Orlando at Epicenter of Global Modeling, Simulation and Training Industry
By Dan Ward
Question: In which industry does Central Florida serve as the national epicenter of activity, with 1,000 companies supporting more than 60,000 jobs?
The answer seems simple. Everyone thinks of Orlando as the world headquarters of family travel, with theme parks, attractions, hotels and restaurants serving a vast tourism economy. But there’s more to the story. Indeed, as the Orlando Economic Development Commission is telling the world in a new regional branding initiative, “Orlando. You don’t know the half of it.”
Over the last three decades, Central Florida has quietly become the epicenter of another exciting industry sector – Modeling, Simulation & Training (MS&T) – providing thousands of high-paying jobs, driving innovation and technological breakthroughs, and creating opportunities for partnership among the military, academia, government agencies and private business.
It’s time for that story to be told.
An Industry Nurtured by Collaboration
Walking the halls of I/ITSEC, the world’s largest modeling, simulation and training conference held annually in Orlando, is an eye-opening experience, with high tech companies from around the globe showcasing technologies that appear to come from the world of tomorrow.
It’s hard to imagine that this futuristic industry got its start 85 years ago, with a training simulator made from organ bellows and an electric pump.
Edwin Albert Link first built his “Blue Box,” later known as the Link Trainer, to familiarize pilots with instrument flying conditions. But the true impact was not felt until World War II, when the Link Trainer was used to train more than 500,000 pilots and became a critical force multiplier for allied nations.
The story of how simulation grew from that point to become an industry cluster with a $5 billion impact on the Florida economy begins not with engineering diagrams and high tech computers, but with the stroke of a pen.
On March 20, 1950, the secretaries of the U.S. Army and Navy set aside traditional inter-agency competition and signed a partnership agreement, through which the services would collaborate on the development of training and training devices.
The collaboration allowed the Navy and Army to share information and technological know-how, now the longest active partnership agreement between the services, supported by a dual objective of operational readiness and budget restraint. And when the Navy decided in the mid-1960s to move its training systems division to Orlando from Port Washington, N.Y., the collaboration continued as a small Army Participation Group joined to leverage the Navy’s simulation and training program.
“This was the ‘Big Bang’ in the growth of simulation and training in Central Florida,” said Hank Okraski, a retired director of research and engineering for the Naval Air Warfare Center Training Systems Division, who literally wrote the book on The Wonderful World of Simulation.
“With drawdowns in funding and an improvement in simulator fidelity, there was an increased appreciation for substituting simulation for live training. Customers from all warfare areas turned to the center of simulation activity, Orlando, for training system research, acquisition and logistic support.”
It Could Have Been Lost
The story nearly ends there. In 1971, a plan was announced to relocate the Navy simulation organization, ending the experiment in agency collocation. Working with the U.S. Attorney General, Congressman Lou Frey Jr. fought to preserve the integrity of what would later be known as “Team Orlando,” halting the relocation and later working to create the nation’s Center of Excellence for Modeling and Simulation.
As the Navy and Army continued to work together on procurement of simulation technologies, word began to spread, and companies began migrating to Central Florida to be part of an emerging industry sector. The Marine Corps and Air Force soon joined and further expanded the synergy between forces, leading to the creation of breakthrough technologies, as well as tremendous savings for federal taxpayers.
As the industry continued to grow through the ‘70s and ‘80s, Orlando leaders saw a need to provide a home that would leverage the research capabilities of the fast-growing University of Central Florida. And so the Central Florida Research Park (CFRP) was born, and industry
Today, CFRP is the state’s largest research park, the fourth-largest in the U.S. by number of companies and sixth-largest in the country by number of employees.
“The best investment in the history of the Central Florida Research Park was our decision to give 40 acres to the Navy 30 years ago,” said Executive Director Joe Wallace. “The result was the construction of the de Florez Complex, being recognized as the National Center for Simulation and the $5 billion simulation industry here today.
“Outside of the Pentagon, Orlando is the only place where all services come together on one warfare support area [simulation and training],” added Okraski. “That collocation is an example of multi-service synergy, enabling the military to be smart buyers, lowering acquisition and life-cycle costs that are ultimately paid by American taxpayers.”
Simulated Environments, Real-World Impacts
Modeling, simulation and training is a world of virtual environments that replicate real-life situations. But there’s nothing virtual about its impact, not only on the economy in Central Florida and around the state, but also on the preparedness and safety of America’s warfighters.
“Modeling, simulation and training activity is taking place from Pensacola to Jacksonville and from Tallahassee to Miami,” said Lt. Gen. Thomas Baptiste, president and CEO of the National Center for Simulation in Orlando. “Simulation has been identified by Congress as a ‘National Critical Technology,’ but as an industry it is just as critical to our state.”
Many believe that it is poised for tremendous growth, bringing even greater impact to the Florida economy. “Given the cutbacks by the military and other government agencies, simulation training gives these innovative Florida companies opportunities to help save the government and private sectors substantial amounts of money,” said Dr. Jerry D. Parrish, chief economist and executive director of the Center for Competitive Florida.
“The collocation of military services and the level of collaboration practiced here is unique to Orlando,” explained Rick Weddle, president and CEO of the Orlando Economic Development Commission. “In and adjacent to the Central Florida Research Park, you have military MS&T acquisition organizations, the nation’s second-largest university and a cluster of more than 100 simulation companies generating a synergy among government, academia and industry that is found nowhere else in the world.”
The military commands recognized the power of proximity, forming “Team Orlando” in 1985 to expand opportunities for collaboration. Collocation and collaboration have resulted in what many believe to be an oxymoron: government efficiency. Military MS&T commands have developed opportunities to share research and development results, personnel experience, contracting, facilities and more, all saving significant time and costs.
The military and government agencies are actively pursuing opportunities to expand the collaborative environment in Central Florida. When the Veterans Health Administration authorized the creation of a national simulation center (the SimLEARN National Center), the decision was made to locate it in Orlando to enhance collaboration with other simulation commands here.
What does this mean for the warfighter? “Live training will always be critically important. At some point in a warfighter’s training, he or she must fire ammunition downrange, must drive a tank over roads and fields, and must take jets through real-world maneuvers,” said Baptiste. “But through simulation and training, those warfighters are now going into live training environments better prepared than ever before, and that’s more important than ever as budget cuts require limits on live training.”
Forging a Talent Pipeline
The impact of modeling, simulation and training goes far beyond the military, however. Many traditional Department of Defense vendors, for example, have branched out into commercial applications, in everything from digital media and gaming to health care, transportation, education and energy.
As the industry has grown, it has created a need for advanced research that has, in turn, created opportunities for Florida colleges and universities and students who will one day work in the field.
The University of Central Florida (UCF) awards both master’s and doctoral degrees in MS&T in what has become the nation’s largest program dedicated to the industry, and hosts the Institute for Simulation & Training, which performs basic and applied simulation research.
More research is conducted through the assistance of the Florida High Tech Corridor Council, a regional economic development initiative of UCF, the University of South Florida and University of Florida. Its Matching Grants Research Program pairs private industry with university researchers to drive innovation while providing the field with a highly trained workforce.
“Modeling, simulation and training has grown to become one of Central Florida’s most important industry sectors, and its impact is being felt not only here, but throughout the state,” said Corridor Council President Randy Berridge.
Those who work in, and promote, the industry note that its importance stretches far beyond the borders of Florida, especially when, during an era of federal budget-cutting, the need remains to provide training to warfighters returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. And Central Florida’s role is certain to grow.
War and Peace – Simulation Technology Moves beyond the Battlefield
“Bringing High-Fidelity Audio & Communications to Your Game.”
“Games 101 Tutorial.”
“Serious Games for Cyber.”
What might seem like a required reading list for recreational “gamers” is actually taken directly from the agenda of GameTech, a conference dealing with gaming technologies that enhance warfighter training.
The military calls them “serious games” – high tech virtual worlds designed not for high scores and bragging rights, but to train those for whom “Call of Duty” is more than a game title. But the crossover between gaming and military training goes both ways. Just as the military is embracing gaming technologies to train warfighters, many companies are building on technologies and techniques from the military to develop new commercial applications, in everything from games to education and health care.
“The same skills developers need to create virtual environments for the military, from visual artistry to computer engineering, are what we require in game development,” said Daryl Holt, vice president and group chief operating officer of EA-Tiburon in Maitland, where a team of about 800 creates best-selling titles like “Madden NFL” and “NBA LIVE.” “And those skills are being honed in Central Florida, which has become a great source of talent thanks in large part to the industry cluster that has grown here around modeling, simulation and training.”
The growth of this talent pool, and the companies that have built around it, has led not only to Central Florida’s status as the epicenter of MS&T, but also as home to one of the largest digital media sectors in the country. Aspiring game developers are honing their talent at locations such as UCF’s Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy at the UCF Center for Emerging Media and Full Sail University.
Caesar is a realistic and physiologically advanced trauma patient simulator created by CAE Healthcare. With 1.4 liters of blood and the ability to produce automatic physiological responses to treatment, it’s a frighteningly realistic example of how simulation and training can serve not only those who fire weapons, but also those who treat the damage weapons can cause.
CAE’s simulators go far beyond the battlefield, though. Its simulators are training doctors and nurses in everything from obstetrics and pediatrics to heart surgery; and it is but one example of the Florida organizations that are venturing into the application of MS&T for health care education.
Florida Hospital, for example, recently opened the free-standing Nicholson Center in Celebration as a global destination for training and development research. The 54,000-square-foot facility offers surgical training suites and a robotic training lab to teach thousands of surgeons on robotic surgery techniques.
In the words of Rick Wassell, who guided creation of the Nicholson Center, where some 50,000 physicians come for advanced training every year, “The future of medicine is arriving and Central Florida is playing a pivotal role in it.”
Securing the Future of MS&T in Central Florida
One might assume that with a huge national impact on military readiness and cost efficiency, not to mention a statewide economic impact of more than $5 billion, Orlando’s role as the epicenter of modeling, simulation and training activity would be secure. But state and local officials are taking nothing for granted.
With federal deficits rising and military forces drawing down after years of war, budgets are being cut. Orlando knows from personal experience that Department of Defense belt-tightening can have a major effect on local economies, for instance, the Base Realignment and Closure Commission ordered the closure of the Naval Training Center Orlando (since redeveloped into Baldwin Park).
At the same time, the collocation formula unique to MS&T activity in Orlando has been working almost too well, now posing a real estate challenge. The Florida Legislature took an important step toward addressing this challenge in the 2014 Session, allocating $8 million to begin planning for up to 300,000 square feet of additional space in the Central Florida Research Park. It would ultimately allow the military commands to reduce their future cost of doing business and move into additional shared space as part of UCF’s complex known as the “partnership” buildings.
“We’re so grateful for our Orange County and Central Florida delegations – in particular future House Speaker (Steve) Crisafulli and Senate President (Andy) Gardiner – as well as the Metro Orlando Defense Task Force and Blue Ribbon Commission in securing this budget allocation. These dollars send a strong message to our MS&T community and federal leaders that Florida is serious about protecting and growing our modeling, simulation and training industry,” said Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs.
“The Legislature made a wise investment to solidify the military presence here and provide opportunities to make that presence even stronger,” said Dr. Dan Holsenbeck, UCF vice president for university relations.
Expanding opportunities for collocation and collaboration is key, according to Baptiste. “In the past, Congress has seen military cost-cutting through the lens of realignment and closure, but that in itself is a huge expense. There is evidence here, with military simulation commands saving millions through cooperative purchasing, that the cost savings available through collocation could be as powerful as closure.”
Baptiste is not alone in telling that story. In 2013, Mayor Jacobs created a Blue Ribbon Commission on MS&T that includes 50 businesses and is chaired by Waymon Armstrong, president and co-founder of Engineering & Computer Simulations Inc., a home-grown firm that has become a leading source for educational games, military simulations, interactive performance assessment tools and mobile learning environments.
“The Legislature’s funding will assist in securing our modeling, simulation and training industry today, and will help expand these technologies to other industry sectors such as health care, energy, transportation, education and safety. These technologies and more will have a tremendous economic impact today and into the future,” Armstrong said.