Simulator Training - DEFENCE MANAGEMENT JOURNAL, Issue 51
The virtual battlefield
Editor Anthony Hall gauges the significance of simulation training in the dramatic development of the Republic of Slovakia's armed forces during the past decade…
In January 2000, the merger of the Ministry of Defence and General Staff of the Slovak Army formed the Integrated Ministry of Defence, based in Bratislava. In 2004, the Slovakia joined NATO, and began to contribute to international operations. The Ministry of Defence has stated its commitment to preparing the defences for the country, building and commanding the army, and managing military facilities. Since the early 2000s, an essential element of that role has been filled by simulation training.
The rapidly developing, increasingly popular area of simulation training not only allows troops to train in combat situations in relative safety, but also allows strategy to be practised. Simulators can be used for everything from learning how a weapon fires to landing a helicopter on the deck of a ship in high winds. It enables real life situations to be mastered and controlled, and mistakes to be learned from, in a low-risk setting. Simulators can be particularly useful for new soldiers who are yet to see conflict. They can show the soldiers what they could face, help them to react appropriately to certain situations and enable tactical thinking.
Not all simulators are computer-based. Air forces often use simulators to teach troops to pilot aircraft – a technology also utilised in the civil aviation industry. As technology develops, there is certainly more that can be done in simulation, and real life simulation can offer a safe environment in which to practise situations such as crash landing in water in aircraft, driving land vehicles such as tanks, and real life battle scenarios.
Since the early 90s, the Slovak armed forces have utilised this technology to train and improve the capabilities and efficiency of their personnel in the areas of doctrine development, tactics, and as a means of enhancing combined and joint coordination. The development of Slovakia's simulation technology has moved fairly rapidly over the last 10 years. In 2003, there was a need to create a system that could link the existing system with that of the Air Force C31 ATC, a challenge in itself. The Slovak Air Force Academy stated its approach to meet this need – a paper 'Simulation Federation in Coherence with C31 AF ATC System on CAX Platform', and proposed that Training and Simulation Centres (TSC) using modular, open architecture could be the way forward. 1
TSC create a combined arms environment where tactics, equipment and training developments can be addressed, using pre-loaded scenarios with real world databases for training purposes. Also included are a virtual full mission simulator training facility, digital communication emulators, and the capability to link this and the Air Force C31 system. TSC would ensure interoperability across all arms.
Initial development of the TSC programme included a facility located at the Slovak Air Force Academy at Kosice. This provided virtual simulators of Slovak Air Force light combat aircraft, operating in a variety of roles including individual flight training and fighter combat. Elsewhere within the Slovak defence establishment, the TSC utilised at the Army Academy at Liptovsky Mikulas provided virtual simulators for anti-aircraft gun training, and heavy vehicle driving.
The TSC have also supported the Slovak Armed Forces in joint exercises, providing simulations related to all four sectors of the exercise life-cycle – design, planning, execution, and post exercise assessment. Known as Computer Assisted Exercises (CAX), this kind of simulated war gaming allows staff training and combined arms operability without the cost of involving combat forces, or the risk of property damage or vehicle accidents. It also allows commanders and staff to work through alternative courses of action and a variety of tactical options in a single scenario.
The rapid development of simulation technologies in the Slovak armed forces achieved not only efficiencies in training, but also supported the integration of the republic's defence establishment into the NATO command structure – especially since the alliance is now heavily reliant on simulation training to develop its joint command and control infrastructures.
As simulation has evolved, new, emerging technologies have been used and adapted. One area that has proven useful is 3D technology. This was utilised in 2008 at the air base at Sliacˇ, where 3D maps were used in the training simulator for fighter pilots, giving a realistic view of the countryside.
There has also been a move in recent years to include civilian crisis management staff in simulation exercises. Recent developments in software are permitting more accurate simulations of crowd behaviours in emergency situations, modelling that is also of use in predicting the movement of large units of infantry. A TSC opened in Lest is now developing joint training for both the defence forces and civilian agencies responsible for Slovakia's emergency preparedness and response planning.
Simulation will always have a role to play in training scenarios, particularly in areas as dangerous as the military. The further development of such technology is helping the Slovaks to remain a strong force in central Europe.