While the crowd numbers declined a bit at last week's military training and simulation trade show in Orlando, the marketing, pitching and deal-making were still at full throttle, organizers said.
Hundreds of defense contractors, including many newcomers to the show, filled the 400,000-square-foot exhibit hall at the Orange County Convention Center, even as military attendance took a hit because of the government budget crunch.
Organizers hoped to equal last year's overall mark of 17,000 attendees. Final figures were not available late last week.
Although many in the U.S. military missed their annual trip to Orlando — considered the industry's multibillion-dollar nerve center — there was still a strong turnout of high-level defense officials, organizers said.
And that made the Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation & Education Conference a valuable marketing opportunity.
"It was certainly a tough year for the services to participate," said Ron Smits, deputy chairman of I/ITSEC and director of Dynamics Research Corp.'s training division.
"We did see a downtick in the number of uniformed personnel. But the folks that are the decision-makers, they're here and they're meeting with industry," he said.
"So, the armed services went above and beyond in their effort to be well represented here."
Reassurances from military
Defense officials provided the industry with some crucial takeaways during the trade show, according to Smits, who oversees the Orlando unit of Andover, Mass.-based Dynamics Research. Most important, they emphasized how important funding for training and simulation will be to the military as budget pressures cut into conventional live-training exercises.
Smits said leaders from all of the U.S. armed forces indicated they are committed to maintaining current funding levels for training and simulation programs. "That message came through loud and clear," he said.
It was an important reassurance for military training contractors amid the $50 billion-plus in deficit-reduction cuts to military spending that are set to take effect in 2014.
But there are still concerns about how such cuts will affect future simulation programs involving advanced, upgraded and next-generation systems.
"New program starts will be a challenge," Smits acknowledged. "From what we were told, they're not going to be allowed under sequestration. But overall, we still think those cuts are going to take less of a hit on modeling and simulation than many other areas."
'Virtual medical center' for VA
Cubic Corp. used last week's trade show as a platform to announce that it won the Navy's latest Littoral Combat Ship training program. The Orlando unit of San Diego-based Cubic Defense Systems won a potential $112 million contract to build the advanced warship's Mission Bay Trainer systems.
But Cubic's win — aided by its partnership with Lockheed Martin Corp. — was not the only new contract unveiled at I/ITSEC.
Orlando-based Engineering & Computer Simulations Inc. announced that it received a contract from the Veterans Health Administration to develop a "virtual medical center" for the agency's 8 million patients across the country.
Using the secure Web-based system, patients would be able to use video or chat to discuss their health issues with specially trained VA doctors or other medical personnel, the company said.
"Patients could log in and communicate real-time with doctors who have been trained to work exclusively in this virtual medical center environment," said Shane Taber, ECS's creative director. "There are plenty of basic questions that can be answered much easier this way than if the patients have to travel hours to get to a VA clinic appointment."
Health-care providers also will be able to use the system to collaborate on patient care or take continuing-education courses, he said.
Terms of the deal call for a beta test of the system in early 2014.
email@example.com or 407-420-5256