NORFOLK, Va. — During a major exercise this month, aircraft carrier Dwight D. Eisenhower was tied to the pier here at Naval Station Norfolk, but appeared to be operating alongside fellow carrier Gerald R. Ford across the Atlantic in European waters.
The virtual presence of the ship was enabled by the live, virtual and constructive training environment the Navy has spent $1.5 billion over the last five years building. Including 25,000 sailors and Marines in the service’s massive Large Scale Exercise 2023 was just one opportunity to use that technology, commonly called LVC; the system is used more regularly for pre-deployment training, which the Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group also took advantage of this summer.
In July, the strike group conducted its Composite Training Unit Exercise, the final pre-deployment training and certification event, using the same LVC technology used in LSE 23.
Rear Adm. Marc Miguez, the commander of the strike group, told reporters at a Large Scale Exercise media day the COMPTUEX was “one of the most dynamic and most stressing situations that we put our watchstanders through and our aircrew through, where we actually simulate in the training environment us being shot at by threat aircraft, threat ships and threat land-based [cruise missiles].”
Chris Boyle, the director of training technologies for U.S. Fleet Forces Command, told Defense News in an earlier interview the LVC training environment is meant to “replicate the most intense, the most difficult threat to fight against, so our training our forces are essentially fighting against the best navies in the world continuously.”
Miguez said there have been “monumental leaps” in the quality of the LVC technology since he was a squadron commander a decade ago.
“This LVC environment is a game-changer. It literally represents down to the tactical level an individual sitting at a watch station and going through exactly what would happen. I would say 10 years ago we were not there,” he said.
Leaders at U.S. Fleet Forces Command, which oversees the Navy’s LVC spending, say the technology is paying dividends, but there’s more to do.
‘A roadmap of integration’
Adm. Daryl Caudle, the head of U.S. Fleet Forces Command, told reporters LSE 23 is “substantially improved” over the 2021 iteration in its scenario realism and the utilization of LVC technology.
“We continue to be on a roadmap of our integration” of more and more communities into the LVC training environment.
Whereas early LVC technologies could only support training events on instrumented ranges, the Navy can now bring this technology to a carrier strike group at sea, where “we can have synthetic geographies, and so we can simulate a ship being anywhere in the world, postulate red and blue forces on their tactical displays,” and allow them to use their real ships at sea to fight against that constructive threat overlaid on their displays.
That technology has also spread to the maritime operations centers, allowing fleet leaders to also see what the ships are seeing and command the battle from their perch ashore.
To reach this point, the Navy spent $1.46 billion on overall LVC training tech improvements from fiscal 2019 through 2023, Boyle told Defense News. The Navy is about halfway done “deploying a complete, multi-domain, fully informed, LVC training environment [that] will include greater training capability for Fleet MOCs,” he said. This will require additional investments that have been planned through FY25, he said, without providing a planned dollar amount.
The next step, Caudle said, is to pipe that same scenario into the cockpits of planes in the air wing, which until now could only participate in LVC training events at ranges like Naval Air Station Fallon, Nevada.
“And then the final place we really want to get to” is including information warfare systems into the LVC training environment, “such that the sailors and the officers in charge of information warfare systems can be part of that live virtual constructive environment, where … they can make recommendations to the strike group commander about their emission control status, about how to transit most covertly, about how to posture their sensors and radars, about their tactical situation or understanding of the threat environment,” Caudle said.
Boyle told Defense News his team is pursuing those aviation and information warfare improvements, as well as growing the overall LVC architecture and staff to accommodate more training events.
On the aviation side, one of the challenges is finding enough bandwidth to pipe the LVC scenario into a plane’s cockpit. The Navy has used the Tactical Combat Training System pod for years on ranges like Fallon, but in late 2022 the service declared initial operational capability on a TCTS Increment II capability.
The updated pod not only has better cybersecurity, but also provides a “much bigger data pipe that goes back and forth to the aircraft, so that data pipe is what’s really going to enable us to provide a more complete LVC picture up to the aircraft,” Boyle said.
The Navy has finished software updates for the F/A-18E-F Super Hornet, EA-18 Growler and E-2D Advanced Hawkeye to make them compatible with the new pods, and the service is working on software updates for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, P-8A Poseidon and the MH-60 helicopters. The service has already spent about $600 million from FY20-FY23 to integrate the naval aviation community into the LVC training environment.
There are still some remaining hurdles to overcome, including determining which datalink to use. Boyle said the Navy has experimented with using Link 16 to bring the LVC scenario to the cockpit, but the bandwidth is limited and the Navy would rather use it for other purposes during missions. But the end goal, he said, is to help the pilots in the air see the exact same scenario as the watchstanders on ships and in maritime operations centers.
On the information warfare side, Boyle said COMPTUEXs today, like the one the Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group just completed, include some IW training. The LVC system can stimulate some ship sensors that the information warfare specialists are watching, but other facets of information warfare cannot be done without a higher-classification network. That network is being built now, he said.
“We’re doing it today, and we have a path forward, but when you’re carrying higher classification training data you’ve got to make sure you build that network correctly with all the safeguards and all that,” he said.
More broadly, Boyle said, the Navy is making investments to expand when and where it can accommodate LVC training.
It’s looking at nontraditional means of providing network connectivity, so the training can take place anywhere instead of just at ranges ashore or off the coast of major naval bases.
The Navy is also building a new facility that will design and control future LVC exercises. The John Hefti Global LVC Operations Center — named after the retired Navy pilot and former director of fleet and joint training at Fleet Forces, who was killed in a car crash in 2021 — will be a 40,000 square foot space at the Navy’s Dam Neck Annex in Virginia Beach that will consolidate work being done at four separate sites today. It should be up and running in time to host Large Scale Exercise 2025.
And, Boyle said, the LVC training community is eyeing what other infrastructure and people they’ll need to provide more services to the fleet.
“We have been overwhelmed with just the continually increasing demand from the fleet training audience for more LVC and more enhancement of training throughout the workups, from basic all the way through integrated phase,” he said.
Everyone wants to “train like you fight,” Boyle added, but the community is “rapidly approaching our capacity to do LVC without further investments.”
Why the focus on LVC
During the Large Scale Exercise 2023 media day, retired Adm. James Foggo, who previously led U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa, illustrated the value of realistic training with an example from the war in Ukraine.
Russia’s cruiser Moskva, before it sank in the Black Sea, had every defensive weapon it needed to safely operate in a small, contested body of water. But, Foggo said, its radar was looking astern on the night of April 13, 2022. It was hit by two Neptune missiles on its port side, where the radar wasn’t looking, and the ship sank the next day. Foggo called this a failure of training.
Boyle agreed, telling reporters, “that weapon system might have been capable of defending the ship, but the operators are just as equally part of that kill chain to defend that ship, and it was the operators that failed to do that.”
Boyle said his team is constantly working to add emerging adversary capabilities into the LVC training environment, so that “by the time those capabilities are actually out there in the real world, not only are we familiar with them, we’ve trained with them and against them 100 times. So the sailors in the U.S. Navy are veterans to this kind of warfare, hopefully, if God forbid it ever comes to conflict anywhere — they’re fighting folks that have never seen this type of fight before, but we’ve seen it 100 times.”
Megan Eckstein is the naval warfare reporter at Defense News. She has covered military news since 2009, with a focus on U.S. Navy and Marine Corps operations, acquisition programs and budgets. She has reported from four geographic fleets and is happiest when she’s filing stories from a ship. Megan is a University of Maryland alumna.