ITEC is Europe’s largest defence training and simulation conference and exhibition. The event brings simulation and training technologies from academic, scientific, military and civil emergencies to a wide audience from the military, defence and high-tech industries.
The 21st ITEC was held in London’s ExCeL centre from the 18th-20th May 2010. The exhibition attracted over 135 exhibitors from companies including industry leaders such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin and L-3 Communications. The presence of so many multinational companies, as well as conference delegates representing armed forces from all over the world highlights the vital role that training and simulation plays in defence and security in modern day warfare. Simulation for military training is currently used by the majority of armed forces in the developed world, including almost all the branches of the US military, the UK Ministry of Defence and the German Federal Defence. Applications of simulation training extend beyond the military spectrum, and have also been adopted by law enforcement services globally.
The rapid development of simulation technology has begun to transform the way in which men and women are trained for combat situations. The military no longer needs to organise full scale live fire operations to train troops, and this is helping to drive down the costs of training for modern warfare. Whilst many would argue that cost should not be a factor if training will save the lives of soldiers on the ground, the expense of using modern weaponry is prohibitive, even to armed forces. The firing of just a single javelin anti-tank missile for example can cost up to $100,000. Advocates of simulation argue that it provides just as effective a training environment but with far lower costs, and coupled with traditional training can perhaps prepare soldiers in more comprehensively for the battlefield. Allowing soldiers to train in immersive virtual worlds lets them run scenarios constantly until they perform to the satisfaction of their superior officers, and also allows them to be put into scenarios which would be too dangerous in which to actually train. Virtual environments also allow their superiors to perform far more effective after action debriefs. They are given the ability to see every action which was taken during a scenario and scrutinise the performance of every man present to a level of detail previously inconceivable.
The conference itself consisted of talks given by senior military and industry leaders on a multitude of topics, ranging from the integration of simulation technologies into live training scenarios to how military organisations should prepare and respond to cyber attacks on digitised command and control systems. One of the conference highlights was a talk entitled ‘Addressing current security cooperation initiatives and the prominent role that simulation and training plays in their success’. The speakers for this talk included Scott Schless, Principle Director for strategy at the Defence Security Cooperation Agency; Dr Dai Morris, Head of Capability, Joint Training, Evaluation and Simulation, for the UK Ministry of Defence; and Frank DiGiovanni, Deputy Director, Readiness and Training of the Office of the Secretary of Defence. Each gave a short 15 minute presentation and then spent the remaining 45 minutes engaged in a lively debate with the floor.
Mr Schless put forward his view that within today’s strategic framework there is a crucial need to develop security cooperation with friendly nations. He argued that in order for the United States military to succeed in areas such as Iraq and Afghanistan there is a need to build the capacity of their security forces so that they can function successfully after US forces have departed. In order to prevent interventions by the US becoming necessary there is a pressing need for the US to improve the security of its partners. In order to achieve this he argued that the US needs to train their forces more effectively, including giving forces a basic understanding of the cultures and languages they are likely to encounter. The US should help other countries to develop institutions to prevent conflicts from breaking out, including justice systems and general infrastructure.
Dr Morris engaged in an examination of how training methods within the armed forces need to become more adaptable to cope with the demands place on the modern infantry soldier. Simulations help soldiers to develop problem solving skills which would take too long to train with traditional methods. However, in order for these simulations to be cost effective he argued that they should be built from common components. Training simulations made by different companies need to be able to interface seamlessly to deliver a fully developed training environment. Common components would allow an international dimension within training, with all forces using the same base technology it would be a great deal easier to run operations between them. He also stressed the need for training and evaluation to go hand in hand; new technologies are enabling commanders to have a precise assessment of the capabilities of those under their command, and this is highly beneficial on the battlefield.
Mr DiGiovanni examined the use of virtual worlds within the military. Virtual worlds are crucial preparation for live training, and can allow soldiers to become familiar with the experience of combat without even setting foot on the battlefield. In agreement with Dr Morris he examined the feedback that soldiers receive. Despite advanced in technology the training of infantry has remained the same for hundreds of years and looking at the huge level of feedback received by aviation pilots in their training he stated that this is something the army should aspire to.
The debate after the talks spanned a range of topics, from the best methods of acquisitioning virtual systems to leveraging commercial companies to produce military equipment, thus reducing costs. The talk provided some insights into the developing use of simulation within the military and assessments of how to design systems for flexibility, interoperability and reuse.
In the exhibition hall Motion Reality Inc were demonstrating VIRTSIM, a Virtual Reality Tactical Training Environment.
The simulation uses motion capture technology which was developed for the commercial industry and used in motion pictures such as the ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy and James Cameron’s ‘Avatar’. Soldiers wear head mounted displays which use the same 3D technology you will see in the cinema to place them within a realistic virtual world. They can also be fitted with electrodes which will stimulate muscles when they are ‘shot’. Thus being hit in the virtual environment can result in real pain. This technology is meant to promote a total sense of immersion within the virtual environment, and can be used to train entire squads of soldiers simultaneously. Soldiers who physically may be thousands of miles apart are thus able to train against each other in real time.
The exhibitions were not limited to just infantry training. The aviation industry adopted flight simulators from their earliest days, and they have risen to such prominence that almost no training is done in real craft; often the first time a commercial pilot ever actually takes to the sky there will be passengers in the back of his plane.
The view from the cockpit of Reiser Systemtechnik GMBH’s Eurofighter Typhoon Simulator
Overall ITEC 2010 provided fascinating glimpse into a highly competitive and yet relatively unknown industry, which will undoubtedly gain a much greater public profile as it develops.