SAN DIEGO, Calif. – The Navy took a giant step forward in its undersea warfare (USW) combat training capability in April, unveiling virtual combat training facilities in San Diego and Pearl Harbor.
Program Executive Office, Integrated Warfare Systems (PEO IWS) teamed with the Center for Surface Combat Systems (CSCS) and industry to install five AN/SQQ-89A(V)15 Virtual Operator Trainers (VOTs) that duplicate the shipboard USW combat system used in the Navy’s DDG 51 Arleigh Burke destroyers and CG 47 Ticonderoga cruisers. Integrated with the AEGIS combat system, it provides a full range of undersea warfare functions.
These cloud-based trainers will expand the Navy’s ability to train officers and surface sonar technicians to develop and maintain critical combat skills.
“This innovative solution increases the amount of ‘reps and sets’ Sailors perform on tactical AN/SQQ-89A(V)15 software which significantly improves the quality of training the Sailors and officers receive and retain,” said PEO IWS Undersea Systems Major Program Manager Capt. Jill Cesari. “It is designed to provide operators the opportunity to train in realistic underwater environments against high-fidelity peer and near-peer threats.”
The Navy began its move to virtual surface training in 2015 with the introduction of the Surface Training Advanced Virtual Environment Combat System (STAVE-CS) that has provided an improved training experience and a higher level of qualification for naval officers and sailors heading to the fleet.
“This VOT is just one of many tools being developed, funded and delivered under the STAVE umbrella,” said CSCS Commanding Officer, Capt. Dave Stoner. “By replacing actual shipboard equipment with a virtual-based system using real tactical code, we are providing highly effective tactical employment training. Moreover, we are doing so at a cost that enables us to put this trainer in our schoolhouses and at all of our Fleet concentration areas. Ship commanding officers will also be able to use the VOT family of trainers to build proficiency in stressful real world scenarios.”
According to PEO IWS Undersea Systems Training Director, Jamie Burris, the use of the virtualization technology has provided the opportunity to mitigate future costs associated with fielding multiple training systems representing different software and hardware variants while, at the same time, providing more training capabilities in significantly less space than previous systems.
“The VOTs have been in operation 24 hours a day, five days a week, doubling the capacity of previously installed labs and classrooms while keeping the realism of shipboard-equivalent software,” said Burris. “This allows Sailors more console time which aids in building muscle memory and providing a more prepared, fleet-ready operator upon graduation.”
Underway since 2017, this VOT initiative began as a prototype using virtualization-capable hardware to host the AN/SQQ-89A(V)15 software and expanded to six classrooms in 2018. Today, it features 12 student workstations that reflect the shipboard sonar console design, and dual display station mock-up that supports training for the anti-submarine warfare (ASW) team in the Combat Information Center. Using realistic, simulated acoustic targets in high-fidelity ocean environments and acoustic sensor data recorded from real-world and or exercise events, the system allows the student to feel immersed in a realistic, tactically-challenging environment.
Plans are in place to have a VOT installed at all surface combatant fleet concentration areas by 2024 and will facilitate the transition of two mandatory courses of instruction for sonar technicians from the school in San Diego to the waterfront CSCS detachments.
By training sonar operators in their homeports, no travel costs are incurred and sailors are able to remain close to home while conducting training. Additionally, the surface combatant community gains an off-ship, dedicated training space in each homeport for USW refresher, proficiency and team training with the VOTs, which creates an ideal environment for instructor-facilitated training and teaching.