Interview with Colonel Robert H. Epstein - Military Training and Education

Interview with Colonel Robert H. Epstein

“To ensure a qualitative advantage on the battlefield, our forces need to be better trained in multi-domain full-spectrum combat.” 

Group Editor Marty Kauchak completed a wide-ranging Q&A with Colonel Robert H. Epstein, the commander of the Air Force Agency for Modeling and Simulation (AFAMS) in Orlando on October 6, 2017. Following an introduction in MS&T issue 6/2017, the interview is provided below in its entirety.

Colonel Robert H. Epstein, Commander, Air Force Agency for Modeling and Simulation

MS&T: Update us on your office’s role in supporting Headquarters Air Force (HAF) with providing Integrated S&T products to your service.

Col. Epstein (CE): The capabilities of our potential adversaries and that of our own forces, are advancing at a rate which challenges our ability to provide realistic and relevant training opportunities. To ensure a qualitative advantage on the battlefield, our forces need to be better trained in multi-domain full-spectrum combat. Hence, the United States Air Force (USAF) is modernizing air, space, and cyberspace training capabilities in order to ensure readiness, develop exceptional leaders and strengthen our ability to fight as a Joint/Coalition team. The USAF is approaching this effort holistically, with a thoughtful balance between readiness and affordability, through the Operational Training Infrastructure (OTI) initiative, which is focused on integrating operational training across its live, virtual and constructive (LVC) components.

The Air Force Agency for Modeling and Simulation (AFAMS) is actively supporting the OTI initiative to improve operational readiness by constructing LVC training environments which allow weapon systems and operators to interact in a highly dynamic, realistic manner. AFAMS is ideally placed to inform and assist in the development of HAF/A3 [Air Staff Operations] policy and guidance plus orchestrate and implement the AF OTI enterprise requirements efforts, collaborating with HAF and MAJCOMs [major commands] to identify, prioritize, track, and advocate enterprise Operational Training (OT) requirements.

AFAMS advocates for appropriate representation and interoperability of AF air, space and cyberspace capabilities in both USAF and Joint operational training events and executes the role of requirements Lead Agent for the USAF’s Air, Space and Cyber Constructive Environment (ASCCE) suite of models.

MS&T: You mentioned “space” as part of ASCCE and I expect we’ll mention the domain again. For clarification for many in the S&T community – are we talking about activities beyond training to control satellites, for example?

CE: When we talk about the ASCCE suite of models, we, as an organization, are looking at integrating an air picture into space trainers as well as pulling increased space effects into the major command and control exercises, realizing the multi-domain command and control (MDC2) initiative that the Air Force is pursuing right now. This is the ability to train in the MDC2 environment with additional space capability, and we’ll need help to articulate what those requirements are for that future environment.

And continuing, in addition, AFAMS is leading the AF OTI efforts on enterprise technical standards, collaborating with HAF and MAJCOMs to identify, codify and maintain interoperability standards for the OT enterprise and advance the use of Authoritative Models and Data in operational training. AFAMS also regularly engages in studies on applying new developments and advances in M&S and information technology techniques for advancing operational training and maintains awareness of, and advocates for, emerging technology.

Finally, AFAMS provides USAF-level functional management of OT foundations (infrastructure, communication and workforce development) by centrally managing and providing technical oversight of OTI integration to improve interoperability across MAJCOMs and with other Joint Modeling & Simulation (M&S) communities, reducing redundancies.

MS&T: Tell us about some of your major S&T initiatives.

CE: As previously stated, the Air Force initiative on Operational Training Infrastructure supports a paradigm shift to meet the changing environment that our airmen will be required to operate in. Our efforts of particular interest are the LVC Training Environment for Command & Control (LVCTE-C2), the Simulator Common Architecture Requirements and Standards (SCARS), and the Air, Missile and Space Training Environment (AMSTE). Here’s a brief description of each:

The LVC Training Environment for Command & Control (LVCTE-C2): the intent of LVCTE-C2 will be to replace the current Air Force Modeling & Simulation Training Toolkit (AFMSTT). The concept of Live, Virtual, and Constructive training environments for Air, Space, Cyber and Missile domains has evolved from a “nice to have capability” five or ten years ago into a “must have” capability now. The goal of the LVCTE-C2 is to enable an LVC Integrated Training Environment (ITE) that approximates a realistic operating environment for the purpose of providing training and mission rehearsal for individuals, units, leaders, and staffs. In order to define the capabilities and attributes required to support Strategic to Tactical Level C2 for air operations, space, missile, logistics, special operations, airbase operations and cyberspace training, a formal requirement process is underway to develop a Capability Development Document for LVCTE-C2. LVCTE-C2 will be a modular collection of M&S capabilities that forms the operational level enabling architecture (foundation) for the USAF’s constructive and limited virtual capability in support of Joint and USAF LVC-Operational Training Infrastructure (LVC-OTI).

Simulator Common Architecture Requirements and Standards – SCARS: is a significant multi-agency effort that the Air Force Materiel Command Life Cycle Management Center / Simulators Division (LCMC/WNS) is leading for the Air Force to create a common architecture for the virtual flight simulators in order to ensure cybersecurity and interoperability of the systems. AFAMS is responsible for collecting and managing the Air Force enterprise requirements that this new common architecture will need to support.

MS&T: One follow up. We’re aware the Air Force has Distributed Mission Operations as a program of record. Will there be any overlap between SCARS and DMO, or will SCARS be far more reaching than the legacy DMO program?

CE: SCARS will be far more reaching in the fact it will allow us to streamline our effects and reduce cyber vulnerabilities as we go forward. The best way I can describe it, is we are taking this to the next level on how the virtual simulators will be able to interoperate with constructive as well as live operations in the future. It’s our initiative to be structured and standardized for future simulator operations. The DMO standard is still there and we’re leveraging everything that we learn from DMO as go forward. SCARS is complementary not a replacement to it.

And to continue, Air, Missile and Space Training Environment (AMSTE): is an effort that resulted from a partnering of AFAMS, USSTRATCOM, USNORTHCOM and Missile Defense Agency for the development of an integrated Air, Space & Missile LVC environment for training, exercising and mission rehearsal from the Operational through Strategic levels of war. The need was generated from commanders, who must ensure their forces are trained and capable of responding to the compressed timelines required for advanced air and missile defense response engagements. They desired an organic training capability that integrates existing Command and Control capabilities into a synthetic environment. AMSTE facilitates On-Demand training via rapid provisioning of Virtual Machines (VM), reducing extensive set-up and testing of training environments, permitting increased training capacity by providing Training as A Service (TAAS) via a Modular Open Systems Architecture (MOSA) and VMs to reduce resources. It is designed to be delivered through existing training networks which support central Cloud computing, allowing for the user to access the simulation as opposed to the simulation accessing the user.

MS&T: You’ll be attending 2017 I/ITSEC – what are some of the technologies and products you’ll be examining on the conference floor?

CE: The Air Force is always on the lookout for innovative approaches to training that employ new technology or employ existing technology in new ways. We’ll look for help with interoperability across systems and security domains. We want to find innovative ways to create a dynamic training setting that creates realistic training environments, employs Cloud-based technologies to lessen our vulnerability to cyber-attacks and reduce computing resources required to execute Operational Training.

MS&T: And is there any interest in augmented or virtual realities or even mixed reality?

CE: Yes, we’re definitely interested in that emergent capability. The Air Force is still working to determine how and where we want to implement that maturing technology into our training programs. We’re constantly exploring innovative approaches. The Air Force is conducting a research effort to evaluate training and education models that synthesize various training technologies toward the goal of improving and gaining efficiencies. We’re exploring this path. It is still a matter of once we have determined the technology will work, how to implement it in existing training programs and get it out to the field.

MS&T: What are some of your service’s S&T “gaps” and challenges you need industry’s help to meet?

CE: There are four to highlight:

  • Synthetic Environment (Environmental Generators for Simulators): Currently, we have dozens of environment generators which generate everything from weather, to terrain, to adversary and allied capabilities. This often results in exercise participants having different experiences within the same scenario which reduces realism and can result in negative training. There is also a considerable cost associated with keeping these various systems updated to the required fidelity and concurrency. The Air Force requires a fully immersive, multi-spectral synthetic environment made up of one or more validated environment generators that seamlessly integrate with all participant systems.

MS&T: Here’s another follow up: with the other services interested in environmental generators for simulators are there opportunities for partnering with other military offices?

CE: Each of our services have different requirements and different levels of fidelity on what we require. But any ability to reduce redundancy and save taxpayer dollars is always good. As we go forward we’re discussing among the services, how are we going to do operational training and, as we merge these requirements, is there any room for overlap. There are different programs now, one is NGTS [Next Generation Threat System] that we are working with the Navy, in combined environments for virtual simulators, but this is ongoing, as we define requirements to learn where do we have overlaps.

To continue:

  • Synthetic-to-Live/Live-to-Synthetic System: Achieving the OTI vision requires the development and procurement of a capability to deliver synthetic entities (virtual and/or constructive) into live weapon systems and vise-versa in a realistic and secure manner. This will provide greater threat density and variety, as well as mission-specific scenarios, plus the flexibility to meet the ever-changing mission set in an affordable manner. Assistance from our industry partners to creatively approach the integration of virtual and constructive capabilities into live ranges is the future. This effort will require secure communications capabilities that meet the bandwidth, latency, and reliability for distributed training.
  • Joint/Coalition Interoperability: Many operational training opportunities are conducted at different security levels that do not facilitate full-up operational training with our Joint and Coalition partners. Major exercises are driven by operational requirements that evolve from the dynamic nature of current and future military operations. The Air Force is seeking more affordable cybersecurity capabilities to not only execute within an AF operational construct, but also the ability to service these concurrent requirements to train and exercise jointly and to allow improved information sharing with both Allies and Coalition partners.

MS&T: There still appears to be the perception by some in industry that they have cyber technologies to better support coalition training at classified levels, but the Pentagon’s policies need to evolve to permit them to bring these technologies to bear. Your thoughts?

CE: There is always going to be a balance between emerging technology and existing policy in place to protect information. That’s the struggle that always exists. Cyber security requirements are going to be constantly evolving. We have to review our policy as we go forward to see how we’re going to be able to train in that domain. Of special interest this August, the secretary of the Air Force [Heather Wilson] and service chief of staff [General David Goldfein] sent out a joint memo and one of their five key priorities was strengthening our alliances. Training with our coalition partners is a huge priority. But then there is always the challenge on how we protect information and what are we able to share.

And to add,

  • Simulators: Aircraft simulators have historically served as a platform to accomplish part task or emergency procedure training that was not cost effective or safe to accomplish in the actual aircraft. However, in the world we live in today, Operations Security (OPSEC) concerns and threat density requirements for advanced threat systems are driving more complex training into our simulators. Today’s simulators need to be concurrent with the capabilities of both weapon system it represents as well as the complex threats it will employ against with a level of fidelity to allow realistic training. To achieve this, we desire a level of fidelity that presents realistic effects delivered within the electromagnetic spectrum that allow for appropriate responses to these effects. Additionally, these simulators will operate together must have the ability to connect to a common, cross-domain training architecture, to include Space and Cyberspace training, to allow secure connections and concurrency.

MS&T: How does a company with a good idea for USAF S&T programs contact you and gain a review of their product or system?

CE: AFAMS is always on the lookout for emerging technologies and the application of those technologies to operational training. Our role is to provide solution support to MAJCOM training issues and apply it across the AF Training Enterprise to reduce duplication and protect resources. If a company believes they have a potential solution to a challenge they can contact us by e-mail at AFAMS Executive Services at or phone (407)-208-5800 and we will be happy to see innovative ideas they have to offer.

MS&T: Anything else to add?

CE: The introduction of the new training paradigm, the need for Multi-Domain Command and Control and the need for increased fiscal responsibility will prove challenging for all, and I believe the Air Force approach to the Operational Training Infrastructure and its associated investment strategy will increase our capability to integrate LVC capabilities to improve readiness. With the migration from traditional training methods we realize that this is not a zero-sum game that exchanges live flying for simulator time, but rather the creation of a continuously available LVC environment capable of linking military training opportunities around the world. We must remain vigilant by working with our sister services, academia and our industry partners, to identify emerging and innovative technologies which have applications to how we will operate in the future. This collaborative effort should allow us to be proactive to change and continue the current momentum of modernization and readiness through LVC. And as a final thought, the OTI initiative that the Air Force is going forward with now is huge. We have our four-star chief of staff who signed off on it and is really pushing this. It’s a bit of a paradigm change. It’s important and getting a lot of leverage. Major General Scott Smith, our boss [Director of Training and Readiness, Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations] will represent the Air Force at the I/ITSEC Tuesday morning General Officer/Flag Officer panel. We would anticipate some of his comments will probably reference OTI. Level of detail may be overarching – we encourage the delegates to attend this special event!