26 Mar Lawyer Jon Cartu Announces – Pandemics and the Future of Military Training
The images from Europe are eerie. Venice, a city that has in the past run the risk of almost sinking under the weight of tourists, is empty. St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican is all but abandoned, save for a few furtive locals. Paris has shuttered once crowded cafés and bistros, where the din of conversation and clinking of glasses has for centuries provided a continuous soundtrack. The coronavirus has torn its way across the globe, leaving ghost towns — from Asia to Europe — in its wake, with sweeping cityscapes reminiscent of the opening scenes of 28 Days Later. Meanwhile, medical personnel and government authorities in the United States are bracing for a rapid rise in COVID-19 cases and, like their counterparts on either side of the Atlantic and Pacific, Americans are opting — or being instructed — to stay home. For many, the workplace for the foreseeable future is the home.
While some ambitious academics have attempted to reassure themselves of this workday change by caustically highlighting Isaac Newton’s productivity in quarantine during the plague — he famously used the opportunity to develop theories of gravity, optics, and even early calculus — the reality of the situation is that a lot of people are going to hunker down in front of their TV, laptop, or a gaming system. Indeed, if other countries’ experience with pandemic-driven isolation is at all instructive, online gaming is set to explode. Military personnel, like many others, will be part of that trend — passing the quarantine or social distancing blues playing Flying Tigers, World of Warships, or MisBits, among many other video games.
In an attempt to curb the coronavirus’ spread, the Pentagon has shuttered recruitment centers, restricted travel, and canceled or significantly scaled back training events, from drills to large-scale exercises, like Exercise Defender- Europe 2020. This has led some to question what may be the long-term implications of the crisis on future military readiness. Indeed, as training and military professionalism are increasingly highlighted as key factors in overall battlefield effectiveness, how can the military maintain its training regime in the midst of a global pandemic?
One simple remedy may be to double down on what the troops already know, love, and likely will be doing anyway during the pandemic — video gaming. Indeed, the military has a long history of leveraging the gaming proclivities of warfighters to its advantage. From the Marine Corps’ 1996 modification of Doom, to the Army’s creation of first-person shooter game America’s Army, and more recent use of an Army esports competition team, video games have emerged as a key avenue for military recruitment, community engagement, and training. As the coronavirus deepens its global reach, the military can deploy training virtually at the point-of-need to help maintain troop readiness.
Parsing the Pandemic Training Challenge
It is no surprise that the military has elected to cancel or cut back many live training exercises. During an epidemic, training events, like basic training, can disseminate the virus, potentially on a massive scale. Large exercises require the movement of people — via planes, trains, and automobiles — to a set location, raising the specter of viral spread. Participation in exercises, like the U.S. Air Force’s premier exercise, Red Flag, is global, rendering any attempt to contain a virus obsolete. Naturally, this will present readiness dilemmas — from dulled skills to a potential contraction in allied engagements and interoperability. The challenge, however, may be even more significant than initially realized. Decreased training is not solely a function of a reduction in live training exercises. Indeed, many of those tasked with provisioning training at mission training centers are no longer physically clocking into the office.
In response to the pandemic, President Donald Trump announced a national emergency, setting the stage for the Office of Management and Budget to issue guidance to “maximize telework flexibility” in the federal workforce. Last week, the Department of Defense reduced its on-site federal workforce by 50 percent. The defense industrial base — as a critical infrastructure workforce — has, likewise, adapted to promote increased remote work. Many defense personnel are now working from home, along with a large number of defense contractors charged with furnishing training.
Mission training centers are often operated by military contractors, who are typically tasked with setting up, planning, operating, and running a training scenario. Modifications to training simulators or the software within a training center are handled by those same individuals, placing any training changes or customization in civilian hands. The dependence on civilian contractors has been highlighted as a challenge in the past. Indeed, as one soldier noted: “if there was a problem and [the simulators] broke down, we couldn’t do anything because they were civilian-run. We’re stuck just sitting there wasting training time, which is very precious.” New soldier-centric design training programs, like those run by Army Futures Command, are seeking to rectify this problem. However, they haven’t yet been implemented at scale. In the interim, absent contractor support, mission training centers may very well be slowing down or in certain circumstances grinding to a halt.
Point-of-Need Virtual Training
Distributed virtual training is a natural solution to the challenges posed by the current pandemic. It can be deployed at the point-of-need, allowing warfighters in disparate locations — from the comfort of their living room couch, to a military base or a deployment — to train for individual and collective skills. Indeed, many virtual training solutions already exist or are under development.
At present, the military utilizes desktop classroom training for a significant portion of its individual training needs in the early stages of instruction. Training for pre-deployment safety, equipment, and medical procedures is provided in both traditional and computer-based formats. Desktop training applications provide warfighters singular insight into the “switchology” of their system, from an AH-64 Apache helicopter to a P8-A Poseidon…