Lockheed Martin [LMT] said this month  it received a $28.6 million contract to upgrade more than 60 Advanced Gunnery Training Systems (AGTS) for M1A1 and M1A2 main battle tanks.

The company said the Sept. 14 award also provides 11 new M1A2 training systems as a part of the two-year contract issued by the Army Program Executive Office of Simulation, Training and Instrumentation (PEO STRI).

“From a Lockheed perspective we have been investing in technology to improve training and when we see our customers wanting to take advantage of that and put that into the hands of soldiers, we get very excited,” Andre Elias, AGTS program manager for Lockheed Martin, said in an interview.

For the Army, the upgrades will make the simulators more realistic, more attractive to the soldier, he said. Also, bringing real world scenarios to the simulations has been extremely effective.

The AGTS is a simulator designed to train individuals, crews, platoons and companies in precision gunnery skills, so trainees can transition quickly to live fire or combat gunnery.

As part of the upgrade effort, Lockheed Martin will integrate the newest version of its Scalable Advanced Graphics Engine (SAGE) image generation technology, which draws from extensive visual databases to help warfighters experience a more detailed environment and encounter more realistic targets. 

Elias said a large virtual training environment has to be created to make the game engine useful to military training, and Lockheed Martin develops databases of world hotspots and then develops training scenarios for–in this case–a tank system.

The technology is constantly changing driven by the commercial industry, gaming, graphics industry is doing, Elias said.

Lockheed Martin invests its own funds and tries to leverage what’s available in the gaming world and adapt it to the military simulation world, he said. “Trying to reuse some of that but make it work in a large military simulation environment is where our R&D has been aimed at.”

“You want to train the tank crews on how to perfect their skills in a super-realistic environment,” he said. Some training aims at strategic level decision making, but tank crews need a different set of skills. They need to know where they are on a battlefield and be able to produce accurate fire, time after time.

“The training is continuous because those skills are perishable,” Elias said. Initial training is done before the crews meet the real-world tank, and then sustainment training to refresh skills, so they’re ready to go to a warzone anytime because they are trained.

Tanks and live ammunition are expensive to be used in training, but simulation training costs are practically nothing once the simulator is paid for, he said. “The cost of it is basically the cost of electricity and the maintenance. That’s it. Whereas training with live assets is important to a certain extent so you want to minimize that and maximize simulation. That’s how most customers pay for the investment in simulation, by projecting the savings in the future.”

Simulators used to be permanent installations, since then, different versions have been developed. Now, some are on wheels so they can be driven to where the soldiers are; still smaller versions for more basic training can sit on a desk.

Additional upgrades make it easier for instructors to monitor and control the training scenarios through new graphic user interfaces, such as more pull-down menus for the instructor screens.

Soldiers have provided ideas on how to make the training experience better, he said. For example, when the United States went into Iraq, tanks faced the constricted areas of urban conflict unlike the open European setting they had trained on. This could make tanks vulnerable if the crew was not properly trained. In the Cold War scenario, crews searched the horizon; the enemy was likely 3,000 to 4,000 meters away, so detecting and engaging an enemy was in the distance. Suddenly, In Iraq, the tank was in a street fight. Simulations with new scenarios trained the crew in new skills to be successful in this new environment.

Since Lockheed Martin developed the original AGTS architecture more than 15 years ago, the company has delivered over 200 AGTS systems and upgrades to Defense Department customers with an additional 180 to foreign partner nations.