Dan Gelston, CAE President on vIITSEC and the Future Training and Simulation Industry

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Dan Gelston

2020 has been a year of challenges and innovations to overcome them. The ongoing public health crisis caused by COVID-19 has disrupted the very lifeblood of the defense industry as the world wrestles to contain the virus. But from these struggles, defense partners, public and private, all have worked together to safely gather and discuss the state of the industry at events like the recent vIITSEC.

As a part of this year’s vIITSEC coverage, the Modern Integrated Warfare editorial team had the opportunity to talk with Dan Gelston, CAE’s new Group President for Defense & Security. Gelston offered his insights on how COVID-19 impacts the military training industry. Beyond the immediate term, he also dives into the major trends shaping the industry and how those trends will be influencing the conference conversations. Read the full Q&A with Dan Gelston below:

Modern Integrated Warfare (MIW) Editors: How has COVID impacted CAE and the defense space as a whole? How should the industry be responding?

Dan Gelston, Group President for Defense & Security, CAE

Dan Gelston: This has certainly been a trying year because of the pandemic. However, the military is considered essential; the training and operational support provided by industry, CAE included, has continued because it plays an important role in readiness.

Here at CAE, we have initiated some new approaches to continue providing essential services that will undoubtedly persist in the future. Those include offboard instructor operator stations, virtual instructor-led classroom training, and remote acceptance testing on training devices. More interestingly, though, is how COVID has accelerated some trends defense forces were moving to anyway. Specifically, digital immersion technologies like virtual reality; leveraging synthetic environments, not for just training, but also analysis and decision support; and looking more holistically at multi-domain operations and the integration of air, land, sea, space, and cyber. 

We need to prepare for a future that is contested in a multi-domain environment, with a peer or near-peer adversary, and a secure virtual world will be the only way to do so because of time, cost, and the prying eyes of adversaries.

MIW Editors: In terms of emerging technologies for military training, what excites you about the future?

Gelston: We see a confluence of key technologies that will enable digital immersion and have the potential to transform training and mission support. Some of these include technologies such as cloud computing, big data analytics, and artificial intelligence.

For example, we are involved in programs such as the Global Situational Awareness initiative for the U.S. Special Operations Command, and the Single Synthetic Environment for the UK Strategic Command where cloud-based synthetic environments can offer decision support, what-if course of action analysis, and faster than real-time simulation. 

The U.S. Air Force Pilot Training Transformation initiative is another exciting development. We were contacted a few months ago by the Defense Innovation Unit to be part of this effort and provide elements of the CAE Trax Academy. This initiative promises to leverage data analytics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning to streamline pilot training and make it more adaptable to each individual student. 

MIW Editors: In your new role at CAE, what’s next for the company over the next couple of years?

Gelston: I have a significant amount of military and industry experience around command and control. This should prove beneficial because the nature of warfare, and how you train for that, is going to be more about the networked, multi-domain environment and how you can gain an advantage in making decisions in that environment. CAE has been and will continue to be, the world leader at what I’ll call platform-centric training and simulation.

However, similar modeling and simulation capabilities combined with advanced analytics can aid military commanders with analysis, decision-making, and mission execution. The battlefields of tomorrow will involve unprecedented complexity across all domains, including space and cyber, and we see the use of synthetic environments growing in importance and application. CAE intends to be at the forefront of these digital immersion capabilities that can be applied to training and operational support.

MIW Editors: What major emerging trends do you see on the horizon for the multi-domain battlespace over the next 5-10 years?

Gelston: When you look at the National Defense Strategy in the U.S. along with what our allies have laid out, multi-domain operations are central to the future of warfare. Equally clear is the demand and requirement to do training in this integrated environment. When you are taking air, land, maritime, and space wrapped in cyber in this multi-domain environment, the future of how we will fight is a lot harder to do in a live environment with real assets. That live environment will be prohibitively expensive and time-consuming, and potentially expose these capabilities to others.

This all leads to simulated training environments and the use of secure synthetic environments for much more than training. You are already beginning to see these trends take shape in programs like the Advanced Battle Management System, which is the U.S. Air Force’s effort to field a series of technologies that will create the platform for Joint All-Domain Command and Control. SOCOM’s Global Situational Awareness and the UK Single Synthetic Environment are other initiatives where the industry will play a key role in enabling the use of synthetic environments for analysis, planning, and ultimately operational decision support.

With our modeling and simulation expertise, CAE intends to be a major player in these types of digitally connected and immersive solutions. I am excited to lead the company to this next level because the mission requires it, our countries need it and our forces absolutely must have the most realistic and immersive preparation possible. I’m a big believer in the adage the more you sweat in training, the less you bleed in battle.