A 5-inch/54-caliber Mk45 lightweight gun is fired during a live-fire exercise aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS
Truxtun Aug. 21, 2011, in the Arabian Gulf. As live training faces more restrictions and limitations, the Virtual At Sea
Training system allows Navy ships to train and certify surface combatant guns and gunnery crews.
In a real fire-support mission, it is not uncommon
for the target to be beyond the line of sight, on the
other side of terrain or obstructed from view. So the
crew is firing at coordinates provided by a spotter.
With VAST, those coordinates are on virtual terrain.
But while it may be a simulation, there are real shells
flying out of the barrel to the target. The operators still
plot the target, talk with the spotter over the tactical
circuit, and the gunners load and fire the guns in a very
“We took an existing tool — the Joint Semi-Automated Forces [JSAF] — and integrated it into the
ship’s live command and control onboard. It worked
well, and we’ve been using it ever since,” said Jonathan
Glass, a project manager at the Naval Air Warfare
Center Training Systems Division in Orlando, Fla.
“Because the buoy field is mobile, it can be deployed
anywhere there is a safe operating area near the
Eastern Seaboard. We can set up exercise boxes, put
out a set of buoys, make sure the range is clear and do
our firing exercises. Then we recover the buoys to be
used for the next exercise,” he said.
According to Glass, there is only one VAST system for
NGFS, and the buoys are not inexpensive. There has
been some investigation into disposable buoys that sink
after use, but that is not in the present program.
“With VAST, we were able to employ spiral development, making it better, using it on another platform
and even another warfare area,” said White.
This same technology provided a virtual environment for ground forces to practice artillery fire in an
area where they might be expected to fight, or to try
new or improved weapon systems.
“We extended VAST to Air ASW [anti-submarine war-
fare] VAST and then to ASW VAST,” Glass said. “We were
focusing on ASW training. Air ASW VAST allowed us to
do virtual ASW training with SH-60B and SH-60F helicop-
ters. We then added a surface hull sonar model to enable
surface combatants to participate in the simulations.”
Once the model of the different underwater threats
was created, it was only natural to extend that to other
According to White, the technologies developed for
VAST have been modified and improved with newer
advanced technologies to provide training capabilities
for maritime helicopters (Multi-Mission Rehearsal
Tactical Team Trainer), surface combatants (Effective
Active Acoustic Simulation/Stimulation), maritime
patrol reconnaissance aircraft (P- 3 Aircrew Tactical
Team Trainer), and Sea Combat Commander Training
Capability (Virtual Carrier Platform and Bravo/Romeo
Acoustics and Sensors Simulation).