Strategic overview of training and the role of simulation in the SA Army


The following presentation was delivered to the Joint Simulation & Training Africa 2012 conference this week by Major General Luvuyo Nobanda, Chief Director: Force Preparation, South African Army.

Programme Director, Generals and Flag Officers, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, good morning to you all and thank you for the invitation and opportunity to come here and interact with you on the topic that is starting to be very important, simulation. My intention today is to provide you with some aspects of my long term vision for training in the SA Army and to share my perceptions of the advantages and pitfalls of simulation with you. I must emphasize therefore that these are my ideas and not necessary SA Army.

As I’m not an expert in simulation I had to consult a lot of people in order to compile this paper and would like to acknowledge their inputs before you people think that I am good. Firstly from my office Col Du Plessis and Lt Col John Botha and from DDSIR Col (Ret) Andries Van Wyk and without these individuals I would not have managed to be confidently standing in front of you this morning.

The SA Army like all peace time armies has reached a cross road especially when it comes to force preparation (training) versus other demanding issues that need to be addressed within shrinking budget. The cost of training in terms of ammunition and equipment is becoming exorbitantly high especially if your equipment is not that new and serviceable. This therefore calls for a new thinking on how you can cut down on training costs without compromising on quality. One of the options is to seriously consider the utilisation of simulation but this must not be used as a substitute to neglect hands on and practical training.

Unlike most of my colleagues, I don’t believe the new Defence Review is going to bring us up to the 2% of the national budget (not calculated). This country is very suspicious of the defence spending especially with the first fiasco of the previous arms deal so we shall have to continue with what we have for some time to come. It is therefore important that innovative ways of conducting training and cutting down costs are found before we end up with a militia. What I’m trying to elucidate in this regard is that although we know that simulation is the way forward when it comes to training there will be challenges to acquire this capability given the status of our funding.


Simulation is a major international industry and simulation companies have the defence forces of the major powers as clients and have turnovers of millions of dollars. They claim to save these defence forces more than the cost of the simulation services they provide. Without disputing the value of simulation one must understand the league differences between the SA Army and international major powers. We must realise that most of the simulation conclusions and recommendations that reaches us at the southern tip of Africa is made in a paradigm different to ours.

The defence forces that use simulation in a major way have budgets that are much bigger than ours. First World defence forces and many eastern defence forces are in a budget league to attract the business interest of major simulation companies and have public private partnerships or long term arrangements with them. These long term relationships ensure funding for appropriate products and ensure continuous improvements.

In other cases, for example in Europe, the opposite situation may occur. There is less need for long term commitments by a defence force as there are sufficient free market competitions to provide multiple options to a defence force.

In the cases where the cost of a specific simulation capability could become an issue, the capability can be co-funded and shared between different nations as they are in close proximity of one another.

High budget defence forces tend to be high technology defence forces. Operating high technology can be expensive or it may not be possible to train and exercise realistically with some types of high technology. Simulation is therefore a logical option for such a high technology defence force. It is important to understand the league of the SA Army: Our defence budget is 43rd in the world – in the same league as Austria or Ukraine.

There are valid reasons why we have a relatively large expenditure on personnel, leaving less funds for other priorities. This may be perceived as if I am against simulation and or contradicting my early comments but this is just to ensure that we are in line with reality. I will during the rest of my presentation be in a position to show that there is a requirement for simulation within the SA Army.

The SA Army already have many virtual simulation systems at the technical level, mostly for driver, weapon or crew training. Most was bought as part of the procurement of a specific weapon system. We are also using constructive simulation for many years – the SAAB Battletek product. We aspired for many years to have live, force on force simulation. Despite having many simulators our utilisation of simulation was not optimal. The SA Army conducted an investigation a few years ago and concluded:
– Simulation was not seen and managed as an integrated capability.
– We underutilised simulation for analysis and decision support purposes. Simulators were seen as training tools and not so much as doctrine development tools.
– The validity of simulator results were not carefully considered.

The SA Army intention is not to redevelop the wheel. Other countries are possibly ahead of us and we can learn from them, but as I have said previously, we cannot follow their approaches and practices without careful consideration. The probable future level of budgets will require radical innovation and not just increased efficiency in the training approaches of many defence forces. The SA Army will also have to radically rethink how it trains.

Our troops are relatively old and therefore experienced. This implies a relatively low training burden, which is just feasible within the current operational tour cycle. The training system must, however, start to plan for large scale rejuvenation in the SA Army in the long term. Once the new intakes enter we will be in the same position as other defence forces, with a high and simultaneous demand for both training and operations. In this context one of our opportunities is that the next generation of soldiers will simply adopt the virtual environment and probably expect digital solutions, including training in a virtual environment. South Africa’s cell phone saturation rate (the number of cell phones per 100 people) already is 102, that is in the same league as the United States or South Korea or Australia. And the country has excellent connectivity. We can go online with training with the next generation.

We are, however, probably sitting with a common problem with exploiting new technologies. Big decisions must be made by the older and more senior people. Older people frequently are too busy to keep up with technology and easily perceive it as a threat, instead of an opportunity as our children do. Many of you have grown up as soldiers in a battle space without computers. It will be natural for us to try and slow the rate of change to keep the world within our comfort zones and not adopt the world of virtual reality.

One of the interesting aspects indicated by international research is that young ones easily adapt the virtual environment. But they do have issues if the virtual world has real results that have a major impact on their lives for example if a simulator determines that they are not competent enough for an important qualification that may prevent their promotion.

Global Trends

What should the SA Army learn from the international environment? The SA Army frequently thinks that it is in a unique position, but it seems as if we share many threats with our international and continental colleagues. We are not unique in having an Army that must work very hard. Yes, we already have more troops in peace missions than a country such as France, but also less than Ghana, Rwanda or Senegal (early plan was to have a battalion in Peace Support Operations but that has changed). The fairly recent reintroduction of the SA Army to local border safeguarding is increasing the load even further. Luckily we are not yet so extended that our navy must join us in landward operations as was the case with the UK in Afghanistan. The uncomfortable future reality is that armies will be worked hard and the implication is that training phases back home may become a luxury. Another training approach is needed. Doing training within operations will have to be seriously considered?

Many democracies are reducing their defence budgets.

Countries that adopted simulation in a big way shared interesting lessons during an ITEC conference in Germany. In many cases simulation was introduced as a method of getting by on a smaller budget. It then provided them with the savings they needed to achieve the required standard within a limited budget. But, they did not negotiate with the bean counters to keep the goose that lays the golden eggs alive. They now struggle to find funds to maintain simulation within their limited budgets. They now realise that a better approach would have been that a percentage of the savings created by simulation must always be reallocated to simulation, to ensure a healthy long term solution.

A few defence forces complained of becoming captive clients of some simulation companies (companies are here to make profit). They will in future be more careful about establishing very long term relationships.

Nearly all defence forces complain that they do not have a good process for procuring simulators and simulations. The rapid rate of change in the digital world, especially rapid software development, and tedious slow acquisition processes do not mix well. It is my perception that we also have not yet sorted out this situation in the SANDF. How will we mix the SANDF acquisition process for material (DAP 1000 process) with the software development process of SITA (SUMMIT-T process) if we want to buy modern simulators quickly.

Everything is not doom and gloom. There are important opportunities that can be exploited within the league of the SA Army.

Some simulation providers underestimate how much can be achieved with their simulators. It seems as if you need a few soldiers or an independent decision supporter that really understands the algorithms with which the simulator makes it decisions. This understanding enables you to use the same logic in other scenarios or to validate doctrine in a way that is better than live training exercises. This is especially true if you have many limitations on your field exercises.

The second opportunity relates to Africa and the SA Army being ideally positioned to be at the cutting edge of Africa joining the digital era. I have already indicated that despite being a developing continent, Africa is rapidly digitising. I am proposing that one can assume that our future soldiers from the level of junior leader onwards will have their own smart phones and many of them possibly a tablet as well. Some analysts are saying that the smart phone will have greater impact on humanity than what the laptop had. The opportunity is there, at virtually no cost. Will we have the guts to exploit it or will we resist change.

The Future

The role of simulation is increasing outside the military environment. Simulation is becoming a major non-military industry and there are many situations where commercial simulators can be useful for the military, either as is or with little adaptation. The Army therefore must be able to continuously scan the environment and identify opportunities where commercial solutions can be adapted for our use. The planning departments of more and more organisations in the world are becoming clients for increased awareness. They need to know the attributes of what we call battle space in more detail and as near to real time as possible. They also need to store this depiction of reality in such a way that it can be enhanced for many uses. This so called blended reality is very valuable for civilian planners, but “blended reality” is also an objective of training. The more real the training is, the better the performance and output later during the execution of operations.

Many international soldiers are already using commercial services as basis to create blended reality whenever they need to plan, convey a situation to subordinates or do dry runs of their operations. Many of these commercial service providers maintain excellent standards and some services are virtually free. The software that is used within simulation is becoming easier to use. The SA Army should reach the point where sand models can be replaced by virtual scenery when required. Google maps released updated satellite images to relief workers during the Tsunami in Japan. Some of the images were so near to real time that it still showed the smoke of burning houses. Google now even has a Crises Response Team.

Integrated Learning – C2/GPS

Like other defence forces the SA Army is investigating the potential value of a smart phone and tablet in the military environment. From the military perspective it has the following attributes:
– It has low cost and will be replaced with an even better model within two years. The military will not even be involved in the project management of the solution.
– It is a highly portable minicomputer that fits within one’s uniform.
– It is surprisingly tough.
– It does not require a recharge within a typical day.
– It can replace many separate instruments that the soldier is currently carrying.
– It will be in the operational area with or without military endorsement.

Enhanced with the appropriate software programs (called apps) the following is possible as we speak:
– To have one’s military manuals on a phone, thereby enabling someone to learn whenever, wherever. Such learning could include tests or small simulations. Learning during operations now becomes easily possible.
– Because the phone can have online access it can link to online learning, where the soldier can be formally assessed within a formal training system.
– Many apps can provide support during tactical situations. Examples are apps that provide support with fire control, sniping, close air support, buddy aid, blue force tracking, etc. A report listing many more is available from the SA Army Lessons Learnt Centre website.
– The phone can be docked (plugged into) equipment to provide or receive data from such equipment.
– The military use of standard commercial utilities such as GPS for navigation is obvious.

A few defence forces are beyond the investigation phase and are already commissioning smart phone based solutions. Some of you may want to raise security issues, but the feedback being given to me is that these are also being overcome one by one. In some cases smart phone security exceeds that of normal systems such as fax machines.

High Impact Local Events

The long term planning for training in the SA Army will be influenced by a major switchover in the type of human resources that will undergo training. The bulk of the current Army has been integrated from the pre 1994 statutory and non-statutory forces. The average age in the SA Army is relatively high with the implication that many soldiers will leave the system, going on retirement possibly in less than fifteen years.

From a training perspective one of the major issues will be a loss of expertise that was developed both before and after 1994. The lessons learned on all sides during the Angolan War and as part of the urban conflict in the RSA must somehow be captured into corporate memory and into doctrine. Use of those with appropriate experience to either specify or operate some simulators that depicts the operational environments they experienced can be a way to use simulation for corporate memory.

One must assume that limited budgets will not decrease the availability of real equipment and especially real ammunition for training exercises. We are entering into a future with less but more clever and therefore expensive ammunition.

If there is no reduction in the operational demand for the SA Army, the number of soldiers used as instructors back home will have to be scrutinised. The objective will have to be to responsibly ensure that every possible soldier is released for operational duty. International experience indicates that outsourced training, simulation and training during operations may be steps in the right direction. My visits to the US Corps of Engineers has proved that utilisation of outsiders especially civilians with military background is very cost effective if one is facing challenges of resignation, operational commitments, etc. Outsourcing of training is not very farfetched but this need a very serious in depth and comprehensive study. Outsourcing referred to here is not only focused in human intervention but also in employment and utilisation of standing civilian simulation for military applications.

Towards a Solution

The arguments in favour of simulation seem to be too many. But exactly what are the clever things to do? I am quickly going to discuss the following as critical aspects for creating a better future.
– The importance of innovating a new approach instead of continuous refinement of the current one.
– The specific opportunities that should be exploited.
– Some of the practical implications of this approach.

SA Army Force Preparation Concepts

What are the core components that will ensure effective force development and force preparation? The SA Army must be network enabled. Network enablement has obvious tactical advantages, but the same network will play a critical role in the online learning systems. It should not only support learning individuals, but also ensure a learning organisation and corporate memory.

The SA Army is implementing a capability based approach. Training is probably one of the most critical system elements for developing capability

Training, however, must be based on sound doctrine to ensure sound tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs). The rate of change during conflict is increasing and the validity period of a specific set of TTPs is decreasing. We are approaching an era where TTPs may have to be changed rapidly. This requires online lessons learnt system to rapidly learn about failures and to move new suggestions forward. The lessons learnt system is already in place and the doctrine development system is being implemented.

The core activity of the doctrine development system is concept development, experimentation and simulation. As I said the system is being implemented. This graphic captures our approach to ensure that force preparation stays relevant and innovative.

Ensuring Innovation in Force Preparation

Our environmental scanning system scans the performance of the training system, the results of mission readiness assessment and performance during operations. It is also enhanced with additional information about the future, the results of international doctrine development experiments and failures and successes in international operations. The data is captured in the online lessons learned system (LIALLS) which is accessible to all.

Some of the more difficult problems are referred to Army R&D, who then conducts investigations in consultation with the Joint Landward Defence Capability Board, to identify possible concepts that could be improvements on the current Army practices.

These concepts are then tested and refined in the concept development, experimentation and simulation system. Experiments are conducted at different levels using different facilities and different role-players.

These highly developed concepts are then presented for formal validation before they are finally tested during exercises. These exercises must preferably be supported by two live sided simulations. If successful it is considered as new doctrine which is then used during training and operations, where the environmental scanning system should pick up requirements for improvement.

The Appropriate Role of Simulation

Within the context presented up to now – what is the appropriate role of simulation? Let me share my understanding of some terms with you to ensure that we do not have miscommunication.

Review of Terminology

A virtual simulator takes the learner into a high definition but synthetic environment. The scenery is as real as possible and objects within this environment are what they seem. The environment will react to the inputs of the learner. An example would be a driver simulator.

A constructive simulator, on the other hand, does not provide a true to life view of the situation. The situation is represented in an abstract way, probably on a map, with constructs that depict different objects. Algorithms (or game rules) determine how these objects react to user input and to one another. These simulators would be used to analyse and depict complex situations with multiple objects influencing one another such as the movement of a brigade over specific terrain while in contact with an opponent. The “learner” in this case would be a whole team of people, normally leaders.

A live simulator uses the real environment, real people and real weapons. The only artificial component is the effect of the fired weapon. Other important terms are:
– Distributed or networked simulation – implying the linking of simulators at different venues into a greater system, and
– Reconfigurable simulators – implying that many of the components of a simulator, for example the scenery and the “equipment”, can be reconfigured for multiple uses. The same underlying simulator could be used for driver training in one mode and for missile training in another mode.

Evolution of Simulation in the SA Army

Historically the SA Army had many virtual simulators that were used for training. The same is true for the constructive simulators, but they also impacted indirectly on doctrine as the simulation results influenced the belief system of the leaders that participated in the simulations.

Currently the SA Army is broadening the footprint of simulation to also include the use of simulation for the development of doctrine and TTPs. These simulators will impact more and more on the SA Army’s decisions about the value of specific capabilities in a specific scenario. This will help us to make better acquisition and maintenance decisions.

A number of low level and virtual simulators, called battle labs, is foreseen. These will be provided to Corps Schools across the country to allow them to have more realistic exercises and to play with alternative TTPs. The system can be seen as a networked and reconfigurable system as many components will be centrally developed and stored on a central server, but accessible across the country.

Intermediate and high level experiments will focus mostly on the performance of different force designs or force structure elements in different scenarios. Extensive use will be made of “campus experiments” conducted by a panel of experts within a facility that is
– able to store the results of the ongoing experiment,
– equipped to provide scenarios and scenery; and
– can provide the results of previous experiments.

The value of these experiments to determine the optimal capability set and force design is obvious.

An objective for the near future is to expand the simulation footprint to include live two sided simulation. This is necessary to enable us to assess the effectiveness of our training as accurately as possible. It will be a reliable indicator of the effectiveness of different TTPs and will therefore play a critical role in the validation of new doctrine.

The Medium Term

Considering the league of the SA Army we will have to use a specific approach to achieve our simulation and training vision. We cannot afford to lead nor to do too much development. Our approach will probably have to be a fast follower. We must ride the wave created by other defence forces and the commercial world. The SA Army must be ready to spin in the concept of cloud based learning and networked distributed simulation. Our gut feel is that much will be achieved internationally in the next two years and we must budget to be ready for commissioning in about two years from now.

In the case of the role of smart phones and tablets in training and operations, the concepts are being validated this year by many armies. We should be ready to finalise our position by next year and start to commission as soon as possible thereafter.

The South African Air Force have many years of experience with their reconfigurable simulator. They have learned lessons and the SA Army must apply these lessons within its battlelabs.

Interaction Between Doctrine, Missions and Training

How will we approach the development of doctrine to ensure combat ready capabilities in a rapidly changing environment?

The continuum of conflict can be broken into types of missions, each with a requirement for specific low level doctrine and TTPs.

All these types of missions will have to be supported by higher level doctrine and SA Army policies to guide overall capability management. These so-called “functional concepts” and accompanying policies will be structured according to the operational level operating systems. Each concept will be intellectually owned by a specific team within the Landward Defence Capability Board, who will integrate these policies into a coherent whole.

Capability is achieved by managing the elements of the military system. In the case of the SA Army these elements that combine to create capability, has been identified as Personnel, Organisation, Sustainment, Training, Equipment, Doctrine, Facilities, Information and Technology – the so called POSTEDFIT.

Feasible long term approaches to each system element will have to be developed to ensure that the synergy between the system elements actually create the required attributes of the SA Army as described in the functional concepts.

What are the practical implications for training and simulation?

Our Defence Review is in a consultative stage, but may reposition the SA Army in terms of the main focus area in the continuum of conflict.

There are trends that will make range based training less possible. Hence our emphasis on live two sided simulation.

Constructive simulators for leadership development must be provided to the command and control concept developers.

In terms of personnel the training system will have to change to include more online solutions for our future digitally literate soldiers. But this must be achieved with relatively low bandwidth.

The Corps Schools must be empowered to become innovative and produce leaders that can rapidly learn, unlearn and innovate.

The availability of equipment for training may become less. Virtual simulation must be used to fill the gap to a degree. It is not productive to have simulators dedicated to each mission type. The risk levels vary between the mission types. The intended approach is the following:
– Aid to other government departments carry virtually no risks and the procurement of simulators for this purpose is not required or should not be funded by the military.
– In the case of border security normal training can suffice, possibly supported with some scenarios from the central server that provides scenery to the battle labs.
– The same applies for peace missions.

The above approach cannot be followed in the case of an intervention. Interventions are high risk situations that frequently involve high intensity operations sometimes with a conventional war style. The skills and style of the other missions may not suffice. It is difficult and expensive to train an intervention force with live exercises. The SA Army’s corporate memory of its single intervention experience, sixteen years ago during Operation BOLEAS, is very little. The RSA pledge in terms of the SADC Brigade requires a high level of readiness for a high risk mission type. A major effort will have to be made to use simulation to meet the combat readiness requirements. This includes an instrumented urban training area.

The last aspect of my presentation focuses on some innovative and uncomfortable ideas that must be investigated for its worth in our training vision.

My own position on proposed changes is that I should be convinced why these changes should not be implemented.

Firstly the innovative ideas that require further investigation. Some of them initially seem far-fetched but they are food for thought. With the expertise available in the audience they may perhaps be more feasible than what I think.

Cost Effectiveness and Innovations Issues

The tooth to tail ratio of armies must be improved to release more soldiers for operations. Can we afford to let only the military train the military if we do not have enough soldiers for operations? The international experience indicates that civilian solutions are cheaper and achieve contracted standards in 37% less time. The following approach could be an improvement to our current practice:
– Training design is done by civilians. The RSA have substantial capacity in the training system operated by the Sector Training Agencies (SETAs).
– Many aspects of the training system could be operated by civilians such as the analysis of training effectiveness and results. LIALLS is already partially operated by civilians.
– Soldiers should play a larger role in training delivery but it is not the exclusive domain of soldiers.
– Civilians should play a relatively large role in the analysis of operational results and the proposal, development and testing of alternative concepts. Certain civilian organisations have a better corporate memory than the armies.
– Conduct some types of training, for example individual training, during operations. This should be feasible in the lower intensity operations such as peace missions. This implies many simulators in the mission areas.
– The data collected in our simulators must be analysed in greater detail to determine training system or TTP failures.
– Somebody must be a catalyst for promoting a collaborative approach within SADC? Are there economies of scale that could be unlocked? Should there not be a centralised facility that provides Africa specific simulation solutions to many African defence forces?

Cost Effectiveness and Innovation Issues

Should the future SA Army have more online individual formal training?
– Some training should be moved online especially if good virtual simulators can be available online. Is it possible to learn the theory online, confirm competency within a virtual simulator (in the unit or online) and spend only a little time doing final assessment on a range? Can a good online lecture outperform a corporal that is trying to describe a theory with very little training aids and in difficult environmental circumstances?
– Should there not be a greater incentive to learn rapidly? There is only a given period available between operational deployments. Is it possible to fast track such a learner?
– Option 1: Reach the required standard quickly and then use remaining time to proceed to other training.
– Option 2: Use the allocated time to exceed the set standards and become an online instructor in the specific topic.

Change Requirements
– An Army is always a force in transition …. There are so many aspects that form part of our conclusions about current or future conflict, but are these conclusions transferred to our curricula and teaching at the Army College, corps schools and units.
– Have the training system internalised concepts that we believe in such as Strategic Corporal, Three Block War and Soft Power?
– Is the training system keeping us captive in an outdated paradigm that does not reflect the real operational environment? If we acknowledge the concept of Strategic Corporal the development of junior leaders is critical.
– Conventional warfare has become less probable. Soldiers will be more effective if they are trained in the day to day reality of those missions executed by the SA Army instead of trying to adapt less valid training for their operational circumstances. This is especially true in terms of the type of appreciations that are being taught to leaders for solving the complex problems of their operational circumstances.
– It is true that discipline implies applying approved doctrine. It is however also required that a leader can deviate from taught doctrine during operations to outmanoeuvre his adversary. The Canadian Forces try to not apply the same TTPs for vehicle movement for two consecutive weeks during their deployments in Afghanistan. Operational leaders must not be boxed in by their training or corporate portrayal of discipline.
– Is our overall training not too destruction oriented? It is a critical part of training and the soldier must always be able to destroy when necessary. But in most case success is determined by other skills. How many of our leaders are being exposed during training to the reality of Joint Interagency Interdepartmental and Multinational operations. Do they believe that they will have authority in such an environment or do they realise, and are being taught the skills, to influence the situation to the military’s advantage by understanding stakeholder interests.
– Keeping a training system aligned with a rapidly changing world is not easy.

Thank You.