Exclusive Q&A with Col. Craig Unrath, NSC

Exclusive Q&A with Col. Craig Unrath, NSC


Colonel Craig S. Unrath, Director, U.S. Army National Simulation Center


Colonel Craig S. Unrath was initially commissioned and served as an aviation officer (attack), from 1990-1998, serving as a platoon leader, company commander, and in numerous staff positions.

Since receiving a modeling and simulation graduate degree in 2000, he has served as a FA57 simulation operations officer. His FA57 assignments include the National Simulation Center Digital Integration Office, 1st Cavalry Division, Human Resources Command, Defense Threat Reduction Agency, Aviation Center of Excellence Directorate of Simulation, and Army South.

Unrath currently serves as the director of the National Simulation Center and TRADOC capability manager for the integrated training environment. In this position his primary responsibility is the capabilities and requirements development of the Army’s needs regarding training aids, devices, simulators, and simulations.

Unrath possesses Masters Degrees from the Naval Postgraduate School (Modeling, Virtual Environments, and Simulation), Army War College (Strategic Studies), and University of North Dakota (Aviation).

CAE September


Q: Could we start with an overview of the size of the NSC, people, directorates, divisions, etc.?


Unrath: The National Simulation Center or NSC consists of approximately 400 personnel who are about evenly split between government (military/civilian) and contractor personnel serving at primarily three locations: Fort Leavenworth, Kan., and Forts Lee and Eustis in Virginia.

The NSC has a headquarters and staff element along with three divisions. These divisions include the Training and Doctrine (TRADOC) Capability Manager Integrated Training Environment (TCM ITE), Mission Command Training Support Division (MCTSD), and the Global Simulation Capability (GSC). Subordinate organizations to the TCM ITE include the TRADOC Project Office for the Integrating Architecture (TPO-IA), TCM Virtual & Gaming, TCM Constructive, and TCM Live. The GSC has a subordinate organization for sustainment training support called the Logistics Exercise & Simulation Division (LESD), Fort Lee.


Q: Summarize the NSC’s diverse mission for the Army.


Unrath: I always like to begin by succinctly stating why the NSC exists, or rather, what is our purpose? The NSC exists to ensure that the Army

has the right live and synthetic training tools to enable the Total Army to fight and win in a complex operational environment. Providing these simulation tools plays an integral role in supporting Army readiness, the Chief of Staff of the Army’s number one priority. Probably our biggest mission is serving as the Army’s representative for developing the requirements for building synthetic tools for collective training.

The GSC supports Army division and corps constructive training by providing them with simulation feeds and exercise development support.

The MCTSD is the Army’s Lead Agent for managing the Mission Command Training Support Program that services the current 34 mission training complexes around the world.

Another big mission is our Futures Section which is charged with looking into emerging technologies for ten years and beyond that we can possibly leverage to meet our training needs.

Bottom line, our mission is to support, enable, and evolve synthetic training capabilities for the Army.

Our vision is to converge today’s virtual-constructive-gaming environment construct into: “One live-synthetic training environment for the Army.”


Q: Earlier this year, the Army issued the Enhancing Realistic Training White Paper. What is your role in delivering more realistic training in the future?


Unrath: The operational design construct for Enhancing Realistic Training consists of three supporting lines of effort (LOE). Our contribution falls within the Training Infrastructure LOE, which serves as the backbone for the other two LOEs, Training Environment and Training Management and Assessment.

Our hallmark effort in support of the training infrastructure is referred to as the synthetic training environment (STE). The STE capability will provide a foundational architecture for converging the existing non-live training environments, known today as virtual-constructive-gaming.

In the past, we developed the collective training capabilities that trained collective tasks for a specific unit echelon in one of those stove-piped environments. In the future the STE will provide a single environment for the delivery of collective training.

The STE is meant to be developed in conjunction with the Army’s concept for a common operating environment and the Army Enterprise Network. Commercial standards and service reuse is the theme: use a common Army enterprise as the point of departure for training services provided through the STE.


Q: You are coming up on two years as the director of the National Simulation Center. How would you characterize what the NSC is doing today differently than it was just those two years ago?


Unrath: Probably our most profound change was the implementation of a new strategy and optimization of the organizational structure.

Together we defined our purpose and a clear vision that keeps our focus on a single synthetic environment for the Army. We realize our critical role in supporting and enabling Army collective training today, but we really tackled the importance of looking strategically at what we need to do to evolve today’s simulation training capabilities by harnessing emerging or evolving technologies that can train the complexities of today’s and future contingency areas.

This strategy was complemented with a renewed emphasis on bringing an innovative spirit back to the NSC. To achieve that, over the past two years we have been evolving our Combined Arms Center – Training Innovation Facility (CAC-TIF) to enable testing of cutting edge technologies to help us better define and develop requirements for the STE. The results have led to quick-win and interim solutions using gaming and virtual reality to train mounted gunnery, Stryker collective training, and intelligent tutor supported training. I’m extremely proud of what the NSC Team is doing and their excitement. I believe we have a strategy and vision that will prevail in the long run and only get stronger under the next director’s tenure.


Q: Where would you like to see the most investment in technology development within the LVC realm?


Unrath: I have continuously reiterated a common theme during my tenure in support of our vision: we have to transition out of this ‘era of integration’ that we have operated in for the past 20 years and move towards environment convergence.

We have to quit thinking in stove-pipe environments (virtual-constructive- gaming), and start thinking one holistic training environment. Simply put, it’s getting too expensive, we can’t evolve at the pace of commercial technologies, and it’s getting more difficult to meet operational commanders’ complex training needs. To meet these challenges, the NSC has identified six focus areas for technology development:

  • Single Synthetic Environment – converge existing gaming, virtual, and constructive environments by leveraging modern technologies like gaming engines and aggregated computing power. We will work to ensure that future simulations incorporate the latest advances in virtual and augmented realities (VR / AR).
  • One World Terrain – Model the entire globe for training and mission rehearsal, allowing the Army to train anywhere—virtually. The goal of this technology thrust is to create a capability similar to Google Earth for simulation based training.
  • Point-of-Need – technologies that deliver training to the location where commanders would ideally train their soldiers; at home-station or deployed. Development efforts should leverage web, cloud, and mobile technologies. Bringing the training area to the unit rather than taking the unit to the training area.
  • Big Data – Identify structured and unstructured data sources, and employ big data analytic techniques to rapidly model people, places, events, and other phenomenon. These technologies reduce human in-the-loop processes that take inordinate amounts of time. Instead we must strive to put leaders on-the-loop for validation.
  • Artificial Intelligence – Create intelligent virtual humans that think beyond scripted responses and actions. The use of cognitive architectures, neural networks, and agent-based modeling enable the Army to achieve a more realistic training environment, preparing us for the uncertainty presented by indigenous populations and uncooperative adversaries.
  • Intelligent Tutors – Leveraging artificial intelligence and machine learning, build virtual observer-trainers into future simulations that teach, coach, and mentor Soldiers and leaders. These technologies are capable of providing immediate feedback and corrections. They also support post-training feedback through automated after-action reviews to assist

trainers with highlighting the most important points of any training event.


Q: What are the cyber security challenges to having so much training capability being accessible through web or cloud-based means? How do you coordinate with the cyber security to mitigate the risks?


Unrath: There are cybersecurity challenges associated with both web and cloud-based training capabilities, indeed with anything networked. As we engineer the STE we’ll need to be conscious of the cost, in operating capability, for assuming an increased security posture.

Inasmuch as it relates to cybersecurity, we must consider our risk exposure across confidentiality, integrity, and availability. There has to be a balance between system security and operational necessity. Consider that the ‘most secure’ system is the one that hasn’t been created, or at least one that is not networked.

We’ll likely have to weigh the relative importance of information confidentiality versus system availability. To that end, we will employ the risk management framework (RMF) process to minimize cybersecurity threats to our simulation training capabilities. RMF ensures that proper security controls are in place, reducing the risk to our information systems. That said, we are working to enable training in a more complex operating environment that includes operations in the information/cyber domain.

We are actively involved in efforts with the Cyber Center of Excellence and ARCYBER to begin replicating operations and effects in the cyber domain as part of a larger Mission Command training experience.

Just stating “train cyber”, borrowing a phrase from Joint Force Quarterly, is “… not helpful.” Cyberspace is a domain, an engineered collection of network devices, standards and specifications, satellites, data models, and

more. Further, ‘cyber for cyber’ doesn’t align well with what we do within the Mission Command Training Program. Our charter is to train collective skills, Mission Command.

That isn’t meant to downplay the importance of the task, rather it’s not our area of expertise and the reason why we’re teaming with the cyber experts. Here’s another way to consider this: if cyber operations are successful, offensive cyber operations look a lot like fires effects (suppress, destroy, neutralize), whereas defensive cyber operations look a lot like engineering/protection tasks (block, turn, fix).

The challenge is to deliver these cyber effects to the collective training environment in such a way that it drives staff actions and decisions, and that it makes sense, that it’s not out of place but rather that it gets soldiers to think of the cyber domain as if it were the physical domain. We want soldiers and leaders to realize that key terrain exists in cyberspace too; effects in cyberspace can achieve tactical and operational effects.


Q: Gaming is a multi-billion dollar industry outside of the military realm. How would you characterize your interface with commercial game developers to make sure today’s soldiers have access to the most relevant game-based training necessary?


Unrath: Our interaction with commercial gaming companies is somewhat limited to information gathering. Our small training budgets don’t align with their business models that spend more on advertising than we do for the Army’s entire gaming capability.

However, in partnership with our science and technology teammates, we regularly communicate with game engine developers. Increasing an engine’s native features will have a down-stream effect on Army training.

The Army’s challenge is how best to leverage the vast number of gaming industry efforts underway today. Improving the ability to distribute games across a myriad of networks will help the Army deliver training around the globe. Improvements to graphical fidelity enables the realistic representation of people, places, events and other phenomenon.

The Army needs a single geospatial representation of the planet, and several companies are working to deliver a whole-earth engine.

Finally, future Army games must have the ability to use the latest peripherals—joysticks, steering wheels, virtual reality goggles, haptics and many others. Work in these areas will illuminate the range of possibilities for Army training simulations.


Q: Tell me about the communication and coordination between the other services when looking at synthetic solutions for training? How are you working to not duplicate effort and resources?


Unrath: This is a real challenge. Our lines of communication are limited and oftentimes the relationships do not optimally align. Our authorities and the ability to fund joint capabilities are limited. But, what are often viewed as duplicative missions and requirements across the services, many times are not.

For example, ground combat is different within the Marine Corps and the Army because of differences in doctrine, organization and military equipment. The same can be said for the Air Force and the Navy. An advantage that we do have is that a relatively sizable portion of our work force is joint—they are joint qualified through additional education and work experience. So, in a certain respect the notion that the Department of Defense, all the services and agencies, could have a single simulation is probably flawed.

That said, we do participate in working groups with the Joint Staff (JS). The JS J7’s Joint Training Synthetic Environment working group is helping us identify high-demand capabilities and high-interest gap areas across the Joint community as well as areas where we need to apply additional effort. Activities organized by the JS J6, the Army Modeling and Simulation Office, and the Army CIO/G6 office are enabling a common view, an approach to a unified data capability that could support all service simulations and Mission Command Information Systems. Duplication is costly and data translation— mapping across formats—is wasteful. A unified data approach and common starting point is good for everyone.


Q: How about allied countries? Is there a dialogue on how to sync synthetic training? Are there examples of where it has been or is being done?


Unrath: The U.S. Army has been conducting training exercises with our allies around the world for a long time. Training with our allies is a critical requirement that we must assume will be required for any future operation. In order to train for these eventualities, we frequently engage in simulation exercises to identify areas where there are disparities in the way the various forces operate.

Probably the best example is the work that is being done in the Republic of Korea. The U.S. Army has a group of simulation experts at the Korea Battle Simulation Center (KBSC) that support exercises across the Pacific region. While a great deal of their effort is focused on the Korean peninsula itself, they support exercises distributed across the entire region. The KBSC works very closely with the Korean armed forces as the Koreans develop their own simulations capability. Key to this relationship is ensuring that our simulations are compatible in order to conduct large-scale exercises that include many partner nations operating in that region.

Another example is the interaction we have with our allies in Europe. For decades, the U.S. Army sent large formations to Europe to participate in live training exercises on the continent. While nothing surpasses the opportunity to conduct live training and meet our allies face to face, that type of training became cost prohibitive. Now we have the capability to link U.S. forces with our European counterparts in simulation exercises networked around the world. Additionally, the U.S. Army Joint Multinational Simulation Center frequently coordinates NATO training exercises throughout the region tying multiple international partners together in a unified effort. All of this requires coordination between commands and close synchronization across the force.

The NSC participates in simulation operations forums around the world as well as inviting our allies and the resident liaisons here at the Combined Arms Center to come to the NSC to share ideas and best practices. We also participate in an officer exchange program with the Australian Army where we exchange majors who participate in the use and development of each country’s simulation programs. This sharing of knowledge and experience is essential in ensuring we are able to train with one of our key allies.


Q: Are you working any simulations that could be useful for soldiers as they return from deployment as part of the readjustment process? How are you using simulations to build resilient Soldiers?


Unrath: There are a number of Army gaming products that increase our soldiers’ ability to withstand, recover, and grow in the face of stressors and changing demands. These products enhance an individual’s psychological and social preparedness to achieve and sustain optimal performance in supporting the Army mission in environments of uncertainty and persistent danger. Three gaming applications that closely correspond with resiliency training are:

The Emergent Leader Immersive Training Environment (ELITE) Counseling is a laptop training application used to teach interpersonal skills to junior leaders by presenting real-world instructional scenarios in an engaging, self-reinforcing manner. The purpose of the training experience is to provide junior leaders with an opportunity to learn, practice, and assess interpersonal communication skills for use in basic counseling. The ELITE Counseling content incorporates Army-approved leadership doctrine, evidence-based instructional design methodologies, and research technologies, such as virtual humans and intelligent tutoring, to create a challenging yet engaging training experience.

Additionally, the ELITE Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention Command Team Trainer (ELITE SHARP CTT) is a laptop-based training application that provides Army Command Teams the knowledge, skills, and confidence to successfully execute the Army SHARP program within their organizations. Developed under the guidance of the Army SHARP Program Management Office and the Army SHARP Academy, the ELITE SHARP CTT content incorporates Army-approved SHARP doctrine, evidence-based instructional design methodologies, and state-of-the-art training technologies such as virtual humans, story-based scenarios, and intelligent tutoring technologies to create a challenging and engaging training experience.

Lastly, the Games For Training (GFT) program is developing a tactical combat casualty care (TC3) standalone game as well as a Virtual Battlespace 3 (VBS3) plug-in. Tactical Combat Casualty Care guidelines recognize that trauma care in the tactical environment has three goals: (1) treat the casualty; (2) prevent additional casualties; and (3) complete the mission. The TC3 gaming capabilities will train first responders (soldiers and medics) on life-saving triage skills. These skills are practiced in collective training events to reinforce the teamwork required to manage casualties effectively while continuing the fight. These TC3 gaming capabilities will be fielded later this year.

In addition to programs managed at the NSC, we work closely with the University of Southern California’s Institute for Creative Technologies (USC ICT). They developed a virtual reality exposure therapy system called Bravemind to provide relief from post-traumatic stress. Bravemind is currently in dozens of sites, including VA hospitals and military bases. The system has been shown to produce meaningful reduction in PTS symptoms.

The ICT has another research effort called Stress Resilience in Virtual Environments (STRIVE). STRIVE is a story-driven approach to using virtual reality for understanding and training psychological resilience prior to combat deployments. Studies are underway to evaluate and understand its effectiveness as a tool to mitigate the effects of traumatic experiences.


Q: Any closing thoughts?


Unrath: We are in a difficult period given our current force reductions and fiscal constraints. Our biggest challenge is maintaining readiness and enabling support to current operations while keeping a focus on future capabilities.

Our priority is supporting the Chief of Staff of the Army’s number one priority of Army readiness. This can make investments in future technologies difficult when budgets are tight and there are so many competing for finite resources. It is essential we implement the lessons learned from the development and sustainment of our legacy systems so that we ensure the requirements are right for the future, and we develop those requirements using innovative, agile, and efficient acquisition methods.

The challenges with our legacy systems are compounded by affordability, the inability to harness emerging commercial technology, and our ability to train the operational complexities highlighted in the Army Operating Concept, Human Dimension Strategy, and Army Warfighting Challenges. We are confident that our STE capability vision and strategy can overcome these challenges but we first must achieve a Total Army consensus on using advanced technologies to accomplish collective training objectives that is synchronized with an acceptable divestiture plan for the legacy systems.

Whenever I brief the STE capability, I often refer to the famous Henry Ford quote that I think really summarizes the dilemma of our continuing era of integration, ‘If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.’ The STE capability is an automobile, we have to quit building faster horses. Nobody ever said change is easy, but I am confident the NSC is up to the challenge in realizing a holistic live-synthetic training environment for the U.S. Army. Thank you for the opportunity to tell our story.