Multimission Training for the Synthetic Age

Multimission 1The Fleet Integrated Synthetic Training and Testing Facility in Hawaii lets strike group commanders train for a variety of scenarios involving actors and threats on, above, and below the water. (Photo by John F. Williams)

By Dr. Harold Hawkins, Glenn White, Gregg Smith, and Annetta Burger


Capt. Christopher Finch is a commodore commanding a squadron of guided-missile destroyers assigned to a carrier strike group. Finch also is the group’s sea combat commander. The strike group is executing two missions: protecting commercial vessels against swarms of small fast-attack craft known to operate in the region, and providing integrated air and missile defense against aircraft and anti-ship missiles.

For the latter mission, Finch must coordinate the use of shared air assets with the carrier air wing commander, who has allocated the majority of his air wing for overland operations.

Finch faces several other challenges. According to intelligence reports, one or more enemy diesel submarines are nearby and could threaten the strike group and commercial shipping in the area. And the strike group also is detecting increased electromagnetic spectrum activity in the area, possibly associated with multiple small boats approaching from the coast. Finch must determine quickly how to deploy his limited assets to counter the hostile submarines and boats, while remaining able to engage any other as-yet-undetected threats.

This scenario is considerably more complex than any Finch has previously experienced, either in operational settings or during training.


Multimission training normally is provided to strike group warfare commanders prior to a deployment such as the fictional one described above. This training occurs in the integrated phases of training, culminating with readiness certifications during live underway events such as strike group pre-deployment rehearsal activities called composite training unit exercises and joint task force exercises. Emerging operational requirements, however, often demand that a strike group and its warfare commanders be “surged” forward on deployment prior to participation in these training exercises.

In addition, as threats increase both in numbers and sophistication, live exercises typically have lacked realistic threat presentations. Representations of opposing forces used in live training often do not replicate accurately the electromagnetic and/or acoustic signatures of actual threats, nor do they reflect adequately the threat density and intensity that may be encountered in operational settings.

To address these training shortfalls, the Office of Naval Research (ONR), Naval Warfare Development Command (NWDC), Navy Undersea Warfare Command (NUWC) Keyport Detachment, and industry partners have developed and demonstrated a low-cost, synthetic, multimission, and multiplatform training capability called the Fleet Integrated Synthetic Training and Testing Facility (FIST2FAC) housed in a NUWC Keyport-owned building on Ford Island in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

The FIST2FAC program began in 2010 to serve as both a live and virtual scenario-based anti-submarine warfare training system. Initially, the facility was populated with modeling and simulation products previously developed through ONR science and technology investment. These products were computationally efficient models of two types: synthetic tactical entities—intelligent, realistically behaving adversary and friendly forces—and realistic environmental models, including models of underwater acoustic propagation loss, reverberation, biologics, scatter, and targets. These models had earlier been incorporated into both air and surface anti-submarine warfare training systems, which included emulations of aircraft or shipboard weapons systems driven by the same tactical software used in shipboard systems. The intended users at FIST2FAC would be a sea combat commander and staff. As the concept matured, the developers decided to incorporate capabilities for training of additional missions that could be conducted simultaneously.

To give just one example of the possibilities: In FIST2FAC training, a sea combat commander could pursue both over-the-horizon strikes as a primary mission, and anti-submarine warfare as a secondary mission. The commander must distribute those assets across multiple missions based on a number of tactical considerations, and carry out all missions while providing effective strike group self-defense—a substantially more difficult set of command responsibilities than those faced in single-mission scenarios.

Overall, the combination of the Ford Island facility and FIST2FAC advances allow training in a range of multimission scenarios, including anti-submarine warfare, fast-attack craft and fast-inshore-attack craft, anti-surface warfare, and over-the-horizon strike. In coming years, the FIST2FAC team will add training for mine warfare, electromagnetic spectrum maneuver warfare, assured access/area denial, cooperative engagement capability, and a naval integrated fire control-counter air capability.


The program’s development began on Ford Island in 1,200 square feet of space renovated by NUWC Keyport. In 2010, NWDC provided FIST2FAC connectivity to the Navy Continuous Training Environment, the Navy’s integrated synthetic training network. The same year, ONR invested in a five-year research program to develop the basic antisubmarine warfare training capability for scenarios in which ASW is not the primary mission. FIST2FAC incorporated realistic, artificially intelligent, synthetic tactical entities to increase the complexity of training scenarios without increasing participant costs.

This basic capability was expanded in 2012 with an additional simulated air asset command and control system (carrier tactical support center) used in the fleet, and a virtual carrier platform developed by ONR. Operationally, a carrier tactical support center provides increased situational awareness by enabling exchanges of tactical and sensor data between the carrier and its multimission helicopter, the MH-60R Seahawk. The virtual carrier platform is an intelligent filtering system that provides realistic sensor and tactical data from the Navy’s integrated combat simulation environment, Joint Semi-Automated Forces.

The virtual carrier platform contributes realism, not only at FIST2FAC but also for the Navy’s major synthetic combat training events, called fleet synthetic training. Without the platform, the synthetic sensor and tactical data provided to decision makers on the carrier was considered “ground truth”: unrealistically complete information about sources numbers, types, exact locations, and bearing of enemy submarines. The virtual carrier platform transforms these data into the common tactical picture—what the carrier tactical support center could realistically be able to detect, given environmental conditions and behaviors of opposing forces.

Since late 2012, the virtual carrier platform has been successfully integrated into seven carrier strike group fleet synthetic training events.

The virtual carrier platform also represents a second important aspect of the FIST2FAC training capability—its role as an incubator for the development of training systems for use outside Ford Island. That incubator function is exemplified by the role played in developing a strike group-level training capability in electromagnetic maneuver warfare (EMW). Recognizing the critical importance of the electromagnetic spectrum for command, control, and information systems, the Chief of Naval Operations has designated EMW as an operational imperative for ensuring access to and freedom of action in the spectrum—while denying its use to our adversaries.

Multimission 2

The FIST2FAC facility integrates the live and virtual to create a more realistic training environment. (Photo by John F. Williams)

In FY 2015, ONR will begin a four-year program to develop an EMW training and experimentation capability for FIST2FAC. The initiative will require the conceptualization, development, and validation of classified offensive and defensive electronic warfare and cyber effects, threat models, and automated EMW performance measurement methodology—all of which will support training assessments and evaluations of concepts of operations and tactics, techniques, and procedures. Much of this effort will focus on the electronic warfare battle management role and the skills of carrier strike group information operations warfare commanders and their watch teams.

FIST2FAC also has supported NWDC for the development of visualization standards that can be used with commercial as well as government-owned technologies and proprietary virtual reality display technologies. These standards were used at FIST2FAC in 2013 to guide development and demonstration of an anti-swarm training capability from the perspectives of a H-60 Seahawk helicopter, a strike group small-caliber arms team, and a destroyer’s bridge and bridge wings.

As part of this demonstration, an ONR-developed mission rehearsal tactical team trainer emulation was upgraded to run the H-60 tactical software for a realistic helicopter crew trainer, called BRASS, which provides all types of H-60 sensor data to the carrier tactical support center. BRASS has been integrated into a low-cost .50-caliber-gun solution that allows the helicopter crew to train in antiswarm tactics in coordination with a destroyer. The same low-cost gun solution will allow a destroyer’s small-caliber arms team to participate in future unit- and integrated-level training events.


FIST2FAC will help ensure that the Navy’s training capabilities keep pace with operational developments, and that strike group operational proficiency remains ahead of the threat.

In the years ahead, we will expand the number of simultaneously played missions for training and experimentation and develop computational models to support simulations for these missions. We also will develop FIST2FAC’s ability to connect with capabilities within several domains.

Using the Secure Defense Research and Engineering Network (SDREN) and the Navy Continuous Training Environment, FIST2FAC will be connected to the Pacific Missile Range Facility, an instrumented live test and training range on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, to allow more extensive live, virtual, and constructive training and experimentation centered at Ford Island.

SDREN will be used to pass data to and from the Maui High-Performance Computing Center, furthering the capacity to store and analyze the large datasets expected from many training events and experiments. SDREN also could pass data between FIST2FAC and academia and other members of the science and technology community including the military laboratories and university-affiliated research centers such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratories—creating new opportunities for experimentation while enhancing further the significant value FIST2FAC already provides to the Navy and Marine Corps.

About the Authors:

Dr. Hawkins is a program officer in the Office of Naval Research’s Warfighter Performance Department. Glenn White is a detailee for the Office of Naval Research and the maritime synthetic training specialist for the director of fleet training at Commander, Pacific Fleet. Gregg Smith provides contractor support at Navy Warfare Development Command. Annetta Burger provides contractor support at the Office of Naval Research’s Warfighter Performance Department.

About Future Force Staff