ORLANDO, Fla. -- Over the past several years, defense industry executives have lamented the downturn in military spending. Budget cuts have forced service leaders to cancel or pare back major contracts, in turn hitting industry. Despite this, modeling, simulation and training leaders are optimistic about the future.
At the annual Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference in Orlando--the world's largest modeling, simulation and training conference--the mood among industry executives was undeniably rosy. Smaller defense budgets are forcing the military to conduct fewer costly live exercises and instead put troops in the cockpits and drivers' seats of more affordable simulators.
The training and simulation industry will be critical to keeping soldiers prepared for potential future conflicts, said Gen. Mark Milley, commander of U.S. Army Forces Command.
"As the battlefield becomes more complex and events happen more rapidly, we must leverage simulation tools and gaming mechanisms," he said in a speech. "We must continue to be on the cutting edge of the simulation world."
Readiness has been damaged over the past two years because of budget cuts, Milley said. That is dangerous when U.S. forces face threats from across the world. There are 22 armed ongoing conflicts globally, he said.
Fiscal austerity cannot hinder readiness training, he noted.
Capt. Erik Etz, executive officer at the Naval Air Warfare Center's training systems division, agreed that training will be critical to maintain future troop readiness.
"The reality we're arriving at is that the modeling, simulation and training industry actually offers a lot of mitigation for declining budgets and ... [opens] opportunities for warfighters to hone their capabilities in a virtual environment, in a much more fiscally responsible way," Etz said.
The division has found that there is often a 10:1 cost ratio between training live and training in a simulated environment. Live exercises are important and necessary, but virtual environments can enhance them, he said.
"You'll never replace actual live training with virtual training, but you can certainly augment that live training and, in many ways, mission rehearse much more readily," he noted.
Simulated training can also help when it comes to working with procedure-heavy equipment, such as fighter jets, he said.
"I'm an F-18 guy by background and a lot of things we do in fighters these days are very task intensive, very...