The Pentagon recently concluded the first limited assessment of its persistent cyber training environment (PCTE) with actual users, providing the team with valuable insights.

The Army is running the PCTE on behalf of U.S. Cyber Command, which will eventually provide the platform for distributed individual and collective training purposes, as well as mission rehearsal. The joint cyber community currently doesn’t have an immersive training environment akin to the National Training Center for the Army.

The Army has decided to take best practices from industry in agile software development, breaking the PCTE program into a series of innovation challenges and prototypes that will help to inform the eventual solution.

The first prototype drop took place at the end of July.

In August, the team from Program Executive Office Simulation, Training and Instrumentation brought in several cyber mission force operators from all the services to provide an overview to the first prototype, then let them use it in the first week of September as the first limited user assessment for the first prototype.

Acknowledging its prototype status, users signaled they were happy with it but that it definitely needs more capability, Col. Richard Haggerty, project manager for instrumentation, targets, threat simulators and soft training systems within PEO-STRI, told Fifth Domain in an interview.

One such area is a high-fidelity environment. Haggerty said it is really important to provide these high-caliber cyber operators a challenging environment.

Second, he noted the users really stressed the importance of a simple user interface. This has been a big focus of the program office, Haggerty said, equating it to commercial solutions that require little to no training to use.

“If it’s very complex, if it’s a long series of drop-down menus, if it’s very hard to find capabilities to find content, it detracts from training,” he said. “That was something that we spent a lot of time with the users on how to make it easy to use.”

Haggerty noted that the assessment also included a variety of folks from the joint training enterprise as to bring in a wider array of stake holders for this joint program.

Next steps

Haggerty said the second prototype will go out in January. However, the difference with this phase is it will be somewhat operational.

“We want this prototype to be operational, ready for them to start doing some training. It won’t be 100 percent, but it’ll be capable of supporting training,” he said.

“We’re actually going to now go out to the services in January and February and do a series of training, get people logged on, tour them through the system and that will allow them to start using it doing some of their training tasks.”

Haggerty said in August that one of the biggest fears with the critical cyber training capability gap was for the community to sit idle while they spent two years in the contracting process for a training platform. Thus, the phased prototyping approach allows the Army to provide a limited capability to joint cyber teams while doing risk reduction and nailing down requirements for what Haggerty calls the eventual “objective contract.”

“It’s such a critical capability to provide training capability for the cyber mission forces that even if it’s only an interim prototype we want to get something out there for them to use,” he said.

The January prototype will be a distributed capability serving as the second limited user assessment, he added.

Long term

Larger companies in industry have expressed concern that the program, which is relying on smaller vendors for the prototype phase, won’t be able to scale in the long run. While the Army is serving as the lead systems integrator currently, it will relent that role to a large prime contractor for the objective contract.

Haggerty said the program office is sharing its lessons learned with industry to help inform it of where the program is going for just that reason.

He said they’ll be putting on a PCTE forum at the Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference in November in Orlando to inform industry on everything they’re doing, including timelines of where the product is and where it’s going.

They also recently released a sources sought notice on the FedBizOpps website for the objective contract to begin doing market research for larger vendors.

Then in the spring time, following the delivery of the second prototype, they’ll demo the capability to industry to provide them even more insights into what the PCTE is capable of and any gaps, Haggerty said, as this will give them a sense of whether they want to pursue the program.

Mark Pomerleau is a reporter for C4ISRNET, covering information warfare and cyberspace.

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