Military simulation is a cost saver and a force multiplier and is widely used in the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), yet its importance is not widely recognised, according to experts, who have called for a forum to promote the use of simulation amongst the services.
“We need a custodian and a management body to promulgate the use of simulation as a cost saver and force multiplier,” said Colonel Willie Wagner, Educational Researcher at the College of Educational Technology. He was speaking during the Joint Simulation and Training Africa 2012 conference, which is being held at the CSIR International Convention Centre in Pretoria from June 25 to 28 (the first and last days are workshop days).
Wagner said that after the first day of the conference, “the one thing that was really prominent was that all members had this feeling of amiss. We need something to go forward, like a custodian or champion,” of simulation. “We are so busy with simulation but most of us don’t even know about that. The fact of the matter is we have simulation in the services, but the biggest lesson that came out of yesterday is we need a central simulation forum.” Wagner proposed a defence simulation forum that involves the defence force, industry and Armscor.
Wagner said that simulation is an absolute necessity, although it does not replace hands on training, which is also essential. “If we were to replace one brigade exercise, we will be able to fund 30 more simulation exercises with that money,” he said, as spending thousands of rands on simulation saves millions.
Major General Barney Hlatshwayo, Chief Director Operations Development at the Joint Operations Division, said Wagner’s proposal was a good one. “I think the outcome of what we do here will be taken to other forums.”
Major General Luvuyo Nobanda, Chief Director: Force Preparation, South African Army, said that the global trend is that forces are overextended and budget cuts are affecting all services – for instance the Royal Navy is undertaking land activities in Afghanistan. This means there is greater scope for simulation in training.
He said that as Africa digitalises and the role of simulators increases, the Army needs to look for opportunities to adapt and make better use of modern technology, whether it be cellphones or simulators. He said the Army has a number of simulators, including for driving, for anti-tank guided missiles, armoured cars and indirect fire simulation. “The South African Army must follow the SAAF’s lead and invest in reconfigurable simulators,” he urged.
Kuben Thaver, Programme Manager: Command & Control, Acquisition Department, Armscor, said that the SANDF has invested heavily in simulation, but usually to satisfy certain projects, resulting in ‘training in silos’. The SANDF has a long history of simulator use, including for the Astra turboprop trainers, strike craft, Dolphin submarines, tanks, armoured vehicles etc.
The Air Force makes heavy use of simulators. For instance, there is an A109 Light Utility Helicopter cockpit procedural trainer at Air Force Base Bloemspruit; Hawk operational flight trainer at Air Force Base Makhado; and a Gripen squadron level mission trainer, also at Makhado.
“The bottom line is that flight simulation is an effective and efficient tool in flight training and aviation safety,” said Lieutenant Colonel Andre Steenkamp of the SAAF.
At AFB Ysterplaat, an Aircrew Training System provides training for systems operators, navigators and other aircrew. It replicates the fuselage of an aircraft and is able to accommodate eight students at a time. It provides simulation for C-47TP Dakotas, C-130 Hercules and Cessna 208 Caravans. The simulator provides full training from briefing to post-mission debriefing. By using the simulator instead of actually flying, it has saved 60% of actual flying hours, resulting in huge cost savings.
The Army and Navy also make heavy use of simulators, including for the Navy’s frigates and submarines.
Colonel Leon Puckree, Officer Commanding, Centre for Conflict Simulation, outlined some of the benefits of simulation, including reduced time for training, cost saving, reduced land use, environmental preservation, the ability to field new doctrine and equipment, the ability to ensure safety and to measure training objectives.
Puckree said the Centre conducts 25 to 35 simulation events every year. Most simulations involve conventional warfare (52%), followed by peacekeeping operations (35%), disaster management (9%) and general training (4%). The number of simulation events has been steadily increasing over the years, from 12 in 1999 to 25 in 2011.
The centre’s biggest client is the South African Army (55% of simulation events), followed by Joint Operations (32%), Training Command (7%) and the South African Air Force (6%). Puckree said that his vision for the centre was to become the hub for conflict simulation in southern Africa.
The Centre’s software includes Chaka for command and control, BattleTek IV and BattleTek SA at the tactical level, MELT (Master Event List Tool) and GAMES (Game Administration and Execution System).
Lieutenant Greg Farr, Academic Assistant at the Military Academy Saldanha, gave an overview of the numerous serious games used for non-entertainment training purposes. A popular platform is Virtual Batttlespace, which provides a large virtual area in which to wage war. It allows the battle to be viewed from any perspective and reviewed after the action has concluded. A scenario editor allows the creation of custom models and objects, allowing the battle to be changed as it progresses and new elements to be added. The software is used to train forward observers, forward air controllers and for many other purposes. As it can be networked, up to 256 players can be involved at once.
Lieutenant Colonel Shaun Patrick Carroll, Second in Command at the South African School of Armour, said that simulators enabled trainees to qualify higher and reduced cost dramatically, but simulator users forget faster than those who actually carry out physical tasks.
Wagner noted that the human dimension was very important as people were needed to make things work. He cautioned that there was a lack of simulation mindset and a fear of failure holding people back, and that technology was often beyond the capabilities of the user.
Apart from the military, simulators are used by a number of other entities in South Africa, including Transnet, the South African Maritime Safety Authority and Portnet. A public private partnership (PPP) in Simonstown resulted in the establishment of a pilot simulator. Simulators are, of course, big in the civil aviation world – South African Airways, for instance, has a simulator for each type of aircraft it operates and sells simulator time to pilots from foreign airlines. Although the acquisition cost may be high, it is possible that simulators can provide a return on investment in this way.
Ockert Van der Schyf, Marketing Manager, Saab Systems Grintek, said that simulators have become integrated into everyday life. “What stands out for me is the amazing scope of simulators in the world,” from flight to sea to land simulators. “The increasing use of commercial off the shelf equipment is making simulation much cheaper. The cost of simulation is coming down dramatically.”
This is one of the reasons for the robust simulation market. Thaver pointed out that the global defence training and simulation market exceeds US$6.6 billion per year. Although defence budgets are being cut, the simulation and training market is stable.
According to a report released this month by Visiongain, the global military simulation and virtual training market is set to reach US$9.03 billion in 2012, as defence ministries worldwide seek to take advantage of the ongoing technological progress in military simulation systems.