The Many Languages of Training

Teaching students to use complex systems requires fluency in multiple instructional methods.

by R. Curtis Heinen     image of PDF button

Director of the Training Systems and Simulators Department in the Aerospace Electronics and Training Systems Division since 1988, R. Curtis Heinen oversees 70 SwRI training system staff members based in San Antonio, Texas; Orlando, Fla.; and Ogden, Utah. His staff is engaged in training needs analysis, curriculum development, modeling and simulation software development, and simulator fabrication. Heinen is shown with an Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) student training station to be delivered in 1997 to the U.S. Air Force Air Education and Training Command at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla.

Just as language is only one of many vehicles for conveying concepts and ideas between individuals, there are many technologies and strategies for training. No single approach provides the most effective way to communicate instructions. Rather, combining several methodologies is usually the best way to ensure learning. The scientific process by which we determine the way people learn and thereby the most effective way to train is at the heart of instructional system design.

For 10 years, staff members in the Training Systems and Simulators Department at SwRI have used a number of technologies and instructional strategies to help students understand today's highly complex military systems.

Prior to selecting a training technique, educational objectives must be identified and understood. To this end, the department includes not only engineering and computer science staff members but also instructional systems design professionals who regularly conduct training needs analyses for clients.

Once a client's requirements are understood, design and selection of the most appropriate training strategy can be made. This selection may combine two or more of the following technologies: real-time simulation software, 3-D graphics, human computer interface methods, digital multimedia, speech recognition, networked or distributed interactive simulation methods including the Internet, instructor-led materials, text-based workbooks, computer-based instruction, modeling and visualization of physical principles, virtual environments, and simulators that approximate actual equipment to a high degree of fidelity. Each of these instructional delivery techniques (and the list continually grows) follows a unique development methodology which must be tailored to satisfy learning objectives.

A sample of projects now in progress at SwRI illustrates the Institute's ability to provide custom training solutions for specialized training requirements.

AWACS Weapons Director Training

Mistaken identity, disorientation, and other situational awareness problems can result in serious errors during combat. Designing more realistic and effective training programs to reduce these problems is a major program area at the Institute. In a project for the U.S. Air Force Air Education Training Command, the Institute is developing the Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) Modeling and Simulation Training program for weapons directors on E-3A AWACS aircraft. AWACS surveillance aircraft carry sophisticated radar equipment used to control air and ground operations in key areas throughout the world. The system consists of 12 flight crew positions that direct U.S. aircraft in the region of coverage. Two-dimensional display consoles in the AWACS aircraft track radar indications of aircraft or ground vehicles in a large geospecific location that may cover hundreds of miles.

In 1995, two U.S. Army Blackhawk helicopters in northern Iraq were mistakenly shot down by F-15s receiving intercept guidance from an AWACS aircraft. Twenty-six lives were lost. That incident underlined an urgent need to improve situational awareness and effectiveness training for AWACS weapons directors.

Institute analysts studied existing weapons director training procedures before beginning work on an improved system. That system will insert new training strategies into the existing curriculum -- strategies such as 3-D graphics, speech recognition, modeling and simulation, and networked simulators. Students will be introduced to basic combat principles, concepts, procedures, and tactics through the graphical presentation of displays and controls simulating an AWACS console. The latest advances in computer visualization technologies will help students form accurate mental models of actual mission operations.

Twenty-four AWACS modeling and simulation consoles under development at SwRI will provide the U.S. Air Force with the ability to conduct live, virtual, and simulated exercises. The training system includes three-dimensional graphics, speech recognition, modeling, and simulation to accomplish near-mission-ready training of AWACS weapons directors. AWACS simulators can be linked to other simulators and actual systems such as radar installations over the U.S. Department of Defense Distributed Interactive Simulation network.

Three-dimensional graphics is a highly effective way to convey instructional content to students. As individuals train to become AWACS weapons directors, they must master the ability to visualize events in a particular air space without actually seeing them. Through a 3-D graphic representation, students will be able to view AWACS radar scans, watch as a simulated aircraft enters the radar space, and then correlate this view with weapons director instrument displays. By viewing the 3-D graphics and interactively changing parameters and flight paths, students can form appropriate mental models of concepts that relate to actual aircraft movement. This is in contrast to the 2-D scenarios currently used in training.

Speech recognition technology is an electronic system that can be "trained" to recognize a limited vocabulary uttered by different speakers. One of the most important AWACS mission requirements is the terminology that must be verbally exchanged in a clear, concise manner between the AWACS weapons director and pilots of other aircraft. Learning the terminology requires extensive practice, with the key to success being consistent feedback on correct pronunciation of the large set of communications commands. Speech recognition technology allows students to receive consistent feedback -- often not the case with human instructors, who may vary in acceptance criteria.

Each AWACS weapons director must learn to control aircraft engagements. This is achieved through modeling and simulation of the intercept geometry -- the definition of flight paths that would result in two aircraft meeting at a certain point. In real time, students can practice these lessons by identifying radar targets and specifying intercept vectors, and they can view the consequences of their actions in 3-D graphics, enabling them to form a cognitive model on which to base future actual weapons director activities. An after-action review of student trials by the training system, the modern equivalent of a debriefing, provides even more comprehensive feedback.

Situational awareness training for fighter pilots is made more effective by the use of real-time, three-dimensional graphics. This technique helps prepare trainees for actual mission operations by providing them with an enhanced spatial understanding of mission conditions.

Testing student performance is a critical issue that involves placing the student in a simulated live exercise. This is accomplished by linking the AWACS simulator to other training simulators and actual systems such as radar installations over the U.S. Department of Defense Distributed Interactive Simulation (DIS) network. DIS permits real-time interaction between students or between students and pilots, allowing individuals in geographically dispersed areas to practice principles and tactics of land-, sea-, or air-based systems using simulators or actual equipment in ground, naval, and air training exercises.

Each student receives automated feedback as he or she practices using the weapons director simulator. Practice occurs in simulated and live roles. In the simulated role, the student manipulates an exact replica of an AWACS aircraft console to engage pseudo pilots of other aircraft, such as F-15s or F16s, to create conditions that would be encountered during actual mission operations. As students advance in understanding, they have the opportunity to test their skills by communicating with pilots in real aircraft during simulated exercises. From the student's perspective, the information presented during live practice sessions is identical to what would be received from an actual aircraft, ship, armored vehicle, or infantryman performing as a friendly or hostile entity.

Electronic Warfare

The Institute recently developed several hours of digital multimedia lesson material for a military sponsor who was teaching electronic warfare principles using viewgraphs and charts. By using a PentiumTM-based PC system and multimedia techniques, Institute analysts designed 3-D simulations to enhance a conceptual understanding of electronic warfare principles.

The lesson material includes interactive sessions that allow students to select graphic or animation scenes demonstrating different types of electronic wave propagation. For example, choosing the amplitude modulation lesson would allow the student to manipulate loudness and pitch and view the results of his changes on the electronic waves. A lesson on wavefront polarization presents 3-D animation sequences to help the student visualize the differences in helical, raster, and spiral scanning.

These comprehensive lessons introduce concepts such as countermeasures techniques, antenna beam-forming methods, target angle aspect effects, integrated air defense operations, and terrain masking. All are essential in the performance of air combat tactics for suppression of enemy air defenses. Students are able to develop their own electronic warfare scenarios and proceed through the training material at an individual pace.

Hazardous Duty

A training technique that is especially well-suited to prepare individuals for hazardous operations without exposing them to harm is the virtual environment. At SwRI, this technology relies on the Silicon Graphics Reality EngineTM workstation to immerse the student in scenarios by stimulating as many of the senses as necessary. The object is to heighten the degree of realism in the scene to elicit full student interaction. Techniques include, but are not limited to, 3-D sound representation; 3-D representation of the user's physical location; 3-D visual scene representation; an instrumented device held by the student to accomplish a certain task, such as a soldier's rifle, a firefighter's hose, or a pilot's controls; and any other interface technology that enhances the sensation of reality (for example, a system that introduces odors).

The Team Tactical Engagement Simulator (TTES) for infantry training emphasizes tactical decision-making and close combat marksmanship skills in a dynamic synthetic environment. Training can be conducted in a realistic simulated combat environment where trainees encounter computer-controlled hostile forces whose high-fidelity simulated combat behavior closely resembles that of actual hostile units. TTES can also be used by law enforcement agencies as they train to respond to urban hostilities.

Institute researchers are developing a virtual environment program called the Team Tactical Engagement Simulator (TTES) that will demonstrate the technology potential for training in a variety of infantry and security force scenarios. Urban warfare training for an infantry squad -- for instance, simulating what could transpire during a hostage situation -- is the current application, but general law enforcement training is an area in which the technology is highly applicable.

In the TTES program, individuals are immersed in a virtual urban environment where they interact with computer-controlled hostile forces to practice target recognition and marksmanship skills. The system uses a high-fidelity microterrain database, instrumented rifles, and visual, sound, and position location systems to create a realistic learning environment.

Military Systems Maintenance

Twenty-six Institute courseware development specialists assigned to Hill Air Force Base in Utah design and develop maintenance and industrial process curricula materials for the Ogden Air Logistics Center (ALC). The staff develops text-based training products concerning aircraft and missile maintenance, munitions, safety operations, and other topics such as financial management training. More than 1,100 workbooks, on-the-job training guides, and classroom reference books have been published since 1989.

The Institute also designed and implemented a media development center at Ogden ALC to supplement traditional classroom instruction and to meet training needs in the face of personnel reassignment or reduction. Institute staff members canvassed area community colleges to locate sources of training and to more fully integrate those vocational centers into the educational program at Ogden ALC. In conjunction with an SwRI robotic paint stripping system delivered to the Air Force, the Institute developed a digital video interactive training program to ensure operator safety and acceptance and to minimize accidents and damage. These and other instructional systems development projects have provided the military with a skilled work force made up of individuals who progress from general task familiarization training to task certification in one location.


The training techniques described in this article offer solutions for military applications, but many are applicable to commercial clients interested in developing training support systems for staff members. Industry often has geographically dispersed training requirements. Through the latest distance learning vehicles, such as the Internet, SwRI can provide cost-effective, multimedia instructional programs.

Training strategies will continue to evolve at the Institute, providing instructional designers with additional advanced tools as they strive to give students educational material that motivates, rapidly enhances performance, and offers a high degree of learning transfer into the job environment.

Access a free version of the media selection model to help determine an appropriate delivery medium for training material, based on type of learning, type of student, resources, and other factors.

Published in the Fall 1996 issue of Technology Today®, published by Southwest Research Institute. For more information, contact Joe Fohn.

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