GAO: Army should further integrate virtual training methods

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The Army should further integrate its inventory of about 800 types of virtual training devices into its training programs, according to a Government Accountability Office report.

Simulations and virtual training devices can replicate realistic situations soldiers might face that cannot be reproduced through live training. However, despite the potential benefits, there are obstacles to the Army's integration of virtual training devices.

GAO auditors noted that the Army officials they interviewed said units could not fully integrate virtual training because of time constraints and leaders' unfamiliarity with the techniques.

A 2014 report by the Army Audit Agency states that unit commanders opted for methods of live training over simulations. As a result, virtual training devices were rarely used, and when they were, the Army did not reliably report their use.

The Army is working on initiatives that could standardize training procedures and further integrate virtual technologies, but GAO auditors said those initiatives must better define the training requirements and resources needed for implementation to be effective.

Specifically, the front-end analyses of new virtual reality devices lack specifics on the type of skills that are in need of training, how training would hone those skills and how officials would measure the effectiveness of the training programs. Additionally, GAO said the Army does not develop target usage rates or estimate the time needed for trainees to develop desired proficiency with the tools until after the devices are acquired.

Auditors also said the Army has not established a clear process for analyzing the effectiveness of virtual training devices -- an important value considering the high procurement and sustainment costs of the devices.

For example, the Army requires soldiers to practice on gunnery training simulators for Stryker vehicles, Bradley Fighting Vehicles and Abrams tanks before they're allowed to operate the equipment in the field. The simulators range from $16 million to $127 million each, depending on the vehicle.

Field simulators, which range from computer-based training games to virtual weapons systems that re-create war-like settings, provide marksmanship training for individuals and entire units. The Army has 925 top-notch live weapons trainers, which cost more than $210 million to acquire. Furthermore, more than 315,000 training hours are spent Army-wide on the virtual skills trainers.

The Army also has 52 systems that resemble virtual reality headsets to immerse trainees in simulated environments. Each one cost $30 million.  

GAO recommends that the Army update its policies to better analyze how virtual training devices will be used before buying them, define the ways in which officials will measure the effectiveness of the devices and better incorporate them into training procedures.

Defense Department officials generally agreed with the recommendations but said determining the amount of time needed to develop desired skill levels is "a task better suited for the training requirement owner."

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a staff writer covering civilian agencies, workforce issues, health IT, open data and innovation.

Prior to joining FCW, Gunter reported for the C-Ville Weekly in Charlottesville, Va., and served as a college sports beat writer for the South Boston (Va.) News and Record. He started at FCW as an editorial fellow before joining the team full-time as a reporter.

Gunter is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where his emphases were English, history and media studies.

Click here for previous articles by Gunter, or connect with him on Twitter: @WChaseGunter


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