MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Virginia --
Old habits die hard, and when it comes to training on tactical vehicles, weapons and other equipment, many Marines prefer the sights, sounds and feel of the live environment to simulators.
A team from Marine Corps Systems Command has released a study they hope will change a few minds.
Working with M1A1 tank crews from II Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, Program Manager Training Systems, or PM TRASYS, proved the Advanced Gunnery Training System—a simulation-based system—can increase Marines’ proficiency while costing the Corps millions less than live training.
“The primary purpose of building and using training devices is [improving] human performance and achieving a proficiency level, yet people often forget to assess this,” said Nathan Jones, functional lead for Instructional Systems at PM TRASYS. “Government and industry partners need to think about how we collect data and measure the performance of our trainers.”
The study team—composed of PM TRASYS employees from the program management, logistics and cost analysis fields, and industry partners—conducted the proof of concept study on the AGTS in late 2013. The team sought to prove tank gunner proficiency could be measured, and that the AGTS not only helped Marines meet the required standards, but carry the knowledge and skills over to live-fire exercises in the M1A1.
The study was in response to recommendations from the Government Accountability Office that the Marine Corps measure the impact of simulation-based training on improving proficiency.
“Before M1A1 and LAV crews can move on to live-fire qualification, they have to meet the standard and achieve the required certification score in the AGTS,” Jones said.
The AGTS provides gunnery and tactical training for the M1A1 Main Battle Tank and Light Armored Vehicle to satisfy both land-based and shipboard training requirements. The system trains Marines on target acquisition, identification and engagement, various weapon and ammunition types, and reticle alignment, target tracking and weapons firing.
Training systems like AGTS are part of the MCSC portfolio as the Department of the Navy’s systems command for Marine Corps ground weapon and information technology systems used by Marine forces to accomplish their warfighting mission.
Over the course of three months, PM TRASYS collected data from M1A1 crews during AGTS training and follow-on live-fire qualification. A comparison of crew scores at the beginning and end of AGTS training showed anywhere from a 46 to 62 percent improvement, with each crew maintaining their proficiency through the live-fire stage of qualification.
Jones said he wasn’t surprised that the AGTS proved capable of improving Marines’ proficiency, but the cost-avoidance figures were a pleasant surprise for the entire team.
To calculate cost avoidance for this study, the team primarily considered the amount of simulated rounds fired from the three crews, said Greg Seavers, cost analysis functional lead for PM TRASYS.
According to the study, the ammunition cost for an equivalent amount of live-fire gunnery training would be more than $1 million annually for each active-duty crew and $.5 million for Reserve crews. While funding for that amount of additional live fire training is not realistically available, the AGTS allows Marines to inexpensively acquire synthetic experience that resulted in measurable improvements in skill.
Because a minimal amount of mileage was involved in this training scenario, costs for mileage; spare and repair parts; and petroleum, oil and lubricant were not calculated, Seavers said. However, if calculated, these factors would increase the total cost avoided.
As a result of the study, TRASYS is in the process of implementing AGTS software modifications that will ease the collection of training data in the future. They also plan to conduct similar studies on other ground training systems to collect proficiency and cost-avoidance data.
“Over the years, the [Marine Corps] has spent a lot of money on simulators that are not prescriptive—meaning they’re optional,” said Lt. Col. Walter Yates, program manager for TRASYS. “As budgets are under pressure and continue to be, we can maintain and even increase our readiness by relying on systems like the AGTS, instead of using live ammunition and fuel, and putting wear and tear on our vehicles.”
Yates pointed out in the Commandant’s Planning Guidance, released in January, Gen. Joseph Dunford said he expects all elements of the Marine Air-Ground Task Force to “make extensive use of simulators where appropriate.” Although simulator training is a prerequisite to live training across the aviation community, and for M1A1 and LAV crews, many other ground systems do not have such a requirement, Yates said.
“My job is to go back now and do the validations and studies, such as this one for AGTS, and submit them to [Training and Education Command] and our requirement sponsors,” he said. “Then we can say we put the academic rigor behind it, and we’ve measured that skill is improving.”
Yates believes once the systems are validated and recognized as the way to demonstrate proficiency for training and readiness tasks, Marine commanders’ confidence in simulation-based training will increase, and so will its use.
“When usage goes up, costs will go down,” he said. “Then we’ll start to reap the benefits of the investments we’ve made.”