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Grand opening for the Distributed Training Center Atlantic.

It's not every day that the Navy opens a state-of-the-art facility for conducting and coordinating live and virtual training with joint and coalition forces, but Feb. 28, onboard Naval Air Station Oceana, Dam Neck Annex, the Distributed Training Center Atlantic (DTCL) officially opened its doors with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

DTCL is a first-of-its-kind facility created to address the rapidly expanding technical requirements associated with live and virtual training in complex naval exercises. The center is the main Atlantic Fleet hub for the Navy Continuous Training Environment (NCTE), which is comprised of a variety of constructive, virtual and live systems to generate synthetic war games. This center will improve efficiency and interoperability among forces around the world and save taxpayers money by reducing the number of resources needed to prepare and plan for various exercises.

Commander, Strike Force Training Atlantic (CSFTL) Rear Adm. Donald P. Quinn, DTCL leadership and subject matter experts discussed various aspects of the facility, the organization and what they mean to fleet readiness.

"We have done synthetic training for a long time in the Navy. Each organization had its own capability and capacity to do so. We have taken pieces that were spread out and consolidated them in one place. This organization is the East Coast node for Navy Synthetic Training. Using this node, we will hook into the joint system in places like Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Fort Hood, or in some cases, to reach out to Korea and our coalition partners over in Europe," Rear Adm. Quinn said. "With a high degree of fidelity, we can do training that before we could only do by flying airplanes and driving ships. This is a significant investment; it is a significant success."

Within DTCL, the Joint Exercise Control Center is a reconfigurable environment with a battery of large-screen overhead monitors, rows of computers and the familiar gray raised access flooring that typically hides hundreds of miles of fiber optic and electrical wires and network cables. But during today's demonstration, computers are eerily quiet, most monitors are blank and every seat is empty in the control center.

"The reason you are seeing static displays is that the information we use for our exercises and games is classified secret. We cannot run that particular software in front of you. The static displays you see here are at the unclassified level. During large exercises, we fill every seat in this room," said Robert George, deputy director for the DTCL.

Still, it isn't difficult to imagine the constant hum of electronic beeps in sync with the battle rhythm of the scenario being played out by "white cell" and "red cell" participants or the urgency of responding to a simulated event or adversary in such a high tech setting.

Overhead monitors would display the various elements that equate to situational awareness, such as: network performance, the movement of ground forces, ships and aircraft, weather conditions, intelligence, blue force tracking--any and all information that facilitates decision making at the command level.

"We have been doing large-scale distributed training for about four and a half years--starting with only four support people. Three years ago, the majority of complaints we got were technology related. The training audience spent 80 percent of their time fighting technical and distribution issues. The comments we have been getting the last year and a half is that they are spending 20 percent or less of their time worrying about the technical issues," George said. "Our ultimate goal is to become completely transparent. After we hook the networks up to the ship, they shouldn't even know we exist.


"This table here is called the technical operations lead; it is what I used to do. In the old days, the tech ops lead would be out of his mind--on chat, voice over IP phones and regular phones--trying to solve all these issues. Now it is actually boring because we have overcome almost all of those issues.

"Radio systems are a good example. Historically, our number one technical issue was voice communications. We had antiquated systems for UHF line-of-sight comms that were breaking literally every hour. About two years ago, we replaced it all with something called Digital Radio Management System, DRMS, we call it 'dreams.' With the installation of DRMS, we went from voice communications being the number one problem to it being no problem whatsoever," George said.


The need for getting DTCL online was so compelling that George, Cmdr. Keith Payne, DTCL's director, and many DTCL employees worked weekends and after hours painting the facility and installing the raised access flooring. George said all the hard work has been worth it when he sees the benefits it provides to fleet training.


The Joint Semi-Automated Forces (JSAF), a simulation system sponsored by U.S. Joint Forces Command (USJFCOM), is used to generate entity-level simulations which interact individually in a synthetic environment. Entities include infantrymen, tanks, ships, airplanes, munitions, buildings and sensors. They can be controlled separately or organized into appropriate units for a given mission.

"We distribute the game with a program called JSAF. If you want to look at it as a big video game, everyone here, in their particular area--air warfare, submarine warfare and surface warfare--controls their part of the game. The training audience is on their ship and that's the preferred way of doing business--to have troops on their ships training on their equipment because that is what they are going to be using when they get overseas," Payne said.

"They are seeing everything as they would as if they were deployed in the Arabian Gulf. One mantra we try to use is 'train ashore, validate at sea,'" he added.

The DTCL works hard to ensure training and equipment duplicate exactly what crews will encounter on deployment. With the Fleet Synthetic Training Program, participants can prepare for the exercise in advance so there are no unexpected delays when the exercise actually begins. The synthetic training is so realistic that participants are easily caught up in the role-playing.

"The ultimate compliment was made by the last commodore that went through. He said he had to walk out on the bridge just to make sure that he was still tied to the pier because he was sweating because we were working him pretty hard," Rear Adm. Quinn said.

The next to train at the DTCL are the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) and Iwo Jima (LHD 7) Strike Groups. They will use FSTGC or Fleet Synthetic Training--Group Commanders.

Synthetic Training

As realistic as DTCL's training environment is, the training cannot replace live training.

"We can't replace all of it, you still have to drive ships and fly airplanes in terms of airmanship and seamanship. That's what we are working on right now--what is the right mix? This cuts across all warfare areas. This summer we will be working with the Navy's Expeditionary Combat Command and they will start folding into these exercises and stressing their command elements as part of the training," Rear Adm. Quinn said.

Surprisingly, the training only involves 20 percent of the crew, according to Rear Adm. Quinn.

"You are dealing largely with the watchstanders at the CDC (Combat Direction Center) level, but people in engineering may not be involved. It varies depending on the type of ship," the admiral said.

According to the DTCL, synthetic training is so valuable, especially in joint and coalition operations, that ships must go through it at least once before deployment.

"One thing about synthetic training that you cannot provide with live training is that robust coalition force and the other services. This Navy Continuous Training Environment (NCTE), this spider Web network that the Navy uses is tremendous. Our joint service brethren--Air Force and Army--use one called the Joint Training Experimentation Network. We can tie those two together, and the Air Force is using their simulators and their training sites at their home bases, and they are able to interact with the strike groups just as they would with a combatant commander in the 5th Fleet, 6th Fleet or 7th Fleet," Payne said.

Because Navy ships do not all have the same technology configuration, the DTCL has technical experts who ensure the software suites used during synthetic training are the same technologies crews will use on deployment.

Assistant Chief of Staff, N9, and head of synthetic training for CSFTL, Odie Ogden, said it may take a bit of preparation to get everything working as it should.

"It is a matter of paying attention. We try to start onboard ship with the crews in their spaces with their C4I (command, control, communications, computers and intelligence) systems. If their C4I systems aren't where they need to be, or the ship is unavailable, then we will move them into the modules either here at DTCL, at TACTRAGRULANT (Tactical Training Group, Atlantic) or the EWTGLANT (Expeditionary Warfare Training Group, Atlantic) Joint Expeditionary Tactical Trainer (JETT). There they can operate off their ships but still use the same real-world C4I systems, and thus their same procedures.

"In the modules, we do not provide strike groups something extra that they are not going to deploy with. For example, we only provide them the version of software they are going to deploy with.

"Negative training is high on the list of things we don't want to do. We want to train them on the systems, the version, the communications, and the conduits that they are going to deploy with so they get used to it. That is the baseline for how we want to use synthetic training to augment and enhance the live training," Ogden said.

According to Mike Dial from Navy Warfare Development Command (NWDC) in Newport, R.I., Rear Adm. Carlton "Bud" Jewett, commander of NWDC, is the technical director for the NCTE and for the Navy JSAF program.

"It is Admiral Jewett's job, and the technical team that works for him, to do the testing and integration with the Navy simulators and with the joint simulators and then to provide a product that works for folks here in the training lab, so that when we put this together for a functional exercise, things all work and there is no problem with integration because those details have been worked out," Dial said.

Coalition partners in many of the exercises include Germany, Canada, Australia, United Kingdom and France.

"We can leverage through the Internet, the easiest way to put it, coast-to-coast, locally, in order to pull disparate players from different places--Japan, Australia, Canada, U.K.--into a single game. Everybody is in the same synthetic environment. It's a video game. It's what our kids have grown up with," Rear Adm. Quinn said.

Scenarios are based on training requirements, and they can be modified. The play is interactive throughout the exercise.

"We can give them [crews] instruction and they do it again and again until they do it right. It is a nice way to do things. You can do a lot of training without hurting anybody or causing injuries and without spending a lot of money. It's expensive to send ships out to sea and evaluate them. It is an efficient way to train," said Mark Checchio, JSAF lead.


The NCTE is Internet-based, but the demand for robust bandwidth is not a problem for the advanced simulation the JSAF provides.

"We don't really have any restrictions that I know of as far as the amount of data that we can send between nodes of the NCTE. Data is encrypted, so we can do things classified to the secret level. It allows us to do more exercises at the secret level. That does eliminate some people because they don't have authorization to see U.S. secret stuff, for example, some of the foreign countries. You have to sanitize what goes to them if they are participating in an event," Checchio said.

Generally, coalition partners communicate in the exercise via VoIP, Checchio said. "We have all different ways to allow anybody to play that is authorized by the Navy. We may have to declassify things or remove some things they [coalition members] are not allowed to see. The technical guys do a great job; they have a lot of tools that allow us to do that."

Another aspect of ensuring a successful exercise is security. Brian Koman is the information assurance manager who monitors the integrity of the network.

"You have to keep the network secure because if the network falls apart, there goes the whole scenario. Everything that is running is shot if someone breaks into your network. It is a thankless job, but it is a very important job because you have to keep the network safe before you can do anything else," Koman said.

Praise has been high from groups who have participated in the training, and many are requesting additional training to maintain readiness, according to Rear Adm. Quinn.

"Right now, everyone is asking for it. It is getting rave reviews. The Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) raved about it. They just got a mid-deployment report that said it was valuable. It is not perfect, they recommend a little more of this and a little less of that, but they rave about it."

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Author:Anderson, Sharon
Date:Apr 1, 2008
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