Inside IT2EC 2022: key themes and highlights
Thomas Ball, Senior Product Manager (Training Simulations)
As the dust settles on IT2EC 2022, it’s time to take stock and reflect on one of Europe’s biggest simulation, training and education events – and what an event it was!
Companies and organisations from across the training spectrum converged on ExCeL London to present their latest technological solutions, aimed at helping governments and militaries prepare and train for complex future warfare through military simulation and synthetic environments.
Imbued in every session, panel and interaction was the renewed commitment across industry toward forging new relationships with government, defence organisations and one another, so the military can transform how it trains.
This was perhaps a natural direction for proceedings. Recognising the value of industry collaboration proved crucial in addressing IT2EC’s 2022 theme: Navigating rapidly evolving technologies for Training and Education.
From advances in AI to the application of commercial gaming for multi-domain training, topics at IT2EC 2022 were as diverse as they were relevant. Scroll for a summary of the key highlights, messages and themes to come out of the event.
Synthetic training as a surrogate for warfare
Throughout IT2EC 2022, one common sentiment prevailed: defence organisations want to do more synthetic training. Crucial to this are synthetic environments (SEs), in which personnel at every level can explore scenarios in a virtual world before taking action in the real one. Defence organisations want to blend this with live training to consolidate and confirm skills learnt in an SE.
SEs were widely acknowledged as a potential surrogate for warfare, where a surrogate is a technological tool that absorbs the user’s political, operational, or financial burden of conflict. But warfare is complex, and this must be emulated synthetically, according to day two’s opening remarks. In order for SEs to be a wholly viable surrogate for warfare, they should be rich enough to accurately replicate the complexities of a real operational environment, and so better simulate warfare friction – such as adversarial response to kinetic military action, or enemy tactics across a multi-domain battlespace.
The good news: we’re getting there. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated training and technology in military simulation, with innovation flourishing at pace. A first iteration of the US Army Synthetic Training Environment (STE) – designed to provide a collective training and mission rehearsal capability – made it into the hands of troops last year, whilst the UK Collective Training Transformation Programme (CTTP) advocates – and is determined by – a paradigm shift to virtual training before live.
In his opening remarks on day one of IT2EC, Gary Waterfall, Senior Defence Advisor at Clarion Defence & Security, acknowledged SMEs as critical in creating and sustaining technological innovation in the military simulation space due to their ability to think differently and move fast.
This entails a stronger relationship between defence organisations and industry – one built on trust, collaboration and open communication. We need to to avoid industry being kept at arm’s length for fear of it trying to ‘own the stack’ of defence organisations.
To this end, in ‘Integrating Emerging Live, Virtual, and Constructive Training Technologies to Accelerate Marine Corps Training’, speakers posed the question: “How can industry help training innovation?”
The answer was clear: make the process of engagement more agile. Give defence organisations early solutions to test and feed back on – not finished products that haven’t been through multiple iterations with the user. The onus is on SMEs and industry to integrate user feedback in the process early, and so capture exactly what’s required at the point of need – not before it’s too late.
Turning collaboration into a competitive edge
This need for a more engaging, trustworthy and more agile relationship between government, industry and the military is one that Jason Kennedy, Improbable’s VP of Engineering, captured in his DisTec talk ‘Disruption, made constructive: changing how industry works so the military can transform how it trains’. Jason laid bare the need for industry to forge new relationships with government – and with one another – to get the latest technological innovations into the hands of the organisations we serve, delivered at the speed of relevance.
This message from Jason’s talk is a crucial one. It recognises that what worked before will not in the future. Governments and militaries are telling us loud and clear that they’re not getting the capabilities they need to meet today’s fluid and fast-moving threat landscape. So we need better; it’s up to industry to enable the deep, complex, realistic and credible synthetic capabilities that users are calling for. In short – we need to change how we work so that the organisations we serve can transform how they operate.
Jason used the example of the gaming industry to show how platform-enabled ecosystems can usher in a new kind of relationship between industry, government and defence organisations. Moving from vertically built pipeline solutions to a horizontally scaled platform ecosystem means that industry can meet consumers’ needs more quickly and economically. In the context of military simulation, a platform approach to synthetic development means that militaries will no longer have to wait around or choose the best from what’s available – they’ll get the precise capabilities they need, and they’ll get them fast.
International standards and interoperability
The question of standards brewed much discussion and debate at IT2EC 2022, with a key pain point being the successful interoperability within training for multinational cooperation.
There seemed to be two schools of thought in play as to how this could – and should – be achieved. The NATO Modelling and Simulation Group, in adherence to its MSaaS vision – itself reflective of a decade of work with consolidated requirements from all NATO countries – relies heavily on the research and development of an international set of standards for distributed training.
Meanwhile, the CTTP promotes a platform-based approach to collective training to support its vision of making an inherently versatile, flexible and adaptable system, coupled with standards to ensure interoperability with non-platform systems. Solutions, simulations and content – such as applications, data and models – can be used out-of-the-box and adapted to an organisation’s specific training requirements.
Whilst each side differed in their approach, the overarching goal for both remained the same: to have modelling and simulation technology and all its adherent data, content and models made conveniently accessible and available on-demand to all users, to enhance operational effectiveness.
The AI argument
Artificial intelligence and machine learning continue to dominate discussions at any technology-focused event – and IT2EC was no different.
Specifically, speakers explored the role of data and AI in education and training, and recognised its value in helping us make more rapid judgements in order to more ably deal with uncertainty and chaos.
Day two’s talk ‘Live Labeling for rapid creation of Digital Twins’ explored the application of AI for training management and noted four areas it improved: advanced, real-time situational awareness; optimised scheduling and resource allocation; the provision of advanced recommendations that improve training outcomes; and automated compliance that ensure personnel take the required course content for their role.
Elsewhere, it was argued that whilst AI is assistive, it’s not the sole answer. We’re not currently in a world where we can simply ask AI to fix problems and blindly do what it says, not least because there’s a lack of the right kind of data. For now, AI is better suited to shouldering repetitive tasks that would otherwise take personnel and organisations away from their primary focus areas.
IT2EC 2022: until next time
The three days we spent at ExCeL London were hugely rewarding – certainly on a personal level, but also for the wider Improbable Defence team.
It was great to meet so many military personnel and industry partners, and experience first-hand the renewed commitment across industry toward realising true technological innovation so the military can transform how it trains.
Events like IT2EC are just the start. The future’s bright if we can continue to harness the power of collaboration – with government, with the military, and with each other.
Missed us at this year’s IT2EC? Email the team and let’s kick off the conversation.