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I/ITSEC 2016: The Wonderbread Simulation

Size Matters….Well, Resolution REALLY Matters!

I/ITSEC features and attracts a huge variety of individuals. Institutional mavens, corporate executives, policy wonks, worker bees – and mavericks. Anybody who knows W. Garth Smith, CEO of MetaVR, would almost certainly place him in the latter category – a position he would probably adopt with pride.

Speaking with Mönch at the conferene today, Smith was eloquent on the subject of terrain database resolution and realism. Unsurprising, perhaps, since MetaVR remains the only company actively providing terrain at a 2cm pixel resolution. Two years ago that was a considerable accomplishment – and it remains so today. But to Smith’s chagrin, in many quarters the offer of what would seem on the surface to be a compelling advantage to any simulation seeking high fidelity realism for the warfighter was met with what he describes as, “a resounding silence.”

That high-resolution terrain is being used at US Navy ranges in Fallon, NV and Yuma, AZ – and there are indications that other users will be fighting to follow suit in the near future. But Smith – and others – find it frustrating that there appears to be an institutional inbuilt resistance to making what should be, in his view, a no-brainer of a decision.

In limited space there is little opportunity to unveil the full scope of the debate. In essence though, there is an argument that vested interest – in the form of that part of our community that resists change – has deliberately engineered, or caused through benign neglect, a situation in which simulator developers and users are often deprived of the highest resolution terrain data available in order to ensure that the simulators operate with games industry-derived terrain. This protects and – it has to be said – leverages the investment already made in bringing capability and levels of fidelity from the games industry into the military synthetic environment. But it also militates against, “providing the warfighter with hat he really needs – and really, really wants,” says Smith.

It’s what I call the Wonderbread Simulation,” he told Mönch, just a tad tongue in cheek. “How was it that an entire generation of Americans was persuaded that Wonderbread – which had only a nodding acquaintance with real bread – was the best thing for them – indeed, the only thing for them?” Today, multigrain bread, ‘ancient seeds’ and other far more defensible staples have displaced Wonderbread, forced into bankruptcy years ago. The analogy is obvious: why should we be satisfied with geotypical terrain when geospecific is easily and affordably available? Why should we settle for generic when we can get customised? And why, oh why, don’t we go the extra mile to put the best possible tools we can in the hands of the men and women who go into harm’s way on our behalf?

Smith is a passionate and articulate speaker on the subject of providing warfighters with effective and carefully crafted tools. His belief that terrain seems to be something of an afterthought in some of the larger requirements being crafted currently is a worrying one – and one that Mönch will be pursuing early in the New Year. But – as usual – a quiet conversation with Garth Smith leaves this reporter with far more unanswered questions than yesterday. And that is A Good Thing.

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