Military simulations were once leaps and bounds ahead of the technologies available in the commercial market. Now, as millions of Americans own video game consoles that showcase high fidelity graphics and state-of-the-art hardware and software, that is hardly the case.
With near-term military simulation procurement uncertain, defense contractors are eyeing the commercial sector for potential fixes to looming headaches.
Industry executives want inexpensive offthe-shelf products that cut costs and can be integrated in military simulations. They also hope they can transfer decades of virtual training expertise to markets such as health care and transportation, which are seeking new modeling and simulation technologies.
The military training and simulation industry will take a hit during the fiscal downturn of the next decade, but the impact will be less severe than other defense sectors, said
Government funding for simulation research and development is likely to shrink during that time period, leaving companies financially responsible for driving innovation, he told National Defense. Traditional defense contractors will continue to partner with commercial firms in order to get the newest technologies without having to spend their internal research, development, testing and evaluation dollars.
"Why spend the money on researching [how to develop] your own system when someone already has [developed] it?" Blades asked. "Nobody wants to take all the risk. ... Why would a
Several new startup companies in the video game industry have already received attention from military simulation companies.
For example, Virtuix has not finalized its product design for the
Virtuix plans on developing a military version of the
"The military version would have different kinds of support systems to allow for a soldier to wear his entire gear set while doing training, because right now it's a little bit limited in terms of what I can wear on my body," he said. It would also allow for more freedom of movement, such as being able to crouch.
To break into the military simulation industry, commercial video game companies must appeal to software developers though innovative, cost-saving technologies, said
The Oculus Rift is not yet in the hands of troops, but prototype versions have been incorporated into scenarios, game engines and hardware developed by
"Ultimately [developers are] going to be the creative minds that come up with these amazing applications, whether they be helicopter simulations, maintenance simulations, medical simulations. Who knows?" he said.
At a planned
There are few new-start aircraft procurement programs on the horizon, such as the F-35 joint strike fighter or the P-8 Poseidon aircraft for the
The military will also save money - and cut down on the number of flight simulators acquired - by doing stringent planning to determine how many units are necessary, she added.
As the services enhance existing fixed or rotary wing aircraft, companies will glean opportunities to upgrade the corresponding simulators for those platforms, Blades said.
Even though the
"Agencies like the
If virtual training is "good enough for our guys that are actually in combat, it's an easy argument to make that it should be good enough for our guys that are patrolling the border or who are trying to board ships to engage with smugglers," he said.
Smits acknowledges that government agencies with much smaller budgets than the
DRC will continue focusing on government customers, but it also plans to expand further into medical and cybersecurity training, Smits said.
"There's a lot of training opportunities that we see in the cyberspace," he said. "We look at folks that are coming into the career field. How do we get them up to a master's level sooner?"
About 60 percent of
Any technical innovations originating in Cubic's commercial endeavors can then be brought to bear on future
Space and energy exploration are two other markets with a growing need for modeling and simulation, Smits said.
Training for non-military operators of unmanned aerial systems will develop into a lucrative market once the
Blades advised companies vying for a piece of that market to create generic trainers that can accommodate a variety of aircraft, such as fixed-wing, quadcopter or hexicopter drones. Doing so would give them a leg up on UAS manufacturers that develop their own training programs.
"It doesn't cost a lot to make a generic UAS trainer, if you think about it. The software to do that kind of stuff is very inexpensive, and a lot of it is open source," he said.
Companies need to have technologies ready as soon as the
That's exactly what
"We've been on the advisory boards and the front end in working with several global rule-making authorities on what is going to happen in the commercial airspace when unmanned vehicles enter in," she said.
Ridgeway believes the
Other executives agreed that proving virtual training's return on investment would be vital in expanding future military sales.
"Nobody has yet really quantified the validity of online training versus instructorbased training," Douglas said. The services need to evaluate what tasks are best learned in simulation and how much of an investment is necessary to create an effective system, he said.
"Instead of a
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