And Anne-Françoise LAIME, CMI Defence
Kidal, Mali, 7 o'clock in the morning. At the heart of Operation Barkhane, French soldiers are embedded an armoured car of the latest generation which is monitoring a sensitive crossing point. Suddenly, armoured pick-up trucks appear. The tank commander reacts immediately, uses a laser range finder, shoots and neutralises the first targets while an enemy armoured vehicle appears. This is also taken into account and destroyed by a shot fired from a Tiger helicopter called for reinforcement. Once the action has been successful, the crew emerges from the armoured car and finds the Kidal landscape there…where one would never guess that a military action has just taken place. No smoke, no pick-up truck destroyed, no helicopter. What these soldiers have just carried out is a training exercise using embedded simulation.
This is not something out of science fiction but the future of operational preparations, a precursor of what will be ordinary training in a few years' time. Simulation is constantly evolving and the appearance of embedded simulation is a breakthrough in this development.
Up till now, training someone to pilot a plane or handle a weapons system required building a dedicated simulator, generally in the form of a cabin, sometimes mounted on cylinders and equipped with immersive projection systems. Such systems have been developed for many vehicles or aircraft enabling a realistic training experience but needing a large site for their installation and keeping these systems in operational condition. Moreover, these systems are costly: typically the price of a virtual simulator costs several million Euros without including the cost of maintenance and operation. Lastly, they are fixed, generally within a specialised training centre and need large-scale infrastructure far from garrisons or military bases.
Taking account of the variety of future operational commitments of the French army, it becomes absolutely necessary to follow training and keep up know-how at all times and in all places. The model consisting of advanced rota planning at dedicated training centres (GTIA) is therefore no longer sufficient. Operational preparation tools should ensure that there is provision and supervision of individual and collective instruction in technical and tactical know-how with real weaponry. It must also ensure swift mastery of new weapon systems and their procedures by increasing training sites and opportunities for training.
During operations, know-how must be retained especially during troop relief and to prepare missions in a given theatre by seeing simulation as a tool to help decision making in order to validate or cancel action.
Lastly, partial virtualisation of a real situation should be carried out by generating a virtual enemy outside the limits of the training camps. It is thus possible to train for air and land combat or for shooting beyond the direct range without having to mobilise actual aircraft within a limited geographic area.
Embedded simulation gives us the opportunity to meet these challenges. It consists of instructing, training and preparing future missions for military personnel within their combat units, in their own vehicles and using real weapon systems. This technology was first used in aviation in certain training planes such as the British Hawk using types of simulation allowing them to train by following radar ranges and by injecting virtual plotting into the actual system. In the same way, in the Navy, embedded simulation enables training at sea to become easier and more detailed by proposing a type of simulation using real central operation equipment.
Embedded simulation on the ground presents an additional complexity. Firstly, it is difficult to mount means of calculation and simulation inside an armoured vehicle or a turret even if the new calculation configurations are potentially more compact, powerful and resistant.
Another difficulty is the simulation of operational equipment which requires dialoguing with the vetronics (vehicle electronics) of the vehicle, to interface with firing logics, all this in total safety. However, it also needs to be able to inject virtual elements within the episcopes and vision systems of the commander, the pilot and the gunner.
For this purpose, virtual reality technologies are used (using digital episcopes) or augmented reality so as to superimpose virtual entities on an actual landscape perfectly coherent with the latter, which raises problems of intelligence and artificial vision. These are typically problems similar to those encountered in robotics. Embedded simulation should therefore largely benefit from progress in programs to develop ground-based autonomous robotics.
CMI Defence and its subsidiary Agueris have been among the first to specify, develop and deploy such embedded simulation solutions for turret operators (30/40 mm, 90 mm and 105 mm Cockerill® turrets). They are intended to train the gunner as the vehicle commander by simulating turret vetronics.
In France, with regard to the SCORPION program, simulation is not considered an addition to but an essential component of the program whose embedded simulation capacity will be fully integrated in vehicles such as, for instance, the Jaguar.
Embedded simulation is therefore an innovative breakthrough to prepare the armed forces but also to serve as an optical aid to decision making, making it possible to equip the operational system with all the assistance and intelligence components embedded for those carrying out operations.