With the Republic of Singapore Navy's (RSN's) new virtual reality simulator, training time for the Littoral Mission Vessel (LMV) crew has been cut by up to 60 percent.
The simulator is an exact replica of the LMV's integrated command centre, complete with all-round windows. Around it is a 360-degree continuous projection screen that provides the crew with a realistic view of the ship's surroundings.
They can hone their navigation, technical and combat skills – individually or as a team – in an immersive environment that mimics the real world.
For example, when "sailing" through the busy Singapore straits, the crew will see computer-generated graphics of container and merchant ships as well as the city skyline in the background.
They can also experience bumpy motion simulating rough sea states, and even hear the roar of thunderstorms.
"We want to leverage on technology to deal with limited resources and be more effective and efficient in training," said Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Ang Goon Hwee, Commanding Officer of the LMV Simulation Centre (SIMCEN).
Located at Tuas Naval Base, the LMV SIMCEN – which was named RSS Daring in tribute to past RSN vessels – houses two LMV simulators. The centre was developed jointly by the RSN and Defence Science Technology Agency (DSTA).
Development and construction started in 2015, and took about two years. All LMV crew have gone through some form of training at the LMV SIMCEN since its soft opening early last year.
On 26 Sep, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office and 2nd Minister for Finance and Education Indranee Rajah officiated at the opening of the LMV SIMCEN, as well as the commissioning of the Navy's fourth and fifth LMVs – RSS Justice and RSS Indomitable – at Tuas Naval Base.
Maritime trade contributes seven per cent to Singapore's annual GDP and sustains 170,000 jobs for Singaporeans. Hence, the role which the Navy plays in protecting Singapore's waterways is crucial to the country's survival, said Ms Rajah.
"The RSN secures our sea lines of communication, safeguards our continued free access to the sea, and protects our way of life," she said, adding that the LMV programme has progressed well over the years.
In less than one and a half years, five LMVs have turned operational. By 2020, all eight LMVs are expected to be operational.
Noting that the LMVs only require about 80 per cent of the manpower needed to operate current patrol vessels, Ms Rajah said this lean manning demands more of RSN sailors, who have had to undergo training to help them take on multiple roles on board ship.
To this end, the LMV SIMCEN leverages on technology, like virtual reality and artificial intelligence, to integrate training on navigation, technical skills and warfare, she added.
"It will also support a full range of training...giving the LMV crew valuable experience to ensure operational readiness."
Boosting team work
The LMV SIMCEN has been a game changer for sailors like Military Expert (ME) 2 Vincent Ang, who was part of the pioneer crew of the first LMV, RSS Independence.
Unlike traditional navy ships, the LMV houses the three control functions of the ship – navigation, combat and engineering – together in an integrated command centre.
In the past, the crew handling each function would go for their respective training at one of three different simulators. They had little chance to practise working together before embarking on a real sail.
"The SIMCEN brings every one of us up (to speed) together. It's easier and faster to integrate and communicate (when we're on ship now)," said ME2 Ang.
Currently Command & Control Systems Cluster Chief of RSS Indomitable, his role is to fuse information from the various ship sensors and data network into a situational picture for the command team.
"The flow of data and exchange of information are much smoother (because we've had the chance to undergo training together at the SIMCEN)."
More efficient & effective training
With two simulators in the LMV SIMCEN, two sets of ship crew can undergo training at the same time, or practise working together in a joint mission.
The crew also get to practise operating in stressful and demanding conditions that cannot be engineered in reality.
"Extreme weather conditions, very heavy traffic conditions, propulsion or power failures – these are things that you cannot simulate at sea. Because if you do, you are putting your ship in a precarious position," explained LTC Ye Yiming, Commanding Officer of RSS Justice.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) was built into the LMV simulator to help instructors run complex scenario training. For example, it generates merchant ship traffic and programme behaviors for enemy ships to react to certain conditions.
The LMV SIMCEN can also simulate a variety of scenarios to support training for berthing, navigation and watch-keeping, and weapons firing.
In the past, LMV crew had to spend up to six hours for a few runs of berthing practice in the open sea. At the simulation centre, they can do it in just one hour.
Putting on VR goggles which mimic the binoculars used on board ship, crew members can practise gauging the distance between the LMV and the berth, and give the appropriate instructions for the navigation crew during berthing.
It takes about eight hours and a full crew of 23 for the LMV to sail to the South China Sea for live-firing practice. Now, they can maximise training by honing their proficiency on shore at the LMV SIMCEN first.
ME2 Barath S/O Selvaramah, who is in charge of training weapon operators on RSS Sovereignty, noticed that junior crew may sometimes experience anxiety during their first live-firing practice, and fail to react when there's a misfire or when the rounds are not hitting the target.
"With (practice at) this simulator, they'll know how to react. (So) when they go for live firing, they will be better prepared," said the 28-year-old Weapon Systems Supervisor.
For ME1 Sachael Teo, the LMV simulator allowed her to learn through "trial and error" in a safe environment.
Her role as a marine systems operator is to monitor the health of the machinery on board RSS Justice. The 24-year-old also doubles up as the helmsman of the ship.
Through simulator training, she learnt to overcome various defects (such as power, propulsion, steering and machinery failures) that the ship may encounter out at sea.
"It also allows me and my ship crew to build team synergy while responding to different kinds of scenarios," she added.