Pending cuts in the nation's military spending cast a shadow over the country's largest training-simulation show Tuesday, even as 3D visuals and other high-definition displays flashed across the exhibit hall in the Orange County Convention Center.
The annual four-day event is designed to showcase the latest military-training technology, but this year's show also reveals an industry coming to grips with an expected downturn in defense spending, even if Congress and the White House resolve the "fiscal cliff" budget showdown.
With the end of the war in Iraq and the winding down of the war in Afghanistan, the Pentagon is already planning pullbacks in spending, even if it avoids the biggest potential hit: $1.3 trillion in cuts over 10 years that would take effect in January under the current deficit-reduction law.
"To say we are facing some hard choices doesn't do it justice," Laura J. Junor, deputy assistant secretary of defense for military readiness, said during Tuesday's opening ceremony. "Our choices range from difficult to impossibly difficult. We have had to rethink basically all of the tools and capabilities we have at our disposal."
Despite jitters about the budget cuts, this year's Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation & Education Conference is the largest on record, taking up 500,000 square feet of exhibit-hall space, according to its sponsor, the National Training and Simulation Association. It has about 550 exhibitors, a 10 percent increase from last year.
Central Florida has become the nerve center of the country's training-simulation industry in recent decades. Lockheed Martin Corp.'s Orlando training-systems unit is the industry's biggest player, and the region is also home to major high-tech-training contract agencies for the Army, Navy and Marine Corps. Billions of dollars in revenue and thousands of jobs in Central Florida are tied to training-simulation technology.
But as Pentagon budgets tighten, government and industry must work together to sustain the country's military readiness, Junor said. She called on the nation's military contractors to make affordability and innovation their top priorities as they strive to produce goods and services "faster, better and cheaper."
"We have no choice but to innovate," she said. "Otherwise, we're going to be in a world of hurt. We're already in a position now where military services are competing with each other, and there's just not enough money to go around."
Military-training contractors have already felt the pinch and are finding ways to cut costs and work more efficiently, said Sharon Wolford, president of Carley Corp., an Orlando training-simulation business.
Wolford, one of Tuesday's keynote speakers, cited a Carley project: a computer-based program that uses avatars to train soldiers in urban warfare. Engineers found a way to automate the creation of enemy-forces animations -- usually a time-consuming, costly process, she said. The automation cut devleopment costs by 75 percent.
"Innovation is how we have grown into the company we are today," Wolford said. "Without it, we would not have survived."
Rear Adm. Stephen E. Mehling, commander of Coast Guard readiness, said contractors will have to think creatively when budget constraints require them to do more for less.
"It's basically a case of innovate or die. You have to be better and faster," he said. "It doesn't matter if you're the the top buggy-whip maker on the street -- when Henry Ford comes along and introduces the automobile. At the same time, at least for us at the Coast Guard, if it isn't cheaper, I can't get it."
On the trade-show floor, contractors showcased a wide range of technologies designed to cut costs for the military.
Lockheed demonstrated, among other things, a new computer-tablet-based maintenance trainer for ship engines that began as a company research project in 2011 but led to a contract from the Navy earlier this year. It has helped the Navy substantially cut its training costs, Lockheed engineer Scott Bawden said, and Lockheed is now developing a commercial version for the energy industry.
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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