Interview with Captain Erik O. Etz - Military Training and Education

Interview with Captain Erik O. Etz

“The individual or people who are ‘in the seat’, who are operating and using the training system, are the most important part.” 

Group Editor Marty Kauchak completed a wide-ranging Q&A with Captain Erik O. Etz, Commanding Officer, Naval Air Warfare Training Center – Training Systems Division Orlando on September 13, 2017. With an introduction featured in MS&T issue 6/2017, the interview is provided below in its entirety.


Captain Erik O. Etz, Commanding Offier, Naval Air Warfare Training Center – Training Systems Division Orlando

MS&T: Update us on NAWC-TSD’s current mission and more important, its simulation & training role in US Navy programs.

Capt. Etz (CE): We sit at the intersection of training for all Navy warfighting communities. Our mission for decades now, has been to be the Navy’s principal center for research, development, test evaluation and acquisition support of Navy training systems. Despite the fact we are a Naval Air Systems Command organization we actually support, not just naval aviation, but Navy surface fleet training requirements as well as the requirements for the submarine force, and across the spectrum of training for our sailors – our personnel. We really do have a portfolio that covers the entire spectrum of support for the Navy. Some of that has evolved due to our lineage. We were the Navy’s first training devices center dating back to the World War II years. The organization moved to a couple of locations before ending up here in Orlando, which has truly become an epicenter for simulation and training.

MS&T: And you are “dual hatted”?

CE: Yes, there is a second command I lead here – the Naval Support Activity Orlando. And back at NAWC-TSD, we act as a focal point for the other military teams that are here, supporting training for the Army and Marine Corps, and in some cases the Air Force, and across other federal organizations. We enjoy being at the intersection of training activities for the Navy and Marine Corps teams specifically, and get to take that broad view across all Navy communities, looking for both efficiencies in training and ways to bring things that are working well in one community potentially into another community. We do that in a number of situations, bringing the “best of breed” from aviation, surface, subsurface and working to mature those to the other communities as well.

MS&T: Are you able to break out aviation related products and services in your portfolio compared to those in surface and subsurface? I would expect air training programs comprise the majority of your investments.

CE: I can break that down in several ways. We look at our “work” – I lead a 1,200 person team, there is what types of work are being done – how many manhours expended supporting various programs. And then there is a dollar figure. How much do we annually put on contract. Breaking the portfolio out by the dollar figure, the way it usually works, is this team does about 1,000 contract actions for new orders every year, with about $(US)1 billion or more in new investments. Of that, about 25% is directly supporting new aviation simulation and training programs. Another 25% or so, supports the surface and submarine training portfolio. Another almost 25% is our growing foreign military sales and coalition partners’ support training systems. The final 25% is typically of fielded training systems – the operations and maintenance contracts for the devices that are out across the aviation, surface and subsurface communities, and updates to the programs as well. When you talk about the work, that breakdown is not as “crisp” and more general, but we generally spend a lot more of our manpower invested in supporting aviation programs because that does bridge the new work and the materiel that is already fielded. We usually have more work associated with those portfolios – meaning for aviation, we do the program management, the contracting, the engineering support and logistics support. Whereas for some of the other portfolio items, we may only do the program management or engineering support for some of those surface and subsurface activities. It’s really more “other stuff” than aviation, than you would think by looking at our name.

MS&T: In the warfare domains’ I didn’t hear you mention cyber – an expanding mission of importance to the Navy. Do you support training programs for cyber warfare?

CE: We recognize cyber is a growing need area. For cyber training, specifically, we do have activities that support the Center for Information Warfare Training (Corry Station, Pensacola, Florida). We’ve had a long-standing partnership with that team to provide cyber training for our IT and crypto communities. We also support other operational training needs in the cyber domain with our network effects simulation programs that have been used in operational-level exercises. We recognize that as a growing area of potential support. We are growing our experience base in cyber to meet what we think will be a coming need. The reality on cyber: there are a lot of organizations that have capabilities to support and we are one. When it comes to training we recognize, especially when you start a discussion on networking all of our devices together, we need to ensure from a cyber perspective, all of our networks are “hardened” and able to withstand intrusions. So, we’re definitely involved with a growing level of interest.

MS&T: And recap NAWC-TSD’s top programs on contract?

CE: When we talk about our priorities for the team, at the top of our priority list is maintaining relevant, fielded devices to support the current operations of the Navy. The difference between Navy tempo in wartime and peacetime is not necessarily as significant a difference as it is for the other services, because the Navy is always at a high tempo of operations. The Navy has been completing combat operations on a near daily basis since the events of 9/11. We recognize we need to support all the devices for all the communities that are out there in the field training our sailors, soldiers, airmen and Marines for their respective warfighting area. We always have on-going contracted activities that support the upgrade to those devices, whether they be for platforms like the P-8, the F-18 or F-35, or for surface fleet training needs – the programs that support Littoral Combat Ship and other new surface programs – including Aegis Ashore. These new programs that need stand-up of support are also priorities for us. And these are typically programs that require a large workforce. And we’re also invested very heavily in personnel support programs – the Sailor 2025 Ready, Relevant Learning programs – to take a holistic look at how we provide training for sailors both as they begin their careers and through the continuum that is the Navy sailor’s career progression. We’re in the middle of that – which brings modernized content delivery to sailors’ training regimen. And as previously mentioned, we’re looking at linking our devices together across the aviation, surface and other communities to provide integrated war fighting capabilities. That is a building block for Live, Virtual and Constructive (LVC) training which is also a focus of this team.

MS&T: Highlight the products, systems and technologies on your viewing list at 2017 I/ITSEC.

CE: There’s no better venue to see what’s available in industry and government than I/ITSEC. My whole team is looking forward to both participating in supporting out booth at I/ITSEC 2017. And also seeing what else is out there in the training and simulation world. For me, I have a number of things I’ll be very interested in looking at. What our industry partners and government agencies are working in terms of networked training opportunities that meet the needs of integrated Navy warfighting capabilities – linking our platforms together in the training environment to model how we operate in the real world. We don’t operate as individual aircraft and ships. We operate as strike groups – fleet-level units that together provide the best capabilities with the best weapons systems we have. That brings in how we look at future LVC environments that allow us to leverage that baseline of networked devices and bring in live elements where it makes sense, either to augment the force or provide training realism across platforms that may not be readily available to geolocate together for training. And we’re looking at augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), utilizing some of the current technologies there that are making strong headway in the serious gaming environment, that may potentially be brought into Navy training needs to meet some of the “gaps” that have existed in deployed capabilities.

MS&T: An example of a gap, please.

CE: As for me, I am a nearly lifetime F-18 aviator, having spent most of my years operating on and off aircraft carriers, and we have not had the capability to practice a lot of mission sets while deployed. The reality is some of the new AR/VR technologies may offer the ability to fill those gaps at a reasonable price point. And across the spectrum of program we’re looking how we can leverage decision support tools and products that are either algorithm based, or other cognitive-assisted technologies that help sailors make decisions either in a combat environment or other operational scenarios that can be modeled in the training realm. Across this as well are the assessment tools to go along with the understanding both the effectiveness of training methodology and technology, and the tracking how our sailors are learning, and may change over the lifetime of their career.

MS&T: Are there other gaps your team is looking to close for your service?

CE: Yes, we’ve heard loud and clear senior naval leadership’s interest in better understanding the state-of-the-art in artificial intelligence (AI) – where is it going in the next few years, both in that realm of decision support, but also providing capability in terms of being able to analyze and synthesize multiple data streams to parse out what is important and what isn’t, and providing that in the right context to the operator. Beside this definite interest in AI, for the team here, we’re very interested in learning architectures – how individuals and teams learn over time is of interest to us. For a long time we provided solutions either based on the resource sponsor that’s provided the money to address a gap or training need in a certain area – but we don’t often take a look across the whole spectrum of training to understand how does each piece of the puzzle fit together to provide a fully trained sailor and team of sailors to accomplish the mission not just day, or one assignment but over a lifetime – a career. This is identifying the best way to identify the right training at the right time when an individual or team of individuals may need it to maintain proficiency when they most need it – when deployed or in a stressful operational environment.

MS&T: I note your emphasis on enabling and better supporting team training – which matches my observations of other US services’ increasing interest in unit and even staff training.

CE: You are absolutely right. We recognize that here and we have a very strong team component, very well versed in the science of learning. We also recognize that when you take a look at any training system, the most important part of that system is either the individual or teams of individuals, operating and using the training system. Many times it is easy to get focused on the technology – the news things we are buying and building. The reality is it people who have to utilize those things. We need to better understand how people interact with the device or the family of devices on a timeline or the spectrum of training is the most important factor. The individual or people who are “in the seat”, who are operating and using the training system, are the most important part. We need to pay more attention to them and how they are learning and using the system, than we do the technology that provides that capability.

MS&T: Update us how the S&T industry and academia can do business with NAWC-TSD.

CE: I, as both a life-time aviator and a Navy acquisition professional as well, recognize when we talk about delivering products to the fleet and providing capability in training, that is done as a partnership between the military-government and industry. All the things that warfighters use are built by individuals in industry supplied by the government. That partnership needs to be a strong one. The starting point is our leadership team – myself, my executive officer [Captain Timothy Hill], technical director [John Meyers], deputy technical director [Michael Merritt] have an open- door policy. The only time we turn people away is when we are so busy with other things we just don’t have time to meet with them. But if we can’t meet with them we’ll find someone in our building who can meet with them. We have a number of outreach activities led by Diana Teel, who does a fantastic job keeping our communications lines open to our partners, both current and future. [Ms. Teel may be contacted at Orlo_BusinessSupportTeam@navy.mil or +1 407-380-4903]. There a number of things we do on a regular basis that act as industry outreach. We regularly have Procurement Acquisition Lead Time meetings where we get our program managers together to talk about upcoming contracted opportunities to industry audience so they can prepare their teams to provide proposals for future Navy offerings.

MS&T: And this command is also present at each I/ITSEC.

CE: Yes, at I/ITSEC we have a significant industry outreach presence, with a specific industry outreach each Thursday of I/ITSEC week. Each June we participate in the NDIA TSIS [National Defense Industrial Association Training & Simulation Industry Symposium] in Orlando. TSIS is yet another great chance for industry to hear what’s going on from all of our program managers on where we’re taking activities through the year. And also through the National Center of Simulation we routinely participate in its Industry Capability Days, where partners can bring in their technology and people, and allow us to meet with them so we can have an open dialogue and collaboration. And there are routine NAWC-TSD-industry integrated product teams that have stood up to focus on certain things that we can learn together about, regarding the way we do acquisition. For example, how the government writes a request for proposals (RFP). Industry may come back and say, “when an RFP is issued here’s what we’re doing to position ourselves to provide that proposal back to you.” There are a number of things we do on a routine basis to keep the conversation going.

MS&T: Anything further to add at this closure?

CE: Thank you for your interest. For me this tour of leading this team of 1,200 professionals has been an absolute joy. I am humbled every day. I get to work with the government-military folks at my command to meet the fleet’s needs across all those different warfighting areas. And I am always honored to work with our industry team mates, recognizing across the spectrum of government-military, industry and academia we have individuals who have dedicated their lives to bettering human performance through training systems. It is great to see how this community really does support each other to meet those fleet needs together. And here in Orlando, it is really neat that we have such a large grouping of organizations that do the same thing. We form friendships and support each other. Even in this time of need, post-Hurricane Irma, we’ve all supported each other’s organizations. This community is a strong one and we’re proud to be the nation’s focal point for simulation & training needs!