STE User Assessment: Providing Feedback to Industry Early and Often

ORLANDO, Fla. — A select group of Army Synthetic Training Environment Cross Functional Team members, Soldiers, Marines, industry partners, and experts from various fields gathered in Orlando, Florida, March 12–25, 2018, to conduct the initial Synthetic Training Environment User Assessment.

The user assessment provided seven industry partners with technical and user feedback on the Synthetic Training Environment’s initial capability development efforts: Reconfigurable Virtual Collective Trainers and One World Terrain.

After careful review of industry submitted white papers that described how their technologies could provide a training solution, seven industry partners were selected to demonstrate their technology at the user assessment event. The experience provided the industry partners an opportunity to receive first-hand feedback from Soldiers and technical experts. The user assessment was the first event of an approach implemented by Maj. Gen. Maria Gervais, Synthetic Training Environment Cross Functional Team director, to place the best industry prototypes in Soldiers’ hands at the beginning of the capability development process to inform the requirement. The assessment is part of a process that culminates with a verification event currently scheduled for September.

During the two week event, Soldiers and Marines worked together with technical experts to provide industry partners feedback on their capabilities. This approach is definitely breaking the acquisition paradigm which is currently a time-consuming and bureaucratic process. Industry partners commented that this was the first time they received feedback on their capabilities this early in the process and the first time they received input from Soldiers and technical experts during the same assessment event.

A wide variety of personnel were brought together to conduct the user assessment. The event’s subject matter experts consisted of Soldiers and Marines whose areas of expertise included: Abrams tanks, Bradley infantry and cavalry fighting vehicles, Strykers, light and heavy vehicles, Apaches, Blackhawks, Chinooks and unmanned aircraft systems. Their participation is critical to the success of the assessment because of their vital role as users. The SMEs feedback was consolidated and will serve as the foundational data for evaluations given to each of the seven companies. The input provided by our Soldiers, Marines and technical industry experts will determine which capabilities are chosen in the development process toward the verification event.

“This is a different way of doing business” said Army Staff Sgt. Shawn Sigley, 508th Transportation Company assistant truck master, Fort Lee, Virginia, and a member of the ground vehicle assessment team. “We are assessing these capabilities for how well they can support collective training, with the goal of improving them. We understand that they are not really crew trainers. We know that going in, so we are looking at their potential and how they can be improved.”

Army National Guard Sgt. 1st Class Richard Myers, National Guard Bureau Abrams tank master gunner and ammunition noncommissioned officer in charge, Arlington, Virginia, and a member of the ground vehicle assessment team added, “We are trying to refine a requirements process that is different from the current acquisitions process. While we identify tech for the STE, we are providing early feedback here, so if we go down the wrong path, we have time to make a correction.”

Marine Capt. Johnathan Royer, Training Squadron 8 helicopter pilot instructor, Milton, Florida, described his experience as a user/assessor for aviation capabilities as ‘awesome,’ he said. “Having the chance to hang out with pilots from other communities and see different perspectives, [and] to see the Army approach to collective training is a great opportunity.” He further stated he was glad to be part of an effort that saw a lot of people from different communities working together. “Everyone [service branches] is a little different, but we are all trying to reach a common goal.”

The STE/CFT is moving fast “to think,” said Robert Potter, Army Test and Evaluation Command lead tester and evaluator for the user assessment. “I joined the STE/CFT back in October, 2017, and I wondered, what are we going to do?” Adding, “Here we are in March, 2018, and we have completed a user assessment of multiple initial vendor solutions.”

As the lead for test and evaluation, Potter was intimately involved in the team’s efforts for the planning and execution of the user assessment. His primary challenge was in developing a test plan that supported an agile process.

“We didn’t have the requirements nailed down, but we knew the critical issues and used the Requests for White Papers, as well as consulting with the Centers of Excellence to develop measures of effectiveness.”

He also needed to find the right users to participate in the assessment. “FORSCOM [U.S. Army Forces Command] and the Army National Guard really came through for us in providing users.” Potter said. “They got the right people and we came together in a short period of time, and hit the ground running. The users merged right into the team and did what needed to be done side by side.”
Gervais also mentioned that the team received great support from the ARNG and their Soldiers’ feedback will help to ensure the ARNG’s unique requirements are also identified.

Current Army legacy training simulations systems are based on technology that is decades old, expensive to sustain, difficult to upgrade and have a limited ability to interoperate, said Myers. “The National Guard is so widespread, we need a training system that is portable, that our Soldiers can set up and run by themselves in the armory.”

Royer added that the STE would benefit the Marines as well, and help “Soldiers and Marines to become a more cohesive team through a common training capability they could use to train together more often without needing to transport personnel or equipment over long distances.” The STE user assessment brings the Army one step closer to providing our Soldiers and Marines with such a training capability.

The user assessment was a great example of the innovative approach to capability development. All eight of the Army’s cross functional teams are seeking out the best of Industry to deliver the capabilities Soldiers need to win decisively in multi-domain battle.