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Training & Simulation Forum

BLOG: On a clear day....

02 Jun 11

…you can see forever, so the song goes. And clarity of vision – or lack thereof – is something that characterises more than one aspect of our community. But will that necessarily hold true for the immediate future, as we embark on yet another episode of change that will, in the views of many, be radical?

I have long felt the edges of our previously well-defined universe are blurring; the sharp divide between military training and adjacencies in which the same technologies can be applied is no longer as finely machined as it was; the previously well understood (if somewhat cumbersome) procurement machine is creaking into new modalities; and even the definitions of levels of simulator fidelity are being called into question.

Maybe five years ago, if you mentioned ‘high fidelity’ in the context of military training, the chances are you were talking about a flight simulator. Long seen as the apotheosis of simulation, full mission simulators were characterised by the highest level fidelity image generators, visualisation systems and projectors that money could buy, and everything that was not a flight simulator fell into a so-called low fidelity category.

That is no longer the case. Although flight training systems continue to represent the Holy Grail of visual fidelity, other systems and applications have begun to creep in to the category of high fidelity systems – ranging from vehicle and gunnery training systems to tactical engagement simulations. The reasons for it are obvious – the increasingly ‘mission critical’ aspects of non-aircrew training requirements, the ever accelerating onward march of technological capability, which makes possible a genre of visual representations that we scarcely dreamed of in times gone by and the commercial imperative of the supply side of the community to show a cutting edge in every possible application. But as the customer becomes more of an ‘intelligent customer,’ and budget austerity and smart acquisition processes begin to make their inevitable effects felt, the question of relative levels of fidelity becomes more than just a question of semantics.

The category of high fidelity has stretched at the bottom end, by which I mean that the technical threshold has remained static, but more and more systems are creeping into the category by virtue of their systems’ capability. A new category has also emerged – there is an increasing number of companies terming their systems as representing ‘medium fidelity,’ – a category that was practically non-existent in the last decade. Low fidelity is hardly ever mentioned, despite the fact that lower levels of fidelity are perfectly appropriate across a wide swathe of non-mission critical applications.

We often talk of the potential negative training threat represented by failing to meet the aspirations and expectations of the ‘Nintendo generation’ of recruits. I have rarely heard discussion, however, of the impact this might have on the industry. Many applications have benefited from attempts to address this potential threat, not the least being the increased use of very sophisticated games engines to power military training simulations. But I wonder whether we have fully thought through the implications of high levels of visual fidelity on the commercial longevity of some of the less critical solutions currently being procured.

Maintenance training, procedural skills training and such ‘soft’ issues as language and cultural awareness education do not necessarily demand high-end visualisation facilities and, indeed, their continued procurement may depend on their ultimate affordability, which would seem to militate against gold-plating the technical aspects of the solution. High fidelity has its place – and a very important place it is, too – but we should take care not to let it become an all-consuming mantra.

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