Virtual and synthetic training systems can dramatically reduce the overhead associated with training part-time soldiers, especially in honing basic skills leading up to necessary but expensive live-fire exercises, according the chief of the Army Reserve.
“It’s a way to really cut down on the overhead associated with training,” Lt. Gen. Charles Luckey said Jan. 24 at a Defense Writers Group breakfast. “The ramifications of that environment for both the National Guard and the Reserve are potentially huge given the diffusion of our formations.”
Fortunately for the reserve components, individual soldiers practice their occupational specialties daily when out of uniform. Where they most need training is in military-specific skills like gunnery, Luckey said. The Army recently raised its qualification requirements for gunnery and other skills, particularly the operation of crew-served weapons, he said.
As of Dec. 12, more than 1,700 Reserve soldiers have participated in Operation Cold Steel. After firing a total 1.2 million rounds of ammunition, 80 percent of those soldiers qualified n the M2, M19 and M240B crew-served weapon platforms. It was the largest crew-served weapons gunnery exercise the Reserve has conducted since 1908, Luckey said.
As the Army embarks on Cold Steel II this year at several installations, Luckey is exploring how synthetic and virtual training can help soldiers become proficient in handling weapons prior to the live-fire exercise.
“Part of what’s nested into that is getting after what the best next thing from a synthetic training environment perspective to better increase our soldiers’ ability, once they get to a live fire, to already be trained at a high-enough level of proficiency that it takes relatively little time to get them where we need them.”
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley in October made an impassioned plea to rapidly improve and expand the Army’s synthetic and virtual training capabilities so soldiers can repeatedly practice combat skills at a fraction of the cost of live-fire exercises.
Every front-line company in the Army should have access to multiple technologies simulating various combat conditions, Milley said at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual expo in Washington, D.C.
“The technology exists now in order to conduct realistic training in any terrain, in all of the urban areas of the world, in any scenario against any enemy – anything the commander deems necessary,” Milley said. “That is possible today.”
Luckey agreed that virtual and synthetic training environments could yield significant advantages to all components of the Army, but warned against an “overly ambitious” pursuit of the technology. The systems should above all be kept “as simple, as inexpensive and as soldier friendly as possible,” he said.
“I have not made or am not prepared to make or state any sort of definitive investment decision on what is the next piece of kit and how far out we would disperse it,” Luckey said. “As a grunt, I am always skeptical to move too quickly to get into simulation because … while the technology looks really exquisite and looks really cool on the showroom floor, when you take it out on a test drive and put it in a box a few times and move it around from one location to another, all of a sudden … stuff breaks.”
It is more important to find practical applications for existing technologies – and to ensure the ones the Army buys are upgradeable – than to strive for high-end virtual reality with unrealistic expectations for the technology, he said.
“This is one where I don’t think you want to let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” he said. “You want to get to good enough, keep costs down, keep soldier-friendliness, durability, resilience. … Am I willing to lose a little bit in terms of cool-factor or high-end capability to be able to buy more, to disperse more, to have more survive? Yeah.”