in cyberspace. No electromagnetic spectrum approvals are required. No coordination with the FAA or other regulatory agencies is necessary. No noise restrictions or safe-distance limits are applicable.

Simulation also enables adversary equipment to be emulated to the most realistic level possible without fear of compromise. Most importantly, simulation allows warfighters to perfect their fighting skills through multiple iterations of practice against virtual and constructive advanced threat systems.

TMB: Is simulation considered an adequate replacement for live field exercises, or is it considered more of a supplement for live field exercises?

Mike Blackford: Given the limited space available for live exercises when compared to the range capability of various sensors, it is becoming increasingly difficult to achieve all the desired training tasks in a live exercise.

“Simulation – both virtual and constructive – enables warfighters to train like they fight. There are no physical limits to training ranges in cyberspace.” – Britt Hurst

Therefore, virtual and constructive training is a crucial addition and supplement to live exercises. Ultimately, a mix of live, virtual, and constructive training will best prepare the warfighter for the complex operations they may face.

Britt Hurst: I agree. Simulation cannot replace all aspects of military training. However, it can replace some while supplementing others.

Most importantly, it enables training that is not allowed in the real world. For example, we cannot allow warfighters to be shot at by an adversary with an air-to-air or surface-to-air missile in training. Because of this, even modern field exercises cannot fully train operators for actual combat.

TMB: Historically, have all allied and coalition partners had access to sophisticated simulation technologies and simulated training environments? Why is this a problem in the era of joint multi-domain operations?

Britt Hurst: Not all allied and coalition partners have the same level of access to sophisticated simulation technologies and training environments. Some cannot afford to purchase or sustain the required equipment.

Some do not have the equipment, technology, or advanced training to employ these solutions at the highest threat levels. Based on assessed levels of trust and operational security, some partners are allowed more access than others to classified information.

This is a problem because tomorrow’s wars aren’t going to be fought alone. Tomorrow’s wars will involve operations being conducted collaboratively with our coalition partners. To truly train like we fight, we’ll need to train together.

Advanced image generation from Collins and Unreal Engine shows an immersive scene.

TMB: How can today’s simulation technology help overcome some of these challenges – such as the challenge with trust and classified information?

Britt Hurst: Modern simulation enables multiple levels of security to be exercised simultaneously among partner nations, whether live, virtual, or constructive training is being accomplished.

Cross-domain solutions and tactical guards ensure that appropriate information is passed to – or restricted from – a variety of partners in real time. This enables each nation to train to the highest level of its allowable security access – which should match real-world execution.

As nations progress in their warfighting abilities and demonstrate increased trust, the fidelity of classified data shared can be adjusted via software modifications.

TMB: Raytheon Technologies recently unveiled a new solution called Arcus. What is Arcus? What does this new solution do?

Lance Moss: Arcus is a new breed of image generator based on the Epic Games Unreal Engine technology.

The hybrid combination of Unreal Engine and Collins simulation expertise makes for a compelling and scalable image generator solution while allowing for continual growth as Unreal Engine adds new features and capabilities.

“Encroachment on training ranges, including physical ground, airspace, and electromagnetic spectrum, has increased, limiting the operational realism warfighters can simulate in peacetime.” – Britt Hurst

Britt Hurst: It effectively enables increased realism for warfighter training, resulting in increased lethality and survivability.

TMB: How is Arcus different from the previous simulation and training solutions that Raytheon Technologies has provided for the DoD and other global militaries?

Lance Moss: The Arcus image generator allows increased flexibility in the types of solutions that are used for training. It can be used with headset-based, part-task trainers. It can be used with simple multi-channel devices. It can even be used with full-size flight simulators.

Regardless of the solution, they can all share the same run time software, synthetic environment, and appropriate hardware to keep costs suitable for the training task.

TMB: We’ve heard the military talk extensively about asymmetrical training. What is asymmetrical training, and why is it important for the military – especially when training pilots?

Britt Hurst: Asymmetrical training is a process where trainees move through a curriculum at their pace of achievement as they demonstrate proficiency in specific tasks. Rather than proceeding through a course of instruction with a larger group of trainees at the pace of a syllabus, each trainee can progress from milestone to milestone at their own pace of success.

This training style is more dynamic and agile, enabling trainees to graduate more quickly. However, it places increased demands on instructors and schedulers.

“The hybrid combination of Unreal Engine and Collins simulation expertise makes for a compelling and scalable image generator solution while allowing for continual growth as Unreal Engine adds new features and capabilities.” – Lance Moss

The U.S. Air Force is approximately 2,000 pilots short of its requirements and has unsuccessfully attempted to produce 1,500 pilots per year to close that gap. Asymmetrical training should accelerate military pilot production to help resolve the current pilot shortage.

TMB: How can the Arcus solution enable asymmetrical training across the military?

Britt Hurst: The more realistic and dynamic the image generator, the more closely aligned simulation training will be to live training.

That alignment will build trust and confidence in simulation training among operators who are notoriously skeptical about simulated training. Arcus helps bridge that trust gap.

TMB: Arcus was built with Epic Games, leveraging their Unreal Engine. What does this bring to the solution? Why did Raytheon Technologies partner with Epic Games and leverage this technology?

Lance Moss: The Arcus IG is a hybrid technology that combines the best PC gaming capabilities with the best of Collins simulation capabilities.

This hybrid combination allows focused updates and leverages gaming market investments into improved rendering. Essentially, simulations can now take advantage of the incredible capabilities and innovations in the gaming arena.

To learn more about Arcus and how it can enable incredibly realistic, synthetic training environments, click HERE.