23 October 2009

Fleet Synthetic Training

The Secretary of the Navy recently announced Navy’s goals for a “green” Fleet and to reduce our fuel consumption by half through 2020.  SECNAV Mabus has also made it clear that while our energy initiatives are important, they must not detract from our warfighting ability.

Traditionally, our Navy has consumed large amounts of fuel during workups for deployment.  Fleet Synthetic Training (FST) offers Navy a significant opportunity to save fuel and minimize our impact on the environment while we train and ensure we meet our warfighting requirements.

FST is not the “cure-all” for our dependence on foreign oil, but – as we realized with flight simulators – implementing FST on a large scale gives us an opportunity to practice our critical skills in port and then validate them at sea.  We now have a few years of experience using FST from which we can assess its effectiveness.

I would like to hear your opinion on Fleet Synthetic Training.  Based on your experiences, was FST effective in preparing you for deployment?  Where has FST made a positive impact, where do we have gaps, and where are there opportunities to expand?


CMDCM said...

Another great topic that requires attention. FST, as designed, is great for the Sailor as it relates to quality of life and inport time when compared to the traditional C2X/JTFX model of years past (still miss the Kartuna and Korona days...). Having experienced FST while stationed at the unit level, # Flt and USFF; the preparation of watchstanders, flexing ROE and intelligence fusion are adequate. However, the issue with FST is the lack of funding to upgrade the scenarios and the training equipment. A couple of micro-level examples/observations.
- Threat signals generated are not realistic to current threat and equipment has not been upgraded in years due to budget cuts (more with less) - specifically BEWT. My post staff opinion is USFF/PACFLT/# Flts should drive the issue with the PEOs.
- PEOs seem to have the mindset of pushing projects thru the various milestone events without taking fleet input very well (yes, CDD input is there, but technology changes faster than these documents). Change is resisted, even when another PEO is willing to fund upgraded synthetic training capcbility to the system PEO (that would require the PEO to take on lifecycle management).
- Gaps/Expansion, until we have a network for all CIC and SSES equipment to receive the same scenario que's, then some stations will continue to lag behind while a CSTT member uses a flash card in an attempt to keep up with the rest of the combat team.
- CSFTL/ATGs appear to be undermanned to actually observe the training on the CG/DDG, much less provide corrective training to the fleet during this event.
- Ships man watch stations and seem go thru the motions because ten other events not related to FST are happening oboard at the same time. Onboard preparations prior to FST are lacking during my past observations.
Apologize for the rambling, thank you for your time and service...

ADM J. C. Harvey, Jr said...

Master Chief, thanks very much for your particularly incisive post - the issue you raised, the fidelity of the individual shipboard systems and their ability to be fully integrated with the larger FST scenarios, is one that my team brought to me recently before I went out to TTGL to get a FST update. I have much more to learn wrt where we should take FST and very much appreciate your contribution to my education. All the best, JCHjr

CDR X said...

Have any studies been done on how much money has been invested over the past few decades in synthetic training systems vs. the money saved in steaming days?

EM1(SS) Tugboat said...

While I do not believe that FST would be a replacement for good old-fashioned operating at sea (as you say yourself)... while I was an instructor at one of our NPTUs we were using a (then-new) maneuvering room simulator to train our nuclear EM and ET students (and staff). I was dubious when I heard about it, but having gone into the simulator, it looks just like Maneuvering. And where it shines over actually operating the plant is that the instructors can run any possible casualty on your students. Casualties that would (in the real plant) seriously jeopardize reactor safety don't hurt a computer simulation. When an electric plant casualty takes out the A/C, it gets hot in the simulator. Realistic noises can be inserted into sound-powered phone circuits so that instructors simulating ER watchstanders sound like they're between the main engines. You get the idea. I'd say more, but I don't want to cross any lines with classified stuff going out on the internet.
At Groton, there are several Control room simulators for training up the tracking party. Those were (from where I was on the geo-plot) good training. They also let the Captain breeze in with the instructors and slip a couple extra enemy subs into the water on the fly at the end of a long day.
I think that this form of training can save a lot of wear and tear on our ships, and broaden the range of training (more scenarios) that our people get to experience, which will put us at an operational advantage down the road. The issues the Master Chief raised were above my paygrade and I have no reason to doubt their accuracy. From an engineering department perspective, things don't change as much (engineering plants don't change very rapidly once installed) or as quickly as does the external threat environment. But if we save money by burning less fuel and creating less need for certain maintenance (again saving $), perhaps that will free up the money to keep current and avoid some of the problems CMDCM presented.

gold said...

As a civilian, I applaud the efforts you are making to protect the environment while you protect our freedom. Thank you and God bless!

ADM J. C. Harvey, Jr said...

EM1(SS) Tugboat, I agree with you completely.
Our Submarine Force has led the way in the development of quality team training simulators that have been of great benefit to us. I'm hoping to build on those successes and lessons-learned to expand in similar ways to surface ship team trainers, both for our CIC/Bridge teams and our propulsion plant watchstanders.
Bottom-line - high quality in-port training simulators enable more effective use of our at-sea time.
All the best, JCHjr

STGC said...

FST is an outstanding idea, using shore simulators like subs and air crews do would be even better.

The main problem- Every warfare area has systems built by different companies. Those systems DO NOT integrate well or, sometimes, at all. Moreover, there aren't civilian/contractors who know how to get the systems to integrate either at the unit level or multi-ship exercises. No ‘one contractor’ knows the specifics of every system that is supposed to be integrated for a single ship or battlegroup-type scenario.

And then, the problem of not having enough evaluators (ATG) to oversee the scenario when everything does finally work- they’re under-manned, over-tasked, and under-funded just like everyone else in the Fleet.

My experience (Master Chief hit on it as well) is, you spend a lot of time preparing your equipment, watch teams and scenario packages for FST but what likely happens is this:

1- the equipment doesn’t integrate (even with the civilian ‘experts’ onboard)
2- when it does integrate, the scenario itself times out, the shore input drops the scenario, or the scenario freezes (depending on aegis baseline)
3- you spend the entire day with sailors manned on their watchstations (the ones whose expertise isn’t needed to try to help fix the integration/freezing scenario issues). As the day wears on, less and less of personnel listed on the watchbill actually remain on station not because they’re disregarding orders but simply because there’s more work to do then sit at a console with a blank screen.
4- At the end of a day that likely started at 0500 or earlier (purportedly preparing the equipment to function optimally) and ends sometime between 1800-2000, everyone has come up with the same conclusion- too many different contractors (who have absolutely NO financial incentive to make their product interface with another companies product), not enough ‘many-systems’ experts and a realization that, man, this would have been so much easier if we could have done it at sea.
5- Minimum 60% and up to 90% of your day of ‘synthetic training’ was spent trying to get the equipment to work and remain stable, very little spent on actual training.

Until the fleet can get all of its equipment "on the same page", FST's will remain...anti-climatic and not a good tool for preparing a unit or battlegroup. However, I understand due to funding constraints, this may likely be our only option.

My solution: financial incentive provided to Lockheed Martin/General Dynamics and whoever else makes systems that are required for integration, to ensure their equipment when sold to the Navy can, in fact, and not just in a laboratory environment or in theory, integrate. (it’ll be cheaper than sending all those ships to sea)

1 billet created for ATG- a systems integration expert- usually an FC/ST/CTT whose sole purpose is to commence and maintain system-wide stability and integration for FST unit and multiship scenarios. (there maybe a billet already there for that but it ain’t working, maybe it needs to be a civilian- one that isn’t afraid to set foot on a ship)

MANDATORY Plan B days. Plan B- for when FST objectives aren’t met the first time. Minimum of two opportunities to complete FST’s of any level.

When FST is scheduled- absolutely no other work on the ship is authorized- including contracted work. If the ship’s inport and you tell a sailor to pretend to stand watch like he’s underway, then don’t expect other tasks to get completed. ***This is a key point. You may think this can be handled at a lower level but when the CO is getting yelled by Desron to make sure all the appropriate contract work on the ship is completed on time with no cost overruns, that’s when you have seamen getting pulled off a watch station that’s supposed to be manned*** This needs to be driven from the battle group boss. i.e. don’t plan FST during overhaul or maintenance periods.

I have heard of FST’s that went well. I heard.

Just my experience.

ADM J. C. Harvey, Jr said...

Guy Purser, I would really like to get you, CMDCM and CAPT RUSS Williams (my FST "guru") together to talk through the many points you have raised.
The very in-depth and insightful posts in response to my questions have been a great education for me.
I'm convinced that we must, rpt must, continue to make real progress in improving both the quality and quantity of FST delivered to the Fleet, no matter what happens to our budgets in the next few years.
Come on over for a cup of coffee (I'll buy!) so we can continue the dialogue. All the best, JCHjr

shipmate said...


FST is an awesome tool, but in the end we have to ask two questions. First, what is the level of readiness we want to deploy the force to have? Second, where does training end and proficiency building begin? The submarine force will tell you that they can train all day long in the simulator, but that live firing with a purpose are the heart and soul of the certification of ships ready for combat operations. RAND corp did some interesting studies on this and lots of people are trying to ask the question about balancing synthetic and live training.

I know everything can be lumped into training - and many will say everything we do is training. I get that (and agree) but when we are talking about the right mix of synthetic and live training it is critical that we drive the process to answer these two questions. Once you know what level of capability you want to deploy, you can more adequately target the process for getting warriors (individual, ship, squadron and group) to the right level.

We consistently tell ourselves that it is possible to train every ship for every possible mission and get them ready to go to major combat ops. In the end the CO gets through the basic phase, the CSG/ESG get through the FST "stuff", and the entire group goes through COMPTUEX (where the focus is mostly on the staff certification). We do NOT give ourselves the opportunity to allow for development of the tactical and operational art that underway experience provides.

If we took a hard look at targeting balancing synthetic training and live underway events, I think we could really improve the capabilities of our forces, maximize the utility of synthetic training events and (most importantly) build a cadre of people who are not only familiar but also comfortable with the tactical and operational art of war.

Very respectfully,