Ready Trainee One
US Army builds synthetic battlefield to blend with live training
In Fortnite, you can wage a battle royale against other players around the world.
And you can do so regardless of the videogaming platform you use; PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Mac, PC or smartphone. It’s called cross-platform play, or crossplay. Fortnite’s shared, virtual world allows this kind of interaction.
The U.S. Army is interested in that approach, exploring complementary concepts and technologies to train its units. The service wants to use commercial virtual and gaming technology adapted for military applications, relying on a common set of data within a modular, open systems architecture. By using off-the-shelf equipment, the “Synthetic Training Environment,” or STE, as the Army calls it, will be “plug-and-play” and quickly available to soldiers.
“With STE, the Army won’t have to deal with the logistics of scheduling and transportation of soldiers to training centers, where they compete for precious training time,” said Harry Buhl, STE lead investigator for Raytheon. “They can train at their home stations with minimal overhead, or even while deployed.”
The Army faces a challenge. Although it conducts combined-arms, synthetic training in a complex, operational environment, using its virtual simulators for helicopters and tanks (and simulations for commanders and staffs), it lacks a common synthetic environment. It also uses proprietary systems that have difficulty communicating with each other.
Putting different systems together for a training exercise requires significant time and overhead. That's where the technology comes in.
STE will train for air, land, sea, space and cyber using virtual and constructive environments that will be mixed with live training exercises.
“Live training will always be the final test before the Army sends units into combat; it’s graduate-level training,” Buhl said. “But before live training, they’ll do their undergraduate training in virtual and constructive worlds. Soldiers can rehearse a mission dozens of times without risking life or limb. They can practice emergency situations and mission-critical tasks – what is known as high-consequence training – that can’t be replicated safely in live training, like having an engine fail on a real aircraft.”
The Army wants to build a single Reconfigurable Virtual Collective Trainer Ground for armored vehicles that can be set up as an M1 Abrams tank, M2 Bradley fighting vehicle, M1126 Stryker or even future Next-Generation Combat Vehicles. There will also be a single RVCT-Air that can be reconfigured to simulate different kinds of aircraft, from reconnaissance and attack to cargo and utility.
For the dismounted soldier, the Army is looking for a Soldier and Squad Virtual Trainer that will allow trainees to take actions together or on their own. Soldiers will wear the mixed-reality “Integrated Visual Augmentation System,” which uses Microsoft’s HoloLens goggles.
“The virtual or synthetic environments will need to link the live environment for high-consequence training,” Buhl said. “You can’t replace being out in the dirt and mud, sweating, and lacking sleep.”
Raytheon is pursuing the STE Soldier and Squad Virtual Trainer and the STE Live Force-on-Force training contracts, he said.
“The Army now uses MILES gear, which is comparable to laser tag. It is a good capability, but lacks realism for the full range of weapons the Army uses,” Buhl said. “With the IVAS goggles, we can provide a more realistic experience for soldiers.”
Emerging technologies will allow a learning system to use artificial intelligence to determine the skill level of soldiers and automatically skip what they already know, while challenging them in areas where they need improvement.
“The technology can tell when you’re bored and ramp up the training, and it can tell if you’re stressing out and decrease the difficulty,” Buhl said. “We want to keep soldiers training in that band of excellence.”