Army team simulates $5 million Stryker with plywood, touch screens

By C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (Feb. 13, 2017) -- The Army has about 4,500 Stryker combat vehicles in service today, at a cost of about $5 million each. What the Army hasn't had, until now, was an inexpensive way to conduct collective training for the Stryker teams.

Inside the Combined Arms Center's Training Innovation Facility at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, the "Stryker virtual collective trainer" demonstration doesn't look like much. But it has proven effective, according to Lt. Col. Michael Stinchfield, who leads a team that writes the requirements that fill capability gaps such as the one for collective Stryker training.

Stinchfield's team comes up with low-cost solutions that rely on existing commercial off-the-shelf technology rather than costly government-funded engineering development, which is why their demonstration of the collective trainer is built from square steel tubing, the kind that can be purchased at a hardware store, plywood, and a whole lot of computers.

The goal of the collective trainer is not to teach Soldiers or teams of Soldiers how to use the Stryker, but rather to teach a team in one Stryker how to work together with teams in other Strykers while conducting a shared mission.

Back in 2013, then I Corps commander Lt. Gen. Robert B. Brown had identified the need for collective training for the Stryker vehicle. The general asked for a "CCTT-like thing" to fit the bill, Stinchfield said.

The Army's close combat tactical trainer (CCT) provides Soldiers with a virtual, collective training capability for vehicles like the M1 Abrams tank and the M2 Bradley fighting vehicle, but it's big and expensive, and the Army knew, given budget constraints, a collective trainer for the Stryker would have to be less sophisticated and cheaper.

"We understood the budget wouldn't allow the Army to rebuild the inside of a Stryker," Stinchfield said.

Instead, the Army's Training and Doctrine Command in February 2015 stood up the Combined Arms Center Training Innovation Facility, which Stinchfield took the helm of as chief just six months later.

His team pursued a different option for collective training on the Stryker -- one that would be far less expensive, could be replicated many times wherever it was needed, and would be based mostly on existing technology.

So the team at CAC-TIF built a general box model of the Stryker to provide "general spatial awareness of where they are at in the vehicle," Stinchfield said. "It helps for context."

Computer screens emulate the controls a Soldier would find inside the real vehicle. Whereas a defense-contractor solution might have replicated the inside of a Stryker, down to every button and knob, Stinchfield's team opted to recreate the vehicle's control panels with software and display them on touch screens.

A CCTT-type solution for emulating the fire control unit for the remote weapons system, Stinchfield explained, would have involved rebuilding the fire control center, a full box of real buttons and switches. Such a solution would have been pricey. He estimated the cost at about half a million.

The CAC-TIF solution was significantly cheaper. "We bought a $550 touch screen, [and] we did some software work, which allows us to have this touch screen here that is as fully functional as the buttons are," he said.

Emulating the controls with software should prove advantageous as new versions of the Stryker using different controls come out. With each new version, the software interface in the collective trainer can be modified to reflect the changes.

Now the Army will push the Stryker virtual collective trainer requirements and recommendations to the Program Executive Office for Simulation, Training and Instrumentation for a materiel developer to create a Stryker simulator.

According to Col. Jay P. Bullock, who serves as the director of the TRADOC Capability Manager-Integrated Training Environment, it's likely the Army could equip eight different Stryker brigade combat teams with a six collective trainers each -- a total of 48 in all -- for about $11.5 million.