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18 May 2016

ITEC 2016: Military Needs Faster, More Collective Training

Western militaries need to change their traditional approach to training in order to rapidly and effectively develop more personnel for threat growth areas such as cyberwarfare, and an all-star panel of senior military officers and industry leaders at the International Training Equipment Conference (ITEC 2016) at London’s ExCel conference centre enthusiastically endorsed simulation as the preferred path forward.

We are almost exclusively using the medium of simulation,” said Vice Admiral Duncan Potts, who in January assumed the new post of Director General Joint Force Development and the Defence Academy, based at Shrivenham, UK. “To train headquarters, you need a scenario of sufficient richness. You also need the exercise to unfold in a way that reflects the decisions that commanders meant. Simulation has proven, quite clearly, to be the best way of doing this.”

Major General Karl L E Engelbrektson, currently Head of Training and Education for the Swedish Armed Forces and about to become leader of the Swedish Army, said, “The military is not really modern when it comes to education – a person standing in the front of the room talking to youngsters. We don’t have time to do training the traditional way.” He said Sweden’s forces will be shifting their focus to more on-the-job training.

We need to improve the speed at which we learn,” added Frank C. DiGiovanni, SES, Director, Force Readiness and Training, Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Readiness) in the US. “The didactic classroom model of little robots learning at the same pace is an outdated model and not relevant for the types of things the military needs to be doing.”

DiGiovanni noted that in Ash Carter’s first speech in office, the US Defense Secretary predicted that almost every menial job will be automated in the future; the next-generation infantry soldier may be a robot. Conversely, every human worker will be a “knowledge worker.”

With fewer equipment assets and skilled personnel, North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) nations need greater collaboration to deliver on their collective purpose, said Les Gregory, Product and Training Services Director, BAE Systems.
  “We have to get over our behavioural barriers and create “collective machines” to bring resources to bear.”

The shortage of cyber expertise in the military is “a supply and demand issue,” stated DiGiovanni. “People often say we can’t compete with the private sector” in terms of salaries and benefits attractive to the limited number of cyber-skilled people. Instead, the Pentagon official suggested, “Let’s work on the supply. The military has the ability to train lots of people very quickly. We could fix the issue in a couple of years.”

In the UK, RADM Potts is the point person for the possible establishment of a National Security Academy which would include non-military government personnel. But he said it’s a slow process; whereas the military is used to near-constant training, other sectors view training as occupying no more than 4-5 days a year.

Engelbrektson emphasised the need to better analyse the results of the many large-force live exercises which militaries stage each year. “The generals put a finger in the air and say it was a good exercise. But we need to be able to link activities in the exercise and the result. It’s not that we lack the capacity to do so; we just haven’t reached maturity.”

He explained that for a small nation such as Sweden, the collective training exercises with other nations are important. In addition to live exercises, he said, “We need to have the simulators talking to each other.”

Swedish forces will be shifting to three tiers of personnel: a base voluntary force, “some sort of enforcement from the government like conscription,” and arrangements encouraging the private sector to allow citizen-soldiers to serve in reserve ranks.

Engelbrektson is keenly aware of the geopolitics in the Nordic region, acknowledging that the numerous live exercises conducted in and around the Baltic Sea “send political signals.” He quickly added, “How the signals are interpreted by others is up to them.” The Major General said the Baltic Sea is Russia’s access to the Atlantic Ocean for the flow of goods. However, melting ice in the Arctic is opening up potential new trade routes and creating a changing dynamic. “We have to respond to the current new security order that has been created … and hope that it is a blip in European history.”

Rick Adams, London