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Interview with Capt. Steven D. Nakagawa, Commanding Officer, Naval Air Warfare Center, Training Systems Division (NAWCTSD)

The science of learning – technology and the right way to train

Capt. Steven D. Nakagawa, USN, is the commander of the Naval Air Warfare Center’s Training Systems Division (NAWCTSD). A position he’s held since June, 2012. A graduate of the University of Southern California, Nakagawa has served in the U.S. Navy since 1986. Prior to becoming the commander, Nakagawa was NAWCTSD’s executive officer. He has more than 2,700 flight hours in 23 different types of aircraft, with 652 carrier arrested landings. His decorations include the Meritorious Service Medal (three awards), Air Medal (four Strike/Flight awards), Aerial Achievement Medal, Navy Commendation Medal (three awards), and Navy Achievement Medal (three awards). 

NAWCTSD, based at Naval Support Activity (NSA) Orlando, Fla., serves as the principle Navy center for research, development and testing of training systems. The center develops training systems for a variety of military programs such as aircraft, surface ships, submarines, and other specialized requirements. Nakagawa recently sat down with Defense Media Network‘s Capt. Edward H. Lundquist, U.S. Navy (Ret.), to learn about some of the work NAWCTSD is doing.

We can apply a lot of this early in the process, when the fleet and OPNAV are defining the requirement. It’s a smarter way of doing training than later on when you have a system and you then wonder how to train people to use it. That’s a little late to do media selection at that point.

 

Capt. Edward H. Lundquist, U.S. Navy (Ret.): How do you go about picking the right way to train?

Capt. Steven D. Nakagawa: We call that “media selection” and it all starts well before you know the requirement. When you get the requirement, it’s a little late to start to think through this. Our engineering shop does the “science of learning” front end analysis — FEA — and applies it to the requirements definition. When people define their requirements, they need to know what kind of world is out there. We have the science of learning – scientists and engineers that help them understand how to teach the human being to be able to drive the ship, run the mission bay package, fly the airplane, or dive the submarine. We can apply a lot of this early in the process, when the fleet and OPNAV are defining the requirement. It’s a smarter way of doing training than later on when you have a system and you then wonder how to train people to use it. That’s a little late to do media selection at that point.

 

When you say “media,” you’re talking about the means of doing the training?

Capt. Steven D. Nakagawa,

Capt. Steven D. Nakagawa, USN, commanding officer, Naval Air Warfare Center, Training Systems Division (NAWCTSD). U.S. Navy photo

Yes, either a fully immersive situation, or a computer-based trainer, or an instructor-led curriculum, or all of it together in some piece parts. We have the instructional systems design – ISD – competency within the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR), [personnel] that are trained in instructional systems and how to break down the requirements into exactly what you’re trying to get that human being to learn and to be proficient in, and then figure out the best methods to apply the media, whether it’s a fully immersive situation, or a touch-based virtual reality world, or a moving airplane simulator – all those kinds of things. How do we apply whichever levels of those to get the brain to really understand the stuff that it doesn’t yet know or understand? And then how do we assess that the brain really did grasp the concept and skill and is going to hold on to it and be able to use it when they actually are fighting that ship in a fog of war situation.

 

Don’t you find that there’s a certain degree of inertia, “because we’ve always done it this way,” or, “we’ve built this big trainer to do it this way”? At some point somebody might determine that the way you’ve been doing it isn’t the best way to do it – it isn’t cost effective or or when we assess, they’re not effectively learning. Do you sometimes have to sort of have an intervention?

To a lot of senior people in uniform, the old way was more than adequate. It worked for them, and they feel they’re pretty smart, so this is really the way we ought to do it. Aviation is one of the areas where we have this mindset that we have to train in the airplane. So, that’s not a bad thing. It’s smart to fly an airplane if you want to be safe. It’s definitely a dynamic and unforgiving environment, so it is very smart to do training in an airplane. However, there are tasks that can be done more efficiently or effectively in a trainer. Our cadre of scientists understands that if a light turns green and I’m supposed to throw a switch that my brain really understands. When they test that, and, they turn it green, and I throw the switch, did I just kind of guess? Did I guess it right? Or did I really understand and throw it because of that. So, they’re trying to break down that science of learning part, including the hair net on top of someone’s head that measures the pulses of the brain. We have to show with data. We are data-driven. When we do show it’s smarter to do something a different way, we can back it up. We can show how many hours I need to really feel a seat rumble and be under the pressure of oxygen breathing, and potentially some levels of hypoxia, to effectively and safely do that stuff in the plane when someone is shooting missiles at me and all those kinds of things.

We are data-driven. When we do show it’s smarter to do something a different way, we can back it up. We can show how many hours I need to really feel a seat rumble and be under the pressure of oxygen breathing, and potentially some levels of hypoxia, to effectively and safely do that stuff in the plane when someone is shooting missiles at me and all those kinds of things.

We’ve always been so, but our three-star, Vice Adm. David Dunaway, who is commander of the Naval Air Systems Command (COMNAVAIRSYSCOM), is getting us to be even more data-driven to justify everything we do.

 

I don’t think anybody presumes that you can take a new student and put him in a T-2 Buckeye or a T-45 Goshawk, or whatever, and say here’s your training syllabus, now go take off for your first flight. So you have to go through a series of steps where they figure out how an aircraft responds and learn all that before they can actually do a solo flight. But I think in the surface community we haven’t always felt that way. It’s been more of a “get ‘em out there on the bridge of a ship and they’ll learn.”

LCS [Littoral Combat Ship] is a good example of a mind shift for the surface community. With the train to qualify and train to certify mindset, as you were describing a second ago, that is like “Here’s your Buckeye, jump in, you go solo on your first time,” because the crew has to be ready to fight the ship when they depart the port. So, I think that the surface community from the leadership on down has gone has bought in to new ways of doing business. We’ve bought into the blue and gold crew concept, and, now that we’ve bought into it, how do we do the training to make sure that we’re actually going to operate the ship safely and smartly, swap the mission packages out, and be able to fight the ship appropriately? With the mission bay packages they could swap in and out an all those things.

Tactical Action Officer Intelligent Tutoring System

The Tactical Action Officer/Intelligent Tutoring System at Surface Warfare Officers School in Newport, RI, trains Tactical Action Officer students. Using voice recognition software, the student plays the role of a Tactical Action Officer onboard one of the Navy’s newest ships. In the old days, it would take upwards of eight instructors playing various watchstander roles to simulate the realism of leading a combat team in a ship’s CIC. ITS eliminates that workload and the computer acts as all the applicable watchstanders. This allows one instructor to mentor 30 students at a time. The ITS helps a student that may have less experience in a particular warfare field. They can select the novice scenario’s and work their way up to the advanced scenario. For example, if a student does not have a lot of experience in air defense, the ITS help that student get up to speed so they are on the same level as the rest of their peers. The Office of Naval Research and Naval Aviation Warfare Center Training System Division have developed intelligent tutor training systems measure and apply remediation based on individual needs. U.S. Navy photo

Today’s generation respond well to the virtual world and fully immersive, 3D gaming technology. The newer generation of people want to learn and are more built to learn. They’re in the checkout line at the supermarket around on their phone they’re competing with their buddy who is in the same class in the schoolhouse. If he gets a better grade the next day, it might be because he was playing that game while I’m in line at the supermarket. It’s built so they can compete.

The mind shift is that where people want to compete, they want to do it in an immersive, 3D gaming technology. And even if they don’t know they want to, they’re more adapted to that. Like my 8- and 11-year-olds, they know how to download apps and find the best games on my phone better than I do.

 

So they can actually train when they walk outside the schoolhouse?

We don’t know yet. That’s all in the requirements definition process right now. Will it be on a mobile device? I don’t know yet. For sure it will be in a schoolhouse. The mind shift is that where people want to compete, they want to do it in an immersive, 3D gaming technology. And even if they don’t know they want to, they’re more adapted to that. Like my 8- and 11-year-olds, they know how to download apps and find the best games on my phone better than I do.

T-45 Simulator

Tedd Muery, left, a T-45 simulator instructor, and Lt. j.g. Hadley Sulpizio, a physiologist from the Naval Survival Training Institute, give dynamic hypoxia training to Lt. Eric Schwab, an instructor pilot in Training Squadron (VT) 21, Corpus Christi, Texas, Nov. 7, 2013. The hypoxia training involves a reduced oxygen breathing device which exposes aircrew to actual hypoxic conditions. U.S. Navy photo by Richard Stewart

 

So what are some of these new trends and technologies that you are seeing or that you are embracing here?

Probably the biggest one is under the umbrella of adaptive learning, or adaptive training. It goes beyond putting information in front of somebody and then testing them on it, therefore he knows it and understands it and will do well at it in the combat situation.

Probably the biggest one is under the umbrella of adaptive learning, or adaptive training. It goes beyond putting information in front of somebody and then testing them on it, therefore he knows it and understands it and will do well at it in the combat situation. It involves using virtual synthetic training to make them a critical problem solver, and a critical thinker in a team situation. And the adaptive part is where the simulation tries to understand and assesses where that person is and measure the increase in proficiency or capability, and then modify the simulation in order to help that person learn where he is a little weak in an area, to suggest ways to improve, or adapt based on the student’s optimal learning mode.

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Capt. Edward H. Lundquist, U.S. Navy (Ret.) is a senior-level communications professional with more than...