GAO dings Army on its management of virtual training devices

U.S. Army Soldiers, assigned to 412th Aviation Support Battalion, conduct training using the Dismounted Soldier Training System at the 7th Army Joint Multinational Training Command (JMTC) at Grafenwoehr, Germany, Dec. 11, 2013. The DSTS is a fully-immersive virtual simulation for infantry. (U.S. Army photo by Visual Information Specialist Markus Rauchenberger)

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The Army can improve the way it manages its virtual training devices so that more soldiers use them to prepare for battle, a watchdog report has found.

A recently released Government Accountability Office report says the Army needs to do better analysis, both before using the devices and after, to better integrate them into operational training. The report also recommended the Army give more guidance on how to use virtual devices in operational training, and explore ways to more consistently incorporate virtual devices into its training strategies.

Virtual training uses a simulator or simulation, or a computer-generated battlefield. Some of the devices replicate a real weapon system, but others focus rather on “collective training” and build certain skill sets, according to the report.

The GAO and the Army Audit Agency have voiced concerns with the Army’s management of virtual training devices in the past, according to the report, and the Army gave specific action steps it intended to take to alleviate some of those concerns.

The current review says the Army should improve how it analyses the training situation on the front end to get the right balance of live versus virtual training.

That analysis should address “factors such as soldiers’ available training time, training tasks and objectives and expected usage rates to accomplish training tasks and required proficiency,” the report recommends.

Development documents of nine virtual training devices were reviewed, and the GAO found that for eight of those, the documents were a “general discussion of how the device could be used in training.”

The report cites several ways the front-end analysis was lacking, including that only two documents identified specific tasks to be trained, and none of the nine documents considered available training time or target usage rates.

The report also found that policy requires the Army to analyze the effectiveness of virtual training devices, but doesn’t set standards for how, or give set criteria.

“The Army has not established a well-defined process to analyze the effectiveness of its existing virtual training devices, even though it has a requirement to establish a policy for the conduct of post-fielding training effectiveness analyses,” according to the report.

And Army officials used different objectives and approaches in the seven analysis they completed since 2012 of virtual training devices, the report said.

It added that the Army had no specific plans to conduct post-fielding training effectiveness analysis on seven devices the GAO studied. The report’s author said the Army “may benefit from conducting these analyses when determining which virtual training devices it will sustain in its inventory.”

An example: Officials told the GAO that one training device reviewed wasn’t even being used. Out of the 33,222 hours it was available in fiscal year 2015, soldiers used it only 435 hours. Soldiers who had used the device, which cost $12 million to acquire, “found live training to be more effective,” officials said. And at one installation, site officials said, “[T]hey lacked qualified instructors and operators to train soldiers on the device as a result of funding constraints and personnel turnover.”

The report does note “the Army has taken steps to better integrate virtual training devices in its operational training.”

And the Army is in the “early stages” of looking at requirements to create a single cloud-based next-generation synthetic training environment that would replace existing capabilities, according to the report.

The Army agreed with most of the GAO’s recommendations.

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Army, Department of Defense (DOD), Departments, Government Accountability Office (GAO), News, Virtual training
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