Improving Interoperability and Data Sharing in Military Simulation

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Warrant Officer Dustin Pettis, Apache pilot with Company A, 3rd Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade, trains on a flight simulator. (U.S. Army Photo by Monica K. Guthrie)

While experiencing the “real thing” will always be the best way to provide instruction and teach warfighters new skills and capabilities, the “real thing” isn’t always practical.

In some cases, it’s not feasible to replicate battlefield conditions or scenarios – often because of safety, cost, or other limitations. And these limitations only multiply and grow as new weapons technologies make their way into the battlespace – many with ranges and capabilities that push the boundaries of traditional training ranges and arenas.

As my associates have explained numerous times on The Modern Battlespace, simulation makes it possible for warfighters to train in battlefield scenarios that would be impossible to replicate in the real world. This is why simulation for military training has become widely accepted across the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and is quickly being implemented by nations around the globe.

But simulations aren’t perfect. In fact, simulation technologies and modern simulators have long faced two significant challenges that are a real problem for the DoD – a lack of interoperability and an inability to share data.

Not playing together
Simulators and simulation solutions have historically been stove-piped solutions that struggle to interoperate. This is a significant problem within the military because each different organization, office, and entity within each service purchases its own, different simulation technologies. One might purchase a headset sim for tank operators, and another might purchase a fully immersive flight sim for pilots.

“…it’s essential that they are trained for the geography, topography, and environments that they’ll face in a particular AOR. To enable this, the military will pay to have custom maps and data sets developed for a simulator.”

The lack of interoperability between these solutions can make it difficult for warfighters in different organizations within the services to train together. This problem is amplified when organizations from different services want to train together – something that’s even more important in the age of Joint Multi-Domain Operations.

Worse, these disparate solutions often cannot share data sets or leverage the same maps and information. This is a challenge that has been plaguing the DoD for decades.

Whenever the military shifts its strategic focus or needs to conduct a mission in a new Area of Responsibility (AOR), it may need to switch its simulators and training solutions to match that AOR.

Warfighters need to train like they fight, and it’s essential that they are trained for the geography, topography, and environments that they’ll face in a particular AOR. To enable this, the military will pay to have custom maps and data sets developed for a simulator.

However, developing new maps and data sets for one simulator isn’t enough because multiple simulators are in use across the DoD, and they may not be able to share content. As a result, the DoD finds itself paying to develop content for multiple disparate simulators and training solutions.

“…a new generation of training and simulation technologies built on open systems and platforms…[could make] simulation more accessible and affordable for the military in the future.”

This can become incredibly expensive and time-consuming – especially when there is a large strategic shift within the military from one adversary or AOR to another.

A new ally enters the arena
Over the past few years, we’ve seen a shift in simulation and training technologies. Many of these disparate solutions, which were historically proprietary and siloed, are starting to be built on more standard open systems and platforms. This is opening the door to interoperability and data sharing.

For example, Collins Aerospace recently announced the launch of their Arcus™ Image Generator solution. Arcus is built using the Epic Games Unreal Engine, which many industry training partners are starting to use as the basis for their simulation solutions.

With open solutions like the Unreal Engine being adopted across the industry, there is a new era of capability and interoperability on the horizon. For example, the Arcus solution is capable of being used across a wide ecosystem of simulators and display technologies.

“…simulation technologies and modern simulators have long faced two significant challenges that are a real problem for the DoD – a lack of interoperability and an inability to share data.”

The simulation industry has been working with its military customers for decades to solve the system interoperability and data sharing problem – with limited success. While systems like Arcus won’t automatically solve these issues, they’re an important next step.

Arcus’ architecture, which enables it to work across a wide range of system types, and its potential for game engine interaction and combined simulation capabilities brings greater potential in succeeding where past efforts have failed.

Simulation is necessary in today’s modern military and can be helpful for scenarios that can’t be done in real life. However, interoperability and data sharing have long been challenges to the military’s use of simulation for training. Thankfully, a new generation of training and simulation technologies built on open systems and platforms could help solve these challenges, making simulation more accessible and affordable for the military in the future.