In an embattled region of the world, terrorists and insurgents continuously perpetrate acts of violence in an attempt to destabilize a budding democratic government. Despite having a United Nations-mandated buffer zone between them, a regime with an extremist past is increasingly hostile toward neighbors who are friendly with the West. The situation in nearby regional waters is equally volatile, marked by piracy, smuggling, and a bloody history of terrorist attacks against global maritime oil interests.
The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) Carrier Strike Group (CSG), operating with its Coalition and joint partners, navigates these troubled waters, supporting troops on the ground, hitting the terrorists where it hurts, and keeping the sea lines clear for international commerce. The strike group does not have the luxury of savoring its successes; amid rapidly evolving conditions, it must quickly change gears to address ever more challenging and complex operational situations.
While the battle problems may appear real to the Eisenhower CSG, it was just the backdrop for their pre-deployment training program, much of which is accomplished in a virtual geographic environment. The strike group participated in two Fleet Synthetic Training (FST) events, in December and again in February, that complemented, reinforced, and enhanced live training at sea, including the strike group's Composite Training Unit Exercise, or COMPTUEX.
The ship's training cycle was markedly different from how the Navy normally trains and certifies its strike group staffs within the Fleet Response Training Plan (FRTP) before they deploy in support of combatant commanders. Prior to the February event, certification of strike groups and commanders for major combat operations would have been completed during a live Joint Task Force Exercise (JTFEX). Because of tight deployment schedules, key tasks that had to be executed live were accelerated in the schedule and were accomplished during an expanded and modified COMPTUEX and JTFEX event. The mission-essential tasks that could be accomplished synthetically were conducted later in a Fleet Synthetic Training-Joint (FST-J) event.
This visionary new training methodology is now integral to the way we prepare our nation's deploying strike groups. It creates a virtual environment in which the Navy stresses critical command-and-control warfare skills and fine tunes its basic warfighting competencies without going to sea. Using the underlying infrastructure of the Navy Continuous Training Environment (NCTE), synthetic training provides unit- through strike force-level training by presenting a series of increasingly demanding and complex events. Scenarios can be modeled to meet expected challenges, and they can be repeated to accentuate training points. This training can be distributed to Navy forces and participating joint/Coalition partners around the world.
Synthetic training has earned its place as a key readiness tool because it helps the Navy stretch its limited training resources. Amid two wars, the Navy must maintain a greater state of readiness because of its increased operational tempo. This is being accomplished with a finite supply of ships and in an era of reduced training flight hours and steaming days. An example is our ability to train with realistic opposing forces. It is difficult in live training to battle a massive enemy. In synthetic training, strike groups, joint partners, and allies scattered around the globe unite for training on a shared virtual battlefield that replicates extremely complicated conditions and problems.
FST also provides valuable synthetic training opportunities to complement live training and allows units and strike group commanders to practice their operational and training requirements ashore and validate them in a live environment at sea.
Despite the enhancements FST brings to training overall, it is not a replacement for live training. The Navy's requirement to train with systems and Sailors on board ships at sea is the centerpiece of its training program. Synthetic training began as a means to augment at-sea training through the practice of critical skills in port so ships could maximize underway training time. FST cannot fully replicate the complexity of strike group operations or enemy forces undersea, on the surface, and in the air. And it cannot fully replicate the seas themselves.
Rather than spending underway time practicing basic operator skills, crews and command staffs are able to function at a higher level of proficiency before leaving the pier. This results in a much more efficient use of valuable training time at sea. Synthetic and live events complement each other in each training cycle.
Tomorrow's Fleet will continue to evolve to meet global requirements, as will the training program. To take full advantage of live and synthetic training, the Fleet will need the capability to rehearse by synthetic means while steaming toward its next mission.1 FST will move beyond the pier, facilitating enroute training and mission rehearsal to specific scenarios while a ship is at sea or forward deployed. To reach these ambitious goals, it is important to understand what FST has become in a relatively short time and the challenges the program faces as it continues to develop.
The Short History of FST
The Navy has trained by synthetic means, in some manner, for decades, but the modern FST program was born in 2004 when ships in three Fleet concentration areas and on both coasts were connected in the Navy's first Multiple Battle Group In-port Exercise (MBGIE). The event established the viability of coast-to-coast synthetic training and marked the first time strike groups trained collectively through the Navy's distributed training architecture. Training focused on strike group staffs, though shipboard operators also received beneficial training.2 A year later, the Navy incorporated joint and Coalition partners in the second exercise by way of NCTE and U.S. Joint Forces Command's Joint Training and Experimentation Network (JTEN).3
For years, the Navy used various networks and modeling and simulation systems for different training events. This approach lacked consistency and economy, and it required extensive resources to set up, execute and break down. NCTE advancements and expansion over the past five years have provided a persistent network that connects geographically separated training simulators and systems with dispersed forces. Continuous connectivity with all Fleet concentration areas provides the ability to reach ships in port.
Synthetic training is an integral component of the Fleet Response Training Plan. There has been a dramatic increase in scheduled events, integration of additional simulators and systems, and more joint, coalition and interagency partners.
In Fiscal Year 2004, the Navy conducted 59 FST events, ranging from unit to strike force level. In FY 2007, 72 events were completed with increased focus on robust joint and Coalition participation in larger events. In FY 2009, the Navy completed 98 such events, and the employment of this training tool indicates continued future growth.
FST accomplishes the Navy's Training Transformation goals by providing an integrated live, virtual, and constructive training environment that can be distributed globally. Live refers to real people using real systems on their platforms. Virtual is people using simulated systems, such as trainers. Constructive includes models or simulations, such as an asset created within a computer war game.
Synthetic training uses NCTE and JTEN networks—voice and data communications, primarily—to distribute training around the globe. FST earned its initial Joint National Training Capability conditional accreditation from U.S. Joint Forces Command in September 2005. It is one of three Navy-led training programs to earn the accreditation and has been accredited to train to additional joint tasks since 2005. As outlined in A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower, commonly called the new Maritime Strategy, the ability to work with other forces and nations is a priority, and the Navy is working to include more partners in the training.
Significant advances have been made since the MBGIE days. On the West Coast, Tactical Training Group Pacific has employed its Distributed Training Control Center since 2004 as the Pacific Fleet node for scenario distribution for Pacific and forward-deployed naval forces. On the East Coast, the Distributed Training Center Atlantic was established in 2006 as the main Atlantic Fleet node for scenario distribution.
Why It Works
Fleet Synthetic Training is an established, effective part of the process of training Fleet units, command staffs, and strike groups for deployment in support of combatant commanders around the globe. Its training scenarios are based on Navy Mission Essential Tasks. Through practice with partners, FST increases the Navy's ability to collaborate in real-world missions by training for them.
FST events regularly include antiterrorism, maritime security operations and anti-piracy missions. In the Pacific Fleet, the Navy recently accomplished the first FST-J tailored to ballistic-missile defense. The event was designed for forward-deployed units of Commander, U.S. Seventh Fleet, and included elements of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force. The recent FST-J involving the Eisenhower CSG also trained for ballistic-missile defense.
Synthetic events are scalable, repeatable, and provide the ability to train multiple strike groups simultaneously. With these capabilities and the ability to recreate multiple operating areas, strike group staffs can be trained regardless of where the group is in its training cycle. FST can be tailored to the dynamic training schedules of strike groups. It can provide scenarios involving opposition forces of any size and capability. An event also can be repeated as needed to accentuate a training point.
When partners or particular units cannot participate, they often are simulated by role players who are subject matter experts (collectively referred to as the "white cell"), and assets can be created on demand. When joint and coalition partners do participate, it is often from their own simulators and training centers. For example, the crew of the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle participated in a FST-J from a simulation center in Toulon, France, joining the carriers Eisenhower, participating from a pier in Norfolk, Virginia, and the USS Enterprise (CVN-65). Though the Enterprise was in the yards at the time, her staff and crew were able to participate from Tactical Training Group Atlantic in Virginia Beach.
Advances are taking place in conjunction with our joint and participating Coalition partners. Coalition participants in the Eisenhower's FST included France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. More partners want to join this training capability. While the Eisenhower strike group's FST-J unfolded in February, Italian and Turkish naval representatives observed.
Joint participation has added an element of realism as our strike groups prepare to deploy to theaters where they will work closely with other services and U.S. agencies. For example, FST events have benefitted from partnerships with Army air defense units and Air Force E-3 AWACS and Combat Reporting Centers. Future events may include E-8C Joint STARS platform capabilities.
Becoming an effective warfighter depends on honing that craft and preparing for our potential adversaries' increased capability and warfighting skills. Just as with at-sea training, FST must continue to evolve and improve to meet tomorrow's need.
- The fidelity of trainers, simulators, and on-board training systems will need to evolve to increase the training benefit of FST, particularly at the deckplate level. Admiral Jonathan Greenert, Vice Chief of Naval Operations and former Commander, U.S. Fleet Forces Command, has made the analogy that too many of our tactical, operator-level trainers are still at the "Pac-Man" level while what we need is something akin to "Xbox" to provide the necessary fidelity to replicate the at-sea experience. We have good capabilities for synthetically training command and control of large, aggregate forces, but we need improved fidelity to train individual console operators. Some legacy combat systems do not have the necessary level of fidelity to support integration into NCTE. To correct these shortfalls, the Navy is working on solutions that will make these systems integrate into synthetic training much more effectively.
- A touchstone of training transformation is increased interoperability with partner services, agencies and allies. FST is designed to include others, but Coalition participation presents challenges. As more nations join the United States in FST events, secure data and voice communications are needed. The Navy needs additional secure cross-domain solutions—the ability to tie partners into training without compromising or threatening security.
- FST will continue to develop. Participation breeds improvement in the process. Each event improves based on the lessons learned and detailed mitigation processes developed in previous events.
- The Navy needs others to share in this process of improving a visionary training program. The military, civilian, and contracting communities can do so by pursuing innovation that will improve our modeling and simulation capabilities, as well as connectivity and security.
- In 2008, the RAND Corporation released its study discussing whether the increased use of FST could reduce underway time in Arleigh Burke-class destroyers participating in unit-level training. The study found that, while most exercises were conducted at sea, many could be completed in port, resulting in a savings in fuel costs. The study recommended that training that can be conducted in port should be conducted in port.4 The Navy is carefully considering the proper balance of live versus synthetic training across all warfare areas.
We are working to confront these issues. As these are resolved and new challenges are realized and overcome, the Navy will unlock the full potential of synthetic training.
Another major challenge is training at the operational level of war. The Navy is training and accrediting a global network of Maritime Operations Centers (MOCs) capable of providing maritime capabilities throughout the full range of military operations. Trained MOCs improve the Navy's command and control of forces at the operational level. FST will be an integral component of this training program by providing a distributed training venue tailored to specific tasks and processes.
Fleet Synthetic Training also will help future strike groups prepare when their tasking changes mid-deployment. A strike group transiting toward a new mission would receive a custom-built scenario at sea and practice by way of simulation enroute. This is mission rehearsal, a coming step as the FST program overcomes challenges and evolves toward its full potential as a training and readiness tool. FST will help strike groups shift gears as readily as the Eisenhower CSG did during its training cycle, but this time the ships will be on the move for real.
Although synthetic training can never replace underway training, continued improvements, interoperable simulators, and modeling and simulation will improve future Fleet readiness. Synthetic training enhances our live training and provides the opportunity for increasingly complex synthetic exercises. FST's capabilities to improve our forces will only grow as we advance further into the 21st century. We have come a long way in the five years since FST began to take shape, and we must continue to make the time ahead of us count by embracing innovation and change.
2. Petty Officer First Class McClain Shewman, "Navy's First Multi-Battle Group In Port Exercise Underway," Navy Newsstand, 27 February 2004.
3. Task Force SIM Public Affairs, "Navy Modeling and Simulation Streamlining Execution in MBGIE Exercise," Navy News Service, 14 February 2005.
4. Roland J. Yardley et al., An Examination of Options to Reduce Underway Training Days Through the Use of Simulation (RAND Corporation, 2008).