Report: Army needs to improve simulated training development, evaluation

The Army must improve how it develops and measures the effectiveness of virtual training programs to prevent such systems from being underutilized or outright ignored, according to a Government Accountability Office report. 

The report's authors interviewed leaders with 21 units in four brigade combat teams and found the three key factors that determine whether virtual training takes place don't have much to do with the technology itself: 

  • Leaders with limited training availability preferred to use that time on live training, when available.
  • Leaders who had not been personally trained on the available system were less likely to use it.
  • Leaders who were presented with specific training guidance that incorporated virtual systems into an overall approach were more likely to use them.

Gunnery training systems for the Stryker Mobile Gun System and the Abrams tank were among those cited by leaders as part of such an incorporated setup. The Common Driver Trainer-Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles Variant wasn't; leaders told GAO officials it wasn't being used for multiple reasons, including a lack of training on the system, soldier preference for real-world training, and its inability to cover all the required driver skills.

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Eighteen of the MRAP systems were purchased for an overall cost of $12 million and require about $750,000 for overall yearly upkeep, per the August report. Of the more than 32,000 hours available on the machines in 2015, soldiers trained for 435 of them.

Spc. Felicia Anne Smith, 650th Regional Support Group culinary specialist, trains on the Virtual Clearance Training Suite system simulator, at the Taylor Hall U.S. Army Reserve Center in Las Vegas. With this virtual training, Soldiers were guided step by step through the different levels of detection and identification so that they could neutralize explosive hazards. These methods and systems are the future of warfare on the battlefield.

Photo Credit: Capt. Fernando Ochoa/Army

The GAO's analysis of Army regulations found that while virtual-training development requirements instruct developers to consider compatibility, manpower costs, transportability and other factors, they do not require consideration of training time, usage rates or even specific training tasks, in most circumstances.

Without such criteria, "the Army does not have the information needed to evaluate the amount of virtual training capabilities needed to achieve training tasks and proficiency goals during operational training," according to the report.

Not only does the Army have multiple agencies charged with developing and analyzing virtual training platforms, the program evaluations within the same agency don't always use the same methodology. The report found that the seven analyses conducted by the Army Training Support Center since 2012 involved four different types of analysis, and even included different approaches within the types.

Defense Department officials agreed with GAO's recommendation to standardize this process, as well as the need for the secretary of the Army to provide updated guidance on the incorporation of virtual systems into the training timeline.

The Army likely will link its changes to the virtual training landscape to other major milestones outlined in the report. In December, for instance, the Army is expected to establish readiness objectives at the unit level, and in February it plans to publish updates to training regulations regarding changes to mandatory training.

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