Interview with Colonel William (Walt) Yates - Military Training and Education

Interview with Colonel William (Walt) Yates

“We are the acquisition lead for the materiel solution, and providing that.” 

Group Editor Marty Kauchak completed a wide-ranging Q&A with Marine Corps Colonel William (Walt) Yates, PM TRASYS (Program Manager for Training Systems) Orlando on September 26, 2017. Following an introduction in MS&T 6/2017, the interview is provided below in its entirety. 

Colonel William (Walt) Yates, PM TRASYS

MS&T: Thank you for taking time to speak with us today. First, tell us how your office supports the life cycle of simulation and training (S&T) products in the US Marine Corps. 

Colonel William (Walt) Yates (CY): I am actually a recipient of S&T products and a provider of training systems. I receive technology that has been matured by organizations such as the Office of Naval Research [ONR] primarily, also the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory (MCWL) from time to time, and sometimes other commands. They provide me with mature technology (Technology Readiness Level [TRL] 6 or higher) and we transition that into program of record training systems for which we have a valid requirement.

MS&T: TRL 6 is rather high up on the Pentagon’s acquisition “chain” so to speak – it’s mature. Most new applications we see in other defense portfolios are often at 2,3 or 4. 

CY: It is. The maturation from 1-5 (basic science up to key elements of the technology demonstrated in relevant environments) is in organizations we have dedicated to that because the time and other resources it takes are considerable. At the program office, we’re mainly serving as integrators of that technology into the system. It’s a team effort, we receive the technology and integrate it into something usable by our Marines for training. We’re also doing some collaboration with DIUx (Defense Innovation Unit Experimental) to leverage their other transactional agreements that could allow us to get more quickly to get mature, commercial off-the-shelf technology for companies that are not typically in the defense sector.

MS&T: You also mentioned quicker acquisition, which is a pervasive theme throughout the Pentagon, from the Missile Defense Agency and other organizations.

CY: Yes, we struggle because the DoD’s acquisition process – its statutes and other attributes – is a deliberate policy. It doesn’t happen quickly because of Federal Acquisition Regulations and so forth. So, our challenge is to get the technology while it is the best available and new – but tested – and field that before it becomes obsolete. The age-old criticism about DoD’s acquisition, that it is yesterday’s technology sometimes at tomorrow’s prices, that is what we have to guard against, and make sure we get something that is affordable and can field as quickly as possible. It’s the synchronization of a signed requirement in the JCIDS [Joint Capabilities Integration and Development System] process, the right type of funding – combination RDT&E [research, development, test and evaluation], procurement and operations and sustainment, and the timeline to award the contract to get it fielded, or to leverage an existing contract that has scope and feeling of what you need to do.

MS&T: Please update us on your program of record training systems.

CY: Yes. First, MAGTF Tactical Warfare Simulation (MTWS), which the Marine Corps has been developing is a government-owned, software code base for training battle staffs. It’s a simulation of corps-level, battle simulations. Next is CACCTUS (Combined Arms Command and Control Training Upgrade System) another constructive simulation, with entity-level resolution, instead of an aggregate model like MTWS. CACCTUS is used for training at brigade and below level with the focus on supporting arms integration. That is also a government-developed software code base, which is partnered with the US Army’s OneSAF (One Semi-automated Forces) program office. We use OneSAF “under the hood” and put Marine Corps interfaces to provide the way we want to use OneSAF supporting arms integration, to obtain the Marine Corps adaptation of OneSAF. The third, Deployable Virtual Training Environment (DVTE) is a suite of applications on a suite of laptops. It is at the battle simulation centers and more recently, it appears it is going to be fielded down to the battalion level, at least within the infantry community. That’s a decision yet to be made. It looks like we’re going to put DVTE with the units where they live to make training more easily available to them. DVTE uses applications that the Army would refer to as “games for training”. Virtual Battlespace 3 is one commercial off-the shelf application that we license and use within DVTE. The rest of them, are I believe, government training applications. There is a solicitation out for the refurbishment, renewal/replacement of Combat Convoy Simulator. This is a virtual environment for mounted vehicle operations – patrolling, convoy and other tasks. As the solicitation is “on the street”, I can’t say anything more on that. Finally, the Supporting Arms Virtual Trainer is a dome simulator in which to train JTACs (joint tactical air controllers) and joint fires observers in terminal control of aircraft, and also observing surface fires from naval gunfire and artillery. These are five systems in the virtual and constructive domains. We also have a growing emphasis on live training instrumentation that we will connect to the virtual and constructive environments. Our force-on-force training system is I-TESS (Instrumented-Tactical Engagement Simulation System). The idea is you would have a battle staff training in either CACCTUS or MTWS, but they would also have track data piped in of live units in the field, and there would be interaction between live forces training on ranges and constructive events.

MS&T: And your mention of live training makes it appear that your office is a proponent for helping to move your service into the live-virtual-constructive training domain.

CY: Proponent is the title for our Training and Education Command, but we are the acquisition lead for the materiel solution, and providing that. It’s not yet an acquisition program of record. They are working on the finalization of the capability development document and we’re kicking off an analysis of alternatives. Those five systems plus range instrumentation that monitors instrumented training entities in the field, the connection of those for supporting existing training requirements, is going to be the first iteration of the LVC training environment

MS&T: An observation. You mentioned serious games for training. We’ve seen at I/ITSEC and other forums in the last five, six, seven and more years, various serious games for learners (training and education). I am a bit surprised, not from the US Marine Corps perspective, but DoD-wide, that serious games have not been more widely embraced in the department.

CY: I would disagree to an extent. We have been using what is termed “serious gaming” for a long time. We have had contracts with providers of what most people would recognize as first- person shooter-type video games. More than 10 years ago we were fielding a tactical Iraqi language and culture training simulation product from Alelo which was based on a Bohemia Interactive Simulations product the vendor referred to as a “first-person talker”. It was actually speech recognition that has gotten much, much better over the last few years and also cultural behaviors. We have games of training. In the Marine Corps we refer to it as desktop virtual simulation. It’s less than immersive – it’s not a wrap-around screen or head mounted display. It’s virtual  simulation on a laptop workstation and we have fielded that for quite some time to schoolhouses and battle simulation centers. About 10 years ago we also had a vision to put virtual simulation inside the battalion-level units, but the difficulty in supporting and making sure all of the infantry battalions had organic capability to use that technology was a challenge. Only recently, in the last year, we are revisiting that. An initiative underway now through the Marine Corps’ Rapid Capabilities Office has fielded suites that look very much like DVTE. This may transition into the DVTE program. They have fielded this to all 24 infantry battalions in the Marine Corps so they will be able to train in their barracks. This initiative was started by 2nd Battalion, 6th Marines and spread by the direction of the assistant commandant. Instead of having to schedule and go to a place like the battle simulation center and wait your turn, the units down to the company level have this equipment in their barracks.

MS&T: Your broad areas of interest when you walk the exhibition floors at 2017 I/ITSEC?  

CY: I’ll be looking at three things. One, is those technology products which can improve our training capabilities in one of two ways. The first, improved fidelity to task and realism compared to current training. This generally accelerates the speed with which Marines learn a skill or master the employment of a tactic. And it can give you a reduction in the cost of providing training because you can shorten the time that it takes to master a skill. Many of the skills we train in the virtual environment for individual Marines in the combat arms and supporting arms, have a very high requirement for very high visual fidelity so the minor details of a target at a great distance can be accurately represented. The price of 4K pixel density has dropped to the point where we have to ask: can we accomplish more (target recognition, marksmanship and other tasks) at greater virtual distances because we have higher fidelity in our virtual simulation? Visual cues are only one aspect. There’s also vehicle dynamics, physics models and others – all appearing much, much more realistic in 2017 than it did even a few years ago. Second, those things that increase the availability of training because of affordability and accessibility. This is learning by “sets and reps” as you say in weightlifting. This is learning by repetition, not only muscular exercise, but decision making and cognitive processes. To be continuously available for use, training technology has to be affordable to procure and own. And there are niche training audiences that have special limitations on space and the environment available for training. For instance, embassy security guards have very confined spaces in which they may train to maintain their marksmanship skills inside the embassy. It’s difficult to them to employ a system like ISMT (Indoor Simulated Marksmanship Trainer) in some places. If you have to rely on a marksmanship simulator which requires compressed CO2 to simulate the recoil of a weapon you have a real challenge in getting a replenishment of that CO2. We’re looking at simpler systems that would allow the security guards to use their own weapons not simulated weapons – their own weapon with a “drop in kit” for use in simulation. That makes training more accessible and affordable at the same time.

MS&T: And other focal points on your I/ITSEC agenda, please.

CY: Yes, getting back to 2/6 [Marines] this happened quickly (less than a year) and it’s a great example of urgency and getting training fielded quickly. This is not a program of record and may transition into DVTE. The Rapid Capabilities Office, at the direction of the assistant commandant, is copying the capability that 2nd Battalion 6th Marines has developed with the assistance of ONR, which provided enhancements to DVTE. 2/6 developed a training process which is being replicated at the other infantry battalions – awarding contracts within a couple of months to provide each battalion with a similar suite of equipment, so it looks a lot like DVTE. The enhancements include software and tools such as Microsoft HoloLens for visualizing 3-D terrain and gathering terrain data using videogrammetry from a drone flying over the training area. They will do their planning using Microsoft HoloLens back in the barracks and will rehearse the plan and perfect it, using VBS3 on their laptops. We’re ensuring train-the trainer support is in place so those systems are a success.

MS&T: And any other S&T gaps in training you are trying to help close?

CY: The Marine Corps’ vision for instrumentation in the field is to increase the size of the exercise force to battalion level strength with a similar amount of aggressors. We’re talking mounted and dismounted, instrumented entities doing force-on-force training. Ten years ago when we first fielded I-TESS, it was a COTS solution that would support 120, simultaneously instrumented Marines – less than a company-size unit. It was very good but was for a small area and small amount of Marines. We need to scale that up and you need more powerful, effective wire communications. You could put several thousand Marines in a densely packed area, but it wouldn’t do you much good in terms of training. They need to spread out and cover the same space they would if they were deployed. As we move toward that vision of potentially 3,000 instrumented entities over literally hundreds of square kilometers, you need very good range wireless infrastructure. In addition to needing greater range dispersion so that everyone wearing a vest, a halo and small arms transmitter on their rifle is connected, we’re also going to need more bandwidth. We’re no longer going to be transmitting position/location information and shot data when they pull the trigger and so forth. We’re going to using systems such as the MAGTF Fire Support Trainer (MFST) (formerly known as ONR’s Augmented Immersive Team Training – a mixed reality system). MFST is man-worn and wireless, and we want that to eventually travel with the rest of the instrumented maneuver forces. To send those mixed reality video streams to somebody on the range we’re going to need a lot more bandwidth that we have now. When you are at 29 Palms [California] with over 1,100 square miles of desert, and almost any place you stand, you are a dozen miles away from the nearest paved road or power lines – how do you provide wireless coverage for range training in an austere environment like that? What we’re looking for from industry is mobile, range wireless infrastructure. That could be mobile towers running off a generator, tethered balloons – some ideas that have occurred to us. And how do we provide a deployable, reconfigurable, range wireless infrastructure for these exercises?

MS&T: And the status of harmonizing your wireless, instrumentation efforts with US Army – a huge user itself, of these technologies. 

CY: My Army counterpart is Colonel Tim Domke at PEO STRI PM TRADE. For about 10 years we’ve had a signed memorandum of agreement that has us collaborate on all of our range training systems, to use the same design and architectural standards for interoperability and reuse of software libraries. We’ve put out a solicitation for a force-on-force system, we provide as government furnished information, access to the software library that they built from, to ensure interoperability. Everything they provide to us is unlimited government use and it interoperates with other things that we have bought – so we’re not buying proprietary. While the Army’s requirements are a little bit different and their configuration of their vests and systems is different – their I-MILES from our I-TESS for example – they are interoperable in the sense you can have soldiers and Marines in the same exercise control common operating picture.

MS&T: Other areas needing the good ideas from industry and academia?

CY: Yes, a few others. For more than 40 years, the Army and Marine Corps have used laser-based engagement systems for force-on-force. They have improved dramatically over the years. The first-generation MILES gear would only give you a signal if you had a hit or near miss. It wouldn’t tell who shot you from where, what type of weapon – it was just a buzzer going off. Now, our current generation of systems have “shot pairings” so you know who shot you, what type of damage it inflicted in the simulation, what the caliber of ammunition was. Because of the position/location information in the wireless connectivity, you can replay that event in the after-action review and understand it better. Laser still has inherent limitations. Foliage that would definitely not stop bullets will stop lasers. Concealment in a laser force-on-force engagement ends up being the same as cover. That is not realistic. We don’t want Marines to believe because the enemy can’t see me he can’t shoot me. That is not real. When you are shooting at a moving target with a laser you have to not lead the target to get credit for not hitting the laser sensor. That’s not realistic either. We want to be consistent in teaching Marines with live fire marksmanship with live targets to lead it appropriately. We don’t want to unlearn those habits when we do force-on-force. Also, weapons such as the M203, or M32 40mm grenade launchers and the Mk19 have arcing trajectories. You can’t aim at a laser sensor and get credit for hitting it with those weapons. If you are hitting a target that’s on the reverse slope of a hill that you cannot see, you may very well have effects on it, but if there is no way for a laser to touch a sensor, we can’t simulate that in current fore-on-force. Long term, we’re interested in and we have a SBIR (small business innovation research) underway for laserless, force-on-force training.  We will replace lasers with other technologies that would do shot pairing and accurately represent arcing trajectories and moving target engagement.

MS&T: And you had one more area of interest?

CY: Yes. MFST (MAGTF Fire Support Trainer) is the first mixed reality training that we have fielded on the ground training side. It uses an occluding head mounted display (HMD) – you are looking into a head set that has LED (light-emitting diode), LCD (liquid crystal display), displays which show you the real world outside from a camera mounted on the front of the HMD, and it shows you elements of mixed reality from the simulation seamlessly integrated into that real world. You will see enemy vehicles and dismounts on the terrain in front of you at some distance and you’ll be able to call in fire on them. It’s good, it works. But what we eventually would like to go to is a translucent see-through display, so you are actually wearing glasses of some sort, into which you have the virtual entities rendered right on the glasses. A variety of vendors have demonstrated the ability to do this in a limited fashion. The common shortcomings: the field of view (FoV) is very narrow so you have to be looking straight at it – you can’t scan the horizon because your peripheral vision will show you the whole world and then you will see the virtual entities in a narrow 60- or 70-degree FoV directly to your front. In bright daylight they don’t render brightly enough to give you that contrast. The things I would like to see is lightweight, translucent, wide FoV and high contrast – the objective level for mixed reality training. If you can give me that then we can do amazing mixed reality training exercises. This will also save a lot of live training resources while being actually in the field – you have the time-space relationships, the fatigue and environmental factors but you aren’t incurring the cost of targetry, safety considerations and other requirements.

MS&T: You’ve also mentioned mixed reality several times – also being used in maintenance training and other missions needing training support. It appears industry-academia-military is on the cusp of breaking out and going beyond mixed reality. 

CY: Absolutely. Think about since we developed acetate overlays and grease pencils, and markers. Every tactical unit and their leaders have had situation maps that they update constantly that they erase, draw new control measures and tracks and so forth. What if you didn’t have to do that? What if you were wearing your situation map and as intelligence and control measures, and other information became available it was pushed directly into your field of view and you could toggle on and off layers so you would see gridlines over the terrain in front of you for known and suspected mine fields and other information? That’s a huge increase in capability and would allow us to faster and share information directly in the way you consume it – instead of looking down at a map and comparing where it would be you have it displayed in your field of view on the terrain. That’s a huge opportunity that my counterparts in MAGTF Command Element Systems are exploring now. In terms of training and mixed reality it really is the future, because technology settled for shooting at static targets instead of moving targets, and flat targets instead of 3-D targets and have them not display advanced behaviors. Six years ago we did a successful demonstration of robotic autonomous moving targets – they have only gotten better over time. We still don’t have a program of record. We are getting close to a validated requirement – the Marine Corps Marksmanship Symposium established “Table Seven” for moving target engagement – a training and readiness standard our current targetry can’t meet. That takes courage to establish a training standard you have no means to achieve – they said, “This is where we need to be, to ensure our Marines can hit the target on the first round.” The autonomous targets move and display advanced behaviors – run to a concealed position when fired upon and so forth. That’s the type of advanced capabilities we’re looking at.

MS&T: Finally, how does a company, academic institution or other entity contact your office to share their innovations in S&T – for envisioned Marine Corps use.

CY: We’re one of the PMs listed off of our website < http://www.marcorsyscom.marines.mil/>. Our email address: pmtrasys@usmc.mil. If a company has a technology it is ready to demonstrate, (TRL6) by their own assessment, they can contact us and request to provide a capability brief. We’ll determine if it’s of interest and fits into an existing or emerging requirement, and meet with them for a technology demonstration or brief.

MS&T: And you and your team are also at I/ITSEC and other community events meeting with industry.

CY: Yes, and we were at Modern Day Marine Expo in Quantico [Virginia, Marine Corps Base] last week and had about 20 meetings with industry and saw some very interesting and relevant technologies there.