Thursday, April 11, 2013

Sequestration Leads to Increased Simulator Demand

With the US Federal Budget experiencing a sequestration, or automated federal budget cuts of nearly $85 billion during the fiscal year of 2013, and $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years, all branches of the military are seeing their budgets significantly reduced. These cuts are having many negative effects on people, like forced furlough days for all civilian military workers, who will have to take 22 non-consecutive unpaid days off before September 21, 2013. Nationwide, the loss in civilian military income across all branches is estimated to total $4.8 billion, with the hardest hit people living California and Virginia. In addition to the impact on military families, these budget cuts will significantly affect the military's ability to maintain their readiness. This combination of budget cuts, and an ever-increasing demand for their services, is leading the US Military to rely more and more on virtual training simulators to develop, deploy, and maintain their fighting forces.

Military Training Simulators

The US Air Force is currently absorbing budget cuts of $12 billion, which includes cutting operations, maintenance and flying hours by 40 percent for the rest of the fiscal year. Faced with this reduction the Air Force will utilize virtual simulator-based training as much as possible. 1st Lt. AnnMarie Annicelli, a spokeswoman for the Pacific Air Forces, is quoted in an Anchorage Daily News article saying:
"With any reduction of flying hours pilots will make heavy use of available simulators and academic training to maintain basic skills and knowledge of their aircraft."
To match the expected demand, Lockheed Martin recently announced that they have converted their Orlando-based training-simulation operation from a division to a business that will report to its Mission Systems & Training sector, in Washington. Lockheed Martin's new Training and Logistics Solutions currently employs about 4,500 workers nationwide, providing all branches of the military with training simulators and mission-logistics services.

Aircraft Training Simulator
Lockheed Martin F-35 Flight Training Simulator

The US Marines Corps, currently furloughing more than 19,000 members of their civilian workforce, is suffering a number of consequences, including being forced to reduce the number of training days where real-world land, sea, and air vehicles are used. So what does the military need to do? According to U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Glenn Walters, the military needs more training simulators that are smaller, highly portable, and more affordable. During his keynote speech at the last Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference, Walters made the following challenge to the industrial base:
"Make the military affordable, portable simulators so soldiers can train while they’re abroad."
With an estimated reduction in military forces, due to budget cuts over the next 10 years, Walters believes that an increased use of training simulators will be essential to maintaining military standards and readiness, while weathering the current financial storm. He went on to say:
"We have a moral obligation as leaders to make sure that those soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines that we send forward are ready. Simulation is the one key to get us there at the best bang for the buck, no doubt in my mind."
About one-third of all US Joint Tactical Air Controllers (JTAC) training is currently done on training simulators. Walters believes that without the proper training and simulators, the US military would have suffered 2 or 3 times the amount of casualties in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Walters believes that JTAC simulator-based training needs to increase to encompass a full half of the entire training curriculum.

The sequestration hits members of the National Guard particularly hard as they face a combination of employment stability issues outside of the service, uncertainty about future service-related opportunities, and an aging post-war fleet of equipment to maintain. It's estimated that the National Guard's operation and maintenance budget will be cut by $686 million. Testifying before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, Army General Frank Grass told Congress that an increased use of simulators is a potential solution to the training challenges faced by the National Guard and Army Reserve.

Simulator Contract Announcements

A number of recent military contract announcements in the news corroborates what military officials are saying:
Intel Corporation, the world's largest and highest valued semiconductor chip maker (based on revenue), recently announced a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement with the US Army's Simulation and Training Technology Center (STTC) to "collaborate and optimize research in virtual training environments". When interviewed by the US Army Research Laboratory, Doug Maxwell, the STTC Science and Technology Manager, said:
"Properly representing the operational environment for Army training needs will require a massive increase in simulation scalability and flexibility. It is our belief that virtual world technology may be used to achieve the goal of full-spectrum operations during mission rehearsal exercises. This partnership is the first step to show that more than 1,000 users can operate in the same space and at the same time to achieve a realistic mission."
As all branches of the military are forced to deal with budget cuts, there are a number of unfortunate results, everything from furloughs to reduced real-world training hours. One silver lining of the budget cuts is that new technologies, like virtual training simulators, will have the opportunity to prove their abilities, including being able to provide high-quality and cost-effective training. As technology rapidly advances, deploying high-quality training simulators that can be developed quickly and cheaply is becoming the reality and the expectation, and is leading the demand when it comes to virtual training simulator development.

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