From virtual reality gaming and color-coded traffic maps to tomorrow’s weather forecast via radar image and the televised reality of football first-down lines, simulation technologies have become ubiquitous elements of modern life. It’s not surprising, then, that today’s soldiers are also encountering the expanded use of simulation technologies across the military experience.
Historical foundations for the Army’s embrace of simulation systems and technologies can be traced to the early 1930s and the Army Air Corps’ acquisition of the first pilot trainers from the Link Co. In parallel with the dramatically changing technologies over the past eight decades, the Army’s appreciation for the value of simulations—both in initial training and proficiency maintenance—has also grown exponentially. Today, the Army is expanding and upgrading its use of simulations in both individual and organizational environments while simultaneously crafting the supporting architectures that will change the nature of military training in the future.
One example can be found in Army small arms training. For several years, the first time a young soldier encountered simulation was likely with the Engagement Skills Trainer (EST) 2000. Manufactured by Cubic Corp., the system was fielded at the Army’s five initial entry training sites in the mid-1990s to provide initial weapon instruction before soldiers went to live-fire ranges. The system, which replaced an earlier Weaponeer marksmanship training aid, was subsequently expanded to other sites across the Army.
According to Darren Shavers, director of subject matter experts for Meggitt Training Systems, the Army’s embrace of EST 2000 was a significant milestone in that it marked the first time a small arms simulator experience was mandated for basic trainees.
“They learned it in the simulator, and then they went out and applied what they learned on the real-world ranges,” he said.
Upgraded Replacement System
The next milestone in Army small arms simulation was the arrival of a replacement system, EST II. Meggitt received the Army’s EST II contract in June 2014 and is delivering initial systems for customer acceptance testing starting this month.
“The EST II will bring some pretty significant upgrades,” Shavers said, citing the elimination of the weapon tether as greatly enhancing things like the quick-reaction drills that have been part of initial training over the last decade. New BlueFire weapon simulation technology “talks to the system wirelessly,” he said.
Other enhancements that will be delivered under EST II range from a new Crytek 3-D visual environment to instructor tablet devices. The EST II’s new 3-D visual environment “not only gives you higher-fidelity pictures, but also provides a moving eye point. In the past, you always had the target move to the shooter. But now, with Crytek, we can actually move the target to the shooter and move the shooter to the target by simulating that moving eye point through the scene,” Shavers said.
The money the Army has already spent on Bohemia Interactive Simulations’ Virtual Battlespace 3, or VBS3, is being leveraged “by using VBS3 as our collective engine,” he added.
VBS3 is a 3-D, first-person games-for-training platform that provides realistic semi-immersive environments; large, dynamic terrain areas; hundreds of simulated military and civilian entities; and a range of geotypical, or generic, terrain areas as well as geospecific terrains from U.S. Army areas of operation. As the Army’s flagship training game, it has been accredited to support more than 100 combined arms training tasks from the individual soldier level to company collective.
“The Army already has terrains and scenarios built in VBS3, so we’re going to use that in things like force-on-force training,” Shavers said. Also, the new EST II instructor tablets provide real-time feedback and an automatic coaching tool to help improve student marksmanship.
‘We Can See if You Are Breathing’
“Our system knows what you are doing all the time,” he said. “We can see how you aim at the target. We can see if you are breathing or not. We can see how you manipulate the trigger. And we can see how you put the weapon on your shoulder. And since we can see all that now, I can tie it to Army doctrine and tell the student what they were doing wrong.”
The tablets will not only “flag” individual shooter variance from the marksmanship fundamentals found in Army Field Manual 3-22.9, Rifle Marksmanship, but also provide a video clip of the specific corrections needed.
Based on the result of upcoming customer acceptance testing, it is anticipated that the Army will order between 842 and 900 EST II systems. That’s just one example of the growing use of simulation in support of soldier training and proficiency.
Another example is seen in programs like the Dismounted Soldier Training System, or DSTS. According to system developer Intelligent Decisions Inc., this is the first fully immersive virtual simulation training system for soldiers. It includes a helmet-mounted display with integrated head tracker, stereo speakers, voice and radio communications, a computer backpack for processing and projecting the 3-D virtual environment within the helmet-mounted display, sensors for tracking body position, and instrumented weapons. It allows soldiers to operate in a virtual environment with members of their squad, platoon or company.
Training as a Unit
“We train 30,000 soldiers a year on DSTS,” said Clarence Pape, vice president of simulation and training for Intelligent Decisions. The Army had been looking at the concept “for the better part of 10 years, as they looked to find a virtual training device for soldiers to train as a cohesive unit,” he said. “And they wanted it to be mobile, so it wouldn’t be a fixed capability,” he said. “It could be moved around as the Army needed it.”
That basic concept was followed by requirements definition and further concept development and creation. Accompanied by industry partnering, the final design included a combination of commercial off-the-shelf hardware and custom-developed equipment.
“From requirements through first delivery was about a year, and we’ve been deploying it ever since,” Pape said. Fifty-one DSTS systems have been deployed across the total Army in both standard and enhanced versions.
Asked about the unique abilities the system provides to warfighters, Pape highlighted “the ability to shoot, move and communicate as a cohesive squad in a virtual environment. And they can take it wherever they want. We have actually had it being used in the field right before a live-fire training exercise.”
The system also allows soldiers to “practice the various tactics, techniques and procedures—things like defensive postures, patrols, reaction to fire or ambush. You can do a medevac. You can do a [helicopter] insert and extract. You can get inside a vehicle and do force movement, and then dismount the vehicle in the virtual environment and do ground tactics. It allows you to do myriad infantry-level tactics.”
The system is not used just for infantry task training, Pape said. It’s employed in both engineer and military police training as well.
“Those types of combat service support folks use it to refine their tactical capability,” he said. “It helps with their communication. It helps with their understanding of the environment. And certainly it helps them to practice how they would move as individuals and as a group.”
The broad U.S. Army application of simulation technologies is hardly restricted to individual and small-group training and proficiency. In addition to those representative examples, simulation systems are used for driver training and modified for unique platform skills. They’re used for dozens of other skills and capabilities as well as convoy, vehicle-maintenance, flight and helicopter-maintenance training.
Simulation is also present in military immersive environments including the Joint Fires and Effects Training System at the Army’s Fires Center of Excellence at Fort Sill, Okla. This system provides a suite of state-of-the-art immersive virtual reality environments designed to help soldiers make critical decisions under stress, and allows for collective team training and cultural awareness lessons. Developed by the University of Southern California’s Institute for Creative Technologies, the program was successfully transitioned to the Army’s Program Executive Office for Simulation, Training and Instrumentation (PEO STRI) in 2008.
Another area of significant simulation growth and emphasis over the past several years involves medical simulation. A stand-alone software application called Tactical Combat Casualty Care Simulation was delivered to the U.S. Army Medical Department Center and School at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, in 2007.
Frank Colletti is vice president for training and education at Engineering & Computer Simulations, the company that fulfilled the software application contract. According to Colletti, the software focuses on the “functionality that would be used by a medic or combat lifesaver to practice the ‘what and when’ of treating casualties: Given what you see in front of you, what do you do and when do you do it?”
Launching a demonstration on a nearby desktop, Colletti explained, “Here’s a soldier that has just sustained an injury. We’ll ‘walk’ over to him and see what happened. In this case, it might involve a traumatic amputation. As the caregiver, I point to the leg, and I am given a screen interface that allows me to make a decision as to what to do. It gives me a number of possible actions—all of which are valid, but some are better than others.”
Colletti demonstrated a series of selected interventions, from tourniquet application to ascertaining the extent of other injuries through a “blood sweep” of the wounded soldier, all while maintaining tactical situational awareness.
Shared Gaming Environment
One recent company effort has moved the capability from a stand-alone use into a shared gaming environment, Colletti said.
“We took that functionality and created a plug-in that can be embedded into VBS3,” he said. “Now the soldiers are working through this virtual engagement, and an incident happens: A sniper engages them, or an IED detonates. We have six different injury types that can occur within the context of the VBS3 simulation.”
A more immersive approach to medical simulation is seen in PEO STRI’s medical simulation training centers. Located at 18 Army installations, the centers deliver effective medical training through an immersive platform that includes a standardized family of supporting component systems and supporting training devices.
Related training devices include the Virtual Patient System’s tetherless, “bleed-breathe” mannequin that is weighted and airway-equipped; partial task trainers; the Instruction Support System; Medical Training Command and Control System; and the Medical Training Evaluation System.
The Army’s medical simulation emphasis isn’t limited to human needs. One example of the specialized training and proficiency possible through medical simulation was seen at a recent modeling and simulation gathering, where TraumaFX highlighted its K9 HERO medical trainer, a 50-pound medical mannequin sculpted to mimic a Belgian Malinois shepherd. It enables military working dog handlers to practice on a simulator many critical lifesaving tasks for canines, including maintaining an airway, CPR, tracheostomy and bandaging.
Three Environments Linked
In parallel with the growth of simulation technologies in the virtual world, the last few years have witnessed Army training planners increasing their emphasis on the development of so-called live, virtual and constructive (LVC) capabilities, in which live training is combined with training in virtual as well as constructive, or computer-generated, environments. The simultaneous linkage of these three environments is widely seen as offering significant cost and performance benefits for military training and proficiency retention.
One key to this vision has been the development of something called an LVC-Integrating Architecture. However, the program executive office is also looking beyond this architecture and toward the development of “leap ahead” technologies to integrate the LVC spectrum.
“Our ultimate goal is to enhance realistic training in complex environments to help build cohesive teams who not just survive, but thrive in conditions of chaos and ambiguity,” said Maj. Gen. Jon Maddux, PEO STRI’s program executive officer.
The main effort to achieve that ultimate goal is bringing a new program into the training portfolio called the synthetic training environment, which will enhance the currently fielded LVC-Integrating Architecture and provide a center of gravity for the Army’s future.
The synthetic training environment “will include ‘leap ahead’ and ‘disruptive’ technologies not available in the current LVC- [Integrating Architecture] program to facilitate the creation of the complex conditions found in any operational environment,” Maddux said, “enabling commanders to develop agile, adaptive leaders and versatile units capable of operating in any complex situation.”
The synthetic training environment will converge the virtual, constructive and gaming training environments into a single environment that will provide training services to ground, dismounted and aerial platforms and command post operations.
Additionally, PEO STRI is exploring cybersecurity training and the challenges and possibilities involved in cyber simulation.