Current Trends in Distributed Interactive Simulation (DIS)

Widespread procurement cutbacks and decreased funding for extant research and development, acquisition management reform, a downsizing trend in conventional force structures, a perceived decline in global threat levels and other factors, have all militated toward an increased emphasis on simulation in military training applications.1

In the U.S., the Clinton Administration has opted to either delay or defer several modernization programs for the armed forces and instead exploit an extensive weapons stockpile dating from the Reagan era. But while making less do more is the current watchword in Washington and the Pentagon, in one specific area, that of information technology, present R&D investment has held steady, if not increased perceptibly.

However, due to budgetary constraints which drive contemporary R&D efforts, no single service branch can currently marshall the resources to develop stand-alone simulation systems even remotely capable of meeting mission demands. Additionally, the U.S. Congress has mandated that interservice exercises become the training modus vivendi, encouraging, if not requiring, architectures and standardized protocols shared in common between the armed service branches.2

Under the aegis of DOD/ARPA, the military service branches in the United States have been utilizing distributed simulation training environments for some years. In this respect, there is nothing new about DIS. What is new, however, is the doctrinal emphasis now placed on modularity, standardization and interservice commonality. What is also new are the technological advances that are driving the adoption of DIS standards and the increasingly swift pace of maturing systems that can be exploited in today's mission-critical training applications. In an era of defense policy where jointness is a central tenet, if not an article of faith, DIS promises to extend the operational mandate to training applications as well.

Systems currently in use with VETT simulations include head-mounted displays (HMDs) and wired (tactile or force-feedback) gloves which provide an immersive VR environment for the user. Utilization of these devices, however, has prompted criticism from psychologists and behavioral experts -- including the Army's own -- that programs like VETT would will turn out "arcade cowboys" ill-suited to meeting the demands of real-world combat situations. DOD, however, contends that a training paradigm based upon new technological models can transcend the limitations imposed by current "off-the-shelf" simulation hardware. The use of advanced utostereoscopic, volumetric and holographic display environments -- such as those utilizing laser excitation of rare-earth pixels and spinning helixes to generate holograms -- have been proposed as possible alternatives to what is presently available.

A distributed network of simulation centers under Army control is planned for the ramp-up phase of system development, each with all necessary computer hardware, software and communications equipment to run simulations. Exercises up to the corps-level would be supported at each simulation center of the WARSIM network. Networking the centers as DIS compliant nodes would provide support for multi-corps-level exercises. Each WARSIM node will be staffed by combined military and contractor personnel to provide support for exercise planning and execution, opposing/surrounding forces simulations, after action review and simulation control.

1 A report released last August by a DOD-appointed task force on U.S. military readiness characterized forces as "acceptable in most measurable areas" but warned of "pockets of unreadiness" that might result in a "hollow" force reminiscent of the late 1970s and early 1980s. The report also emphasized modeling and simulation as key technologies in support of higher readiness.

2 As an example, modifications had to be made to training systems in use by the USAF before that service branch could participate in interservice exercises held last summer at the National Training Center in California. Had these modifications not been made, decreases in funding for a variety of programs would have been the consequence.