|By FRANS M. JURGENS
Frans M. Jurgens is a freelance defense writer living in Rochester, N.Y.
At shore-based naval training schools, and aboard the Navy's surface ships and submarines, a quiet revolution is occurring in the way Sailors are trained to operate
and maintain the world's most sophisticated tactical shipboard systems--from combat to propulsion.
Since the mid-1990s, operation and maintenance procedures and processes increasingly have been taught in electronic classrooms--without textbooks or a shred of
paper. At sea, the hefty bound volumes of reference material that Sailors once needed to troubleshoot and fix system faults also are long gone. Now, the information
needed is obtained electronically from CDs (compact discs), from secure satellite Internet links, or from a submarine's local area network. Electronic technical
manuals, which can be viewed on a laptop computer, take up a small fraction of the storage space previously needed for hundreds of pounds of paper. But that is
not the whole story.
In the transformation to an electronic format, a book becomes much more than words and pictures on a display. Computers allow chapters, paragraphs, diagrams,
and other information "units" to be separated and stored in a database as "objects." In this object-oriented domain, information--stored as text, images, sound, video
animation, and/or troubleshooting procedures--can be easily searched and retrieved. But that also is not the complete story.
The "real story" is what happens when the documentation, now "interactive" and "multimedia-enabled," is configured as both a teaching tool and a shipboard
reference manual. By embedding the teaching curriculum within the electronic documentation, Sailors are learning more effectively than ever before, and the result is
annual life-cycle cost savings, per system, calculated in millions of dollars. A case in point: Since 1994, Sailors have been "graduating" 3035 percent faster from the
most advanced electronic classrooms than they did previously from paper-based courses--primarily be-cause they are acquiring the necessary knowledge and skills
for their operation and maintenance tasks not only more quickly, but also with greater proficiency and comprehension.
The IETM Training Process
Government subcontractors publish electronic technology manuals in the form of IETMs (interactive electronic technical manuals). At Lockheed Martin's Naval
Electronics & Surveillance Systems (NE&SS) Division in Syracuse, N.Y., each IETM (pronounced i-ee-tum) is constructed around commercially available software
on a Unix and Windows computing platform. Typically, an IETM is compiled and authored by a team of subject matter experts, technical writers, graphic designers,
Used as a shipboard reference tool, the IETM speeds the time it takes to diagnose and fix a hardware problem, says Daniel Gersch, manager of the division's
Advanced Logistics & Program Support Section, which has "published" numerous IETMs for the Navy at NE&SS-Syracuse. Gersch cites, by way of example, a
side-by-side comparison of paper versus electronic support in which an IETM developed for the AN/BSY-2 combat system on Seawolf-class (SSN 21)
submarines has de-creased the "mean time to repair" by 17 percent, "simply because tasks requiring reference material are performed with greater speed and
"In the days of paper," Gersch continues, "a premium was placed on a Sailor's subject-matter expertise, accrued over many years. But, unlike a paper manual, an
IETM can ask a series of fault-related questions. By monitoring the technician's 'Yes/No' responses, and thereby eliminating unrelated issues or causes, the IETM
can guide the user directly to the correct fault-localization procedures. This store of expertise can help the less experienced technician quickly isolate a faulty circuit
board or component ... [a task that] formerly took many hundreds of hours of advanced training and shipboard experience."
With the fault localized, the Sailor can hyperlink to block diagrams, pictures, parts lists, and remove-and-replace procedures. "Pan and zoom" functionality allows the
trainee to scan and enlarge sections of a diagram. Complex or rarely performed procedures may include a short animation or narrated video, enabling better
visualization and process comprehension.
"Senior and junior Sailors alike quickly adapt to an IETM because it's easier to search and find specific topics, and to link troubleshooting practices with
procedures," says Sonar Technician (submarines) 1st Class Rodney Kurtz. Kurtz, who spent more than three years on the first Seawolf-class submarine as an
AN/BSY-2 acoustic system operator/maintainer, describes the IETM as the "last word" in maintenance procedures. "By following the IETM's streamlined
procedures we are never searching blindly or randomly pulling and testing circuit cards."
The Electronic Classroom
As a teaching tool, the same IETM used on the boat is also used in the electronic classroom for tactical knowledge and skills training. There are currently 11 such
classrooms designed by NE&SS-Syracuse for a range of tactical systems: 10 classrooms at Navy training facilities (in Great Lakes, Ill.; Groton, Conn.; and San
Diego, Calif.,) and one at NE&SS-Syracuse.
Knowledge-based training--learning how to maintain and operate a specific system--is taught in the classroom proper. At NE&SS-Syracuse, the Seawolf
AN/BSY-2 electronic classroom is configured with desk-recessed computer terminals for up to 16 sonar and fire control trainees. To guide the student through each
IETM, the instructor uses a large wall-sized touch screen that faces the pupils.
The AN/BSY-2 IETM contains 31 animated clips--most of them narrated--that are used both as teaching aids and reference tools. "What takes an instructor 30
minutes to explain--a complex troubleshooting procedure, for example--can take an animated video clip 30 seconds," says Don Hall, senior AN/BSY-2 instructor.
To improve trainees' knowledge of critical system topics, the instructor is aided by a series of View Packages. During development of the IETM, the topic author
extracts related objects from the database--for example, everything the trainee might want to know about basic corrective maintenance of the power equipment--for
sequential viewing. "A View Package teaches a lesson at the same time that it tells a story," says Hall, "without forcing trainees to link randomly from object to object
within the IETM." Each View Package concludes with automated testing and review questions.
An IETM also uses simulations to teach the operation of tactical displays. By running such simulations on a laptop, trainees can learn a display's
"buttonology"--finding out what happens when they use a mouse to touch a button. Practicing simulations between classroom sessions is one of the ways trainees are
honing their skills, and getting better grades, says Hall.
Time and Cost Benefits
Maintenance skills training takes place in a lab equipped with the same tactical equipment found on the ship. Using an IETM on a laptop, students are tasked to trace
and fix system faults. "That is the true test," says Hall: "Can they maintain the equipment?"
Increasingly, trainees can. By week three of the eight-week AN/BSY-2 course, Hall says, most trainees are "doing well" in both knowledge and skills. By week
eight, they have completed the common-core maintenance training and are ready to go aboard ship.
The Navy has reduced--from 61 weeks to 19 weeks--the total AN/BSY-2 training required for personnel ordered to duty on a Seawolf-class submarine, generating
an estimated annual savings of $2.4 million. Documentation maintenance costs also have been reduced, by about 40 percent. "Over its 25-year operating life,"
Gersch says, "anticipated TOC [total ownership costs] of the AN/BSY-2 system will be reduced by [at least] $60 million."
In a 1995 paper, Capt. Gregory Maxwell, then commanding officer of the Service School Command at Naval Training Center, Great Lakes, Ill., wrote that use of
IETMs in electronic classrooms cut a 44-week course in gas turbine systems for surface combatants by 30 percent, or 13.2 weeks per student. With 150 trainees
annually, each costing about $2,000 per week, the Navy's total savings are estimated to be nearly $4 million per year. Over the projected 20-year life cycle of the
equipment, Maxwell calculated, the savings would be over $80 million. Another major benefit, he pointed out, is that improved comprehension by trainees has
reduced attrition rates by about 75 percent.
The present educational methodology obviously represents a major advance, but it is still only the beginning. NE&SS-Syracuse has developed a new generation of
IETMs that provide follow-on operator and maintenance skills training without an instructor.
Designed for both initial and refresher training for the shipboard Sailor, an IETM with adaptive training capabilities can adjust course content based on the individual
trainee's responses. Incorporated into each "adaptive" IETM is a higher level of artificial intelligence that actually adapts in real time to the trainee's skill level. This
allows the IETM to record how fast the trainee is comprehending the material, and then tailor how the information is presented.
Adaptive IETMs were developed to duplicate the ashore training environment at sea without a classroom, explains Gersch. "Trainees require only initial basic training
to become effective operators. Once at sea, their effectiveness can be continually increased without ... [requiring them] to return to the training facility ashore."
Future adaptive IETMs will be embedded in the actual shipboard tactical systems, enabling trainees to practice their operator skills offline. A detailed "profile" of
each trainee--the courses he or she has taken, for example--can be embedded into these next-generation IETMs. "We want the system to adapt to the human
being's strengths and to help with his or her weak skills," says Gersch. "If the IETM determines that the trainee needs more knowledge training, it will switch, and
vice versa for skills training. It can provide hints to the slower trainee, and skip simplistic elements with those who are more advanced."
Adaptive IETMs embedded in shipboard systems are expected to further lower training costs, increasing the gains already generated from electronic classroom
training, studies show. A 1998 life-cycle cost analysis of the Sonar 2087 training program carried out for Britain's Ministry of Defence projected not only an
additional 30 percent cost savings from courses of shorter length, but also a reduced need for both shore-based equipment and electronic classroom facilities.