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Training & Simulation Forum

FEATURE: Live training - will it live forever?

09 Jun 11


The original version of this article, written by TSF Editor Tim Mahon, appeared in the first 2011 issue of Military Training & Simulation News (www.twpltd.com) and is reproduced here in its entirety by kind permission of The Write Partnership Ltd. Our purpose in reproducing it here is to stimulate debate in the Live Training message board feature of this website, which will go live in mid-June.


We live in a world in which training seems increasingly to be the domain of technologists. Simulation, synthetic environments, virtual worlds, serious games and player-avatars are the buzz words that fill the convention centres during the training and simulation community’s major conferences. Technology seems to have taken over and it is sometimes too easy to forget that the essential purpose of training – at least for the military – is to instil tactical procedures and skills, to provide ‘muscle memory’ for troops to enable them to maximize the use of the weapons and support systems they may shortly be deploying for real. Live training – the oldest segment of our industry (since the Roman legions conducted large-scale live training exercises 2,000 years ago) – remains a vital component of a holistic approach to troop training. But are its days numbered?

Only, this writer would suggest, in the same manner as the tank’s days were numbered at the end of the Cold War, or the battleship’s at the end of World War Two. In other words – the face of live training may change, and the shape it takes as it undergoes inevitable transformation will change, but it would seem to have a far more enduring lifespan than that of a political scandal or ephemeral euphoria of a sports win by the national team.

“Live training will always have an enduring place in military planning – there is simply no substitute for it in bringing realism to the training experience for the individual. The challenge is to integrate technology into live training in the most effective manner possible and to ensure that it remains relevant and focused on developing individual and small unit skills,” said Claes-Peter Cederlöf, vice president marketing for Saab, one of Europe’s principal practitioners in the field.

The manner in which the pre-eminent live training companies address the changing requirement inevitably varies according to the corporate philosophy of the provider and the specific requirement of the user. At Saab, for instance, recent years have seen a move towards new and innovative methods of doing business as a route to maintaining and increasing market share.

Take as an example the contract won in late 2009 for the British Army’s pre-deployment training system in Kenya. After an extensive concept technology demonstrator that ran for in excess of two years, Saab successfully gained the contract for the Deployable Tactical Engagement Simulation – a construct aimed at providing pre-deployment training for British Army troops tasked for Afghanistan, based in Kenya, where the topography and climate are as close as possible to the conditions those troops will face in theatre.

Rather than follow the traditional route of supplying equipment then taking a back seat till it requires maintenance, upgrading or replacement, Saab on this occasion chose to make a radical departure into a new contracting mechanism. The equipment – based on the existing Saab range of laser-based live training systems – remains in Saab ownership, rather than the Army’s. The company maintains, enhances and replaces the equipment where necessary and has a number of technical and operational advisors embedded with the permanent staff of the British Army Training Unit in Kenya, in order to facilitate the exercises. Most radical of all, the company is paid on a ‘per exercise’ basis, which means fundamentally that the relationships between supplier and operator need to be far more intimate and trusting than may necessarily have been the case in the past, if the supplier is to stand a chance of getting paid. Current reports are that the system is enjoying significant success and Saab’s calculated gamble has paid off handsomely for them. Editor Trevor Nash will be reporting in a future edition on the way in which this has happened, subsequent to a site visit that is imminent at the time of writing.

The issues arising from live training as it has been practised to date and as it changes shape in response to operational requirements include a variety of constructs that companies have only recently begun paying attention to. Here, too, Saab has shown itself to be a company that thinks on its feet and steps forward with graceful but easily implemented solutions. For example, one issue that has come to the fore as a result of combat experience in Iraq and Afghanistan is the necessity for field medics to be better able to make rapid and far-reaching decisions based on high volumes of information – or in some cases, practically no information – in a very short space of time and almost always in a high-pressure, adrenaline-fuelled environment.

Saab’s approach to this challenge has been to integrate a small hand-held medical information and diagnostic simulator into its range of live fire training systems. Capable of presenting the medic with a wide range of information parameters – and equally capable of omitting some of this information, dependent on the individual exercise objective – the device enables the medic to make a diagnosis and implement the relevant primary aid procedures quickly and without risk. The important issue here is to provide training in making the judgement call, not in implementing procedures. This is the area in which operational experience showed a lack of capability and the Saab system caters for a range of decision types ranging from triage to emergency aid. Experience has shown that there is a one hour period – the so-called ‘golden hour’ – in which the right action taken in the field before casualty evacuation facilities become available can literally be the difference between life and death. Giving medical personnel the confidence and skill set from which to draw effective decisions is a major step forward in providing ‘add-on’ features to traditional live training facilities.

Another issue that has grabbed headlines and dominated military thinking, especially in Afghanistan, has been training for countering the improvised explosive device (IED) that has become the Taliban’s weapon of choice. Over 80% of all combat casualties in Afghanistan have been caused directly or indirectly by IED and significant pressure has been brought on the training and simulation community to come up with innovative solutions to accelerate and proliferate training in the identification, localization and disruption of the devices in situ.

Saab’s approach to counter-IED (C-IED) training has been to come up with a suite of devices aimed at providing what the company calls “a seamless, integrated part of a normal tactical exercise….[providing results] from effect to tactical training equipment.” Conducting C-IED training simply with pyrotechnics or carbon dioxide-based simulators only covers the weapon effect portion of the training regime; a range of devices to simulate trip-wire IED, suicide bomber vests or roadside bombs and including the capacity to simulate IED defeat by direct fire or jamming provide for the development of realistic training scenarios rapidly and effectively.

In the United States, the shift in C-IED training as a component of the live training regime has been from a reactive stance to a proactive one, according to John Coster, executive vice-president business development for government programmes at A-T Solutions, Inc. of Fredericksburg, Virginia. The company recently won a $200 million five year contract to provide C-IED training for US forces and has seen its throughput of trainees grow from a little over 10,000 per year to a staggering 5,000 or more per month in the last two years. “We are leaning heavily into attacking the terrorist network – our training reflects that. We emphasise team training throughout the courses and have a cadre of about 100 instructors in the US and a couple of dozen in Afghanistan, providing an approach that integrates C-IED work with other components of live training exercises. The real meat is in the practical training,” Coster said.

Cubic Defense Systems of San Diego, California – another pre-eminent practitioner in the development and implementation of live training facilities, encapsulates its philosophy in adopting the strapline “The only experience more real is combat.” Active in the provision of live aerial combat training facilities as well as ground-based, the company specialises in laser-based instrumented training centres and ranges in which individual weapon skills, small unit tactics and procedures and larger unit combat can be rehearsed, practiced and critiqued in a fully scaleable and flexible manner.

Building on its experience in US combat training centres, Cubic has developed an approach to joint and collective training that won it the contract for the Australian Land 134 project, a programme involving the installation of a variety of instrumented training facilities at multiple locations across Australia. In Jordan, the company has recently completed installation of a combat training centre that caters for a battalion-sized force to be trained but can be expanded up to a brigade-sized force, reflecting one of the two apparently diametrically opposed trends in the scale of desired facilities by global customers.

Cubic has also been quick to acknowledge and react to the growing need for urban training facilities for small infantry units and associated heavy weapons and vehicles. As well as stand-alone facilities for training Military Operations in Urban Terrain (MOUT) tactics, there is an increasing trend to include MOUT-type facilities in larger-scale training establishments. The Italian Ministry of Defence recently warded Cubic and its Italian partner Vitrociset a $50 million five year contract to develop and implement an integrated instrumented combat training centre that will include a significant urban warfare training facility, using Cubic’s “shoot through walls” capability to enhance the realism of this type of combat, which is becoming the norm for small infantry units in expeditionary warfare scenarios.

One area in which live training faces serious threats to its longevity, however, is that of live gunnery training. Vehicle-mounted weapons and artillery systems require vast amounts of space in which to operate safely and such spaces are becoming increasingly difficult to find and maintain against fiscal and public pressures. In the United States, for example, environmental activists have successfully forced the closure of a number of live fire ranges, claiming potentially irreparable ecological damage from depleted uranium anti-tank rounds and the like.

One answer has been to focus more and more attention on the synthetic environment for gunnery training. Norwegian AFV gunners, for example, rely almost exclusively on gunnery simulators to develop and maintain the skills necessary to their profession.

Other solutions are slightly more bizarre, such as the pyrotechnics manufacturer who uses unpopped popcorn in its devices to simulate shrapnel effect on vehicles, claiming it is ecologically sound because “pigeons come down and eat the popcorn at the end of the exercise.”

The reality is that Cederlöf’s view that live training “will have an enduring place” is undoubtedly true, but needs to be tempered by the reality of financial and operational constraints. Above all, live training needs to be far more mobile than it is today. The oft-quoted rubric that the Holy Grail of training is to be able to “train where you want, when you want,” has never been truer than in today’s conflict in Afghanistan. Soldiers need the ability – and the facilities – to be able to conduct refresher training in theatre at short notice. In addition, the training facilities are increasingly being called upon to move across the previously well-defined boundary between training and mission rehearsal, in order to maximise utility of the facilities, prevent rapid skill fade and provide troops with a more competitive edge that is directly focused on the next real – as opposed to generic – mission.

Interviewing troops recently returned from operational tours reveals an almost universal complaint. “The enemy doesn’t act like, sound like, look like or behave like he does in the simulators, sir.” If we are to profit from lessons that have been learned at a high price in terms of lives, injuries and resources, it seems self-evident that live training – as a method of overcoming the artificiality that is a characteristic of even the most advanced synthetic environments – is a discipline that should be made greater use of – not less.

The first Swedish general officer to have led his nation’s troops in combat for over a hundred years once said to this writer. “You can use all the simulators you like – and they will undoubtedly be of assistance in achieving many of your training objectives. But for realistic training in all the subliminal aspects of warfare – the ‘flash to crack’ location of hostile fire, the bone-jarring effect of incoming heavy weapons, the confusion, smells and sounds of combat and the accelerated heart rate and adrenaline rush that goes with it – there can be no substitute for live training.” Which is why companies like Saab, Cubic and their peers will continue to be challenged to come up with innovative, cost-effective, mobile and flexible solutions to ensure that live training continues to ward off its technology-based predators.


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