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Research Questions

  1. What are the differences among the services with respect to organizational structure and internal coordination?
  2. What are the differences among the services with respect to simulator requirements and acquisition processes?
  3. What are the joint training needs?
  4. What incentives are there for cross-service collaboration, interoperability, and industry support of interoperability?
  5. What technological capabilities are available to support cross-service simulator integration?

Given the military's continuing effort to "train as we fight," warfighters must be prepared to collaborate with other services. There is a need to ensure coordination and interoperability within and across the services with respect to simulation-based training. However, because of organic changes in policies and organizational structures, there are significant challenges for the services to coordinate within their own organizations and to collaborate with one another while working toward joint training needs.

Concurrent with the growing need for virtual distributed training capabilities, the military simulation-and-training market is growing, and this market includes substantial efforts to develop new training-simulator capabilities. However, technological development is not always driven by training needs, especially for cross-service exercises. Development of training simulators often drives the users rather than the reverse, especially with respect to distributed training systems.

With a focus on air and ground training simulators for Tier 3 and Tier 4 exercises—i.e., training at the service component (operational) and individual unit (tactical) levels—the authors of this report investigate the gap between joint training needs and currently available and forthcoming technology in the training-simulator field. They provide a broad analysis of the simulation-based training enterprise and the organizational structure, requirements processes, and acquisition processes for each service. They also analyze joint training needs, organizational and policy mechanisms for coordination between services, and incentives structures for cross-service simulator development.

Key Findings

A primary challenge is balancing centralized coordination with decentralized training needs

  • With respect to Tier 3 and Tier 4 training, current joint coordination is minimal.
  • Although the services must be free to tend to their specific training needs at the tactical level, acquisition that supports these needs must be coordinated at a joint level.
  • Incentives must be balanced between both "carrots" and "sticks."

Demand for joint training can be unclear at lower levels

  • The need for interoperability among training simulators across services for Tier 3 and Tier 4 exercises is unclear.
  • With unclear joint training needs, services may pursue goals independently, with minimal coordination. The consequent signal to industry as to how it might support joint collaboration can be unclear.

There is limited transparency regarding training-simulator capabilities and acquisition plans

  • Resources for data and information are not as centralized as they could be.
  • Mechanisms and organizations should be in place to provide relatively easy-to-access data regarding current simulator capabilities, current usage (regarding training exercises), and planned development.

The Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD), the services, the Joint Staff, and industry have a way forward

  • The U.S. Department of Defense could make changes within and across services to ensure the existence of organizations with some level of centralized coordination.
  • Rather than a significant change in funding or policy, the first step could simply be transparency and frequent dissemination of information and data.
  • Changes in policy and financial resources ultimately will be helpful to incentivize services to collaborate.


  • Centralized coordination should increase. Within each service and within the Joint Staff, there should be one organization that aggregates information concerning simulator capabilities, requirements, and acquisition.
  • Each service should fund and require modeling-and-simulation offices to carry out coordination with respect to technical information and capabilities.
  • Service acquisition offices should acquire and upgrade training simulators in coordination with their respective weapon systems as a matter of course.
  • OSD should increase focus on joint coordination.
  • The Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment (USD[A&S]) should help further fund interoperability.
  • The Joint Staff Force Development Directorate (JS J7) should reinforce the importance of the Universal Joint Task List program by continuing to fund it and by distributing related data more broadly.
  • The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff should exercise Title 10 authority for technical standards more frequently in the context of training.
  • JS J7 should resume its training gap analysis forums as a mechanism to support joint coordination.
  • Joint Interoperability Test Command should again be responsible for testing simulator interoperability.
  • The Joint National Training Capability should gather additional data concerning joint training exercises on the Tier 3 and Tier 4 levels.
  • USD(A&S) should focus future acquisition programs not just on simulators but on supporting capabilities.
  • The Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Force Education and Training (DASD[FE&T]) should advocate for establishment of technology readiness levels and standards for interoperability.
  • OSD should take the lead in implementing an accessible and efficient marketplace and process to bring together industry and DoD.

This research was sponsored by the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness and conducted within the Forces and Resources Policy Center of the RAND National Security Research Division (NSRD).

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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