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The Navy’s Aegis Virtual Maintenance Trainer
US Navy | Apr. 18, 2023
DAHLGREN, VA.: The future of surface combat systems training is virtual and it has arrived here onboard Naval Support Facility Dahlgren, Va. Surface Combat Systems Training Command (SCSTC) took a crucial step forward in its hands-on combat training capabilities in unveiling its Aegis Virtual Maintenance Trainer (VMT) in the spring of 2022.
Many different factors came into play when identifying a need and the move to VMT as a solution at SCSTC’s co-located learning site, SCSTC AEGIS Training and Readiness Center (ATRC). They included cost, training system limitations, space, and technology.
“Traditionally, our learning sites used Technical Training Equipment [TTE] for the training of maintenance technicians,” explained Mr. Larry Sharp, SCSTC’s director of technical support, N9. “These systems were nearly identical to the ones fielded aboard ships that Sailors were required to maintain. Due to the Navy improving and evolving their equipment to stay ahead of our adversaries, it created multiple versions of the combat systems equipment. TTE was not only expensive to procure and maintain, but also required a lot of space at training facilities. As there was no end in sight to the advent of new systems to train, and a constant constraint on accommodating them, we had to develop a blended training solution to reduce the requirement for TTEs at schoolhouses.”
Due to space limitations, only a small number of students could be trained at one time. The number of “reps” and “sets” practiced were limited as well.
“Previous maintenance labs only let an instructor work with a few students at a time having to gather around the same hardware and they only had about 50 work items that could be performed,” said Sharp.
Instructors and students had to be extremely careful when practicing maintenance on the trainers. If a mistake was made, equipment was down for days, impacting training and creating a large bill for the Navy.
Moreover, in a world where technology is rapidly evolving, it is vital that the U.S. Navy evolves with it. One way to keep up is to utilize the latest technology to enhance the Navy's training methods. SCSTC’s 21st century warfighters require 21st century training capabilities. SCSTC understood that today’s warfighters were born into a technology savvy world and current training methods were becoming obsolete.
In 2013, as a means to invest in training technologies, devices, and facilities to improve the effectiveness, efficiency, and availability of all surface training, Director, Surface Warfare Division, N96, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations (OPNAV), with the support of Surface Training Systems Program Office (PMS 339), SCSTC, and Surface Warfare Schools Command (SWSC), began to develop the OPNAV program of record, Surface Training Advanced Virtual Environment-Combat Systems (STAVE-CS), which was approved by Congress in December 2018. A key tenant of this program is to immerse trainees in realistic training environments by virtualizing the physical elements of the equipment and operating conditions. Thus, SCSTC, PMS 339, Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD), and industry partners started to design the VMT to support the Aegis Weapon System (AWS) maintenance training at SCSTC ATRC.
“The goal, as always, is to provide the best training to future Aegis warfighters,” explained SCSTC ATRC’s Enlisted Training Department Head, Lt. Greg Yanase. “The VMT would allow us to provide that in ways that have never been accomplished on this scale in terms of flexibility and adaptability. The foundation we were laying would pay dividends to future training applications and distance learning capabilities.”
The STAVE-CS program quickly acknowledged that the training of maintenance technicians could not be accomplished solely via a simulation and as a result, the Part Task Trainers (PTT) were created to provide hands-on tactile training.
“The PTTs focus on training the physical task that supports the virtual environment training,” said Sharp. “They are engineered to be more compact than TTEs while teaching the same physical skills required to for Sailors to perform their jobs.”
A Job Duty Task Analysis was performed to evaluate the training requirements needed to train operators and maintainers on the system itself. This analysis created the training objectives used for the development and creation of the curriculum. It not only identified the curriculum needed to train the equipment or system, but also identified the best techniques to implement the course of instruction.
“SCSTC ATRC is the pinnacle of training for Aegis technicians,” said Yanase. “They are bound to the schoolhouse not only in their foundational knowledge as junior technicians, but as seasoned technicians through our AWS training programs and Aegis Instructor billets. We needed to develop a VMT curriculum to fit not only the needs of our current technicians, but also a curriculum that could be applied to future training operations.”
VMT developers required detailed system information commonly referred to Government Furnished Information (GFI) to recreate a working system or component in the virtual environment. GFI is any technical documentation, system schematics, high resolution pictures and videos of the actual equipment and its internal components, and in some cases, includes actual system software. The team spent countless hours collecting data aboard ships while underway to capture every detail needed to create a virtual, identical version of the equipment.
“They captured everything and I mean everything,” said Sharp. “Single wires in Ethernet cables, transistors, and valves and even nuts and bolts.”
The initial delivery of the VMT took place in the spring of 2022 at the schoolhouse. Both Instructors and students were able to test the equipment during train-the-trainer (TTT) events and provide essential feedback.
“Instructors commented on how the VMT allowed them to train more students at a time and students were impressed with the advanced maintenance and troubleshooting features,” said Sharp.
After collecting feedback from the TTTs and making necessary adjustments, the VMT officially came online in May 2022.
Today, students are experiencing an immersive 3D gaming environment with virtual representations of the entire AWS computer network. Virtual equipment interactions are driven by maintenance and troubleshooting procedural documentation. All actions required to fully complete maintenance and troubleshooting procedures are supported in the simulation, including manual fault isolation and reporting and replacing of faulted hardware to restore the simulated systems to combat readiness.
SCSTC ATRC’s Commanding Officer, Cmdr. Shaun Dennis, explains with the Aegis VMT, his Instructors can choose from over 10,000 potential faults to introduce into training.
“The VMT has numerous features including the ability to track all student actions and monitor student progression,” he said. “If a student has a safety violation, it suspends the student’s advancement and immediately notifies the instructor. Additionally, it has open and flexible architecture. Instructors can make modifications without reliance on a software programmer. In the areas of Aegis operations and maintenance, our warfighters are better prepared as a result of the VMT.”
Fire Controlman (Aegis) 1st Class Joshua Weber says the VMT has been very beneficial for him as an Instructor.
“I am able to provide concurrent training to the entire class, while monitoring their progress in real-time,” he explained. “I have more options to tailor student instruction for each individual to match their progression needs, reducing student fallback time.”
Student Fire Controlman (Aegis) Seaman Jessamay Olitan says the VMT is a game changer for her.
“I’m able to try more faults, learn a procedure and perform it faster,” she said. “The VMT is always available compared to other labs. Also, we can practice removing and replacing basically every part and not worry about voltage and someone getting hurt.”
Student Fire Controlman (Aegis) 3rd Class Matthew Walsh says the VMT is preparing him for the fleet but desires more in depth mechanisms.
“The VMT has provided availability, accessibility, and the ability to change anything,” he said. “However, I wish there were more applications, especially command lines. Overall, it’s more beneficial than past trainers in my opinion.”
SCSTC’s Executive Director, Mr. Brian Deters, says the VMT is one of the most successful STAVE-CS training solutions to date.
“The VMT delivers an environment that simulates the complete operating system providing higher fidelity training with enhanced training capabilities to drive increased knowledge and proficiency,” he said. “Sailors' skillsets to perform preventive and corrective maintenance have improved due to the amplified scope of training with the VMT. The trainer was initially targeted at apprentice level technicians but due to its success, we are in the process of expanding its applicability across the technician training continuum in the very near future.”
Future VMT development efforts include the addition of the Ship Self-Defense System and the AN/SQQ-89A(V)15 anti-submarine warfare combat system. The trainer will be subsequently deployed in every surface fleet concentration area and SPY and Aegis Computer Network Technician VMTs will be available aboard ships to support just in time training and complex casualty correction.
“It is impressive to see the progress that this combined SCSTC, PMS 339, NSWCDD, and industry team has made,” said SCSTC’s Commodore, Capt. George A. Kessler, Jr. “As part of the STAVE-CS program, our VMT solutions are delivering the right training, at the right time, in the right way, so that Sailors are ready to operate their equipment at the extreme technical end of its capability to win the high-end fight. The VMT provides the high-end maintenance training needed to guarantee our warfighters and weapon systems are ready to execute the mission – whenever, and wherever called.”
For information about the Surface Combat Systems Training Command, visit https://www.netc.navy.mil/SCSTC
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