The line separating military training and video games continues to become thinner.
Now, one can practice operating an unmanned aerial system with nothing more than a joystick and PC. These simulations adopt a number of approaches found in video games, right down to the controls.
“The UAS community is looking for cost-effective mobile training simulations,” said Brad Johnson, a program manager at General Dynamics Information Technology in Orlando. He works closely with the largest UAS training center in the world at Fort Huachuca, Ariz.
The company creates customized virtual environments to train different forces in varying scenarios. The UAS training system allows a user to operate a flight simulator, gather intelligence, view a battlefield and create reports as if in theater.
“The ability to replicate realistic geo-specific terrain, landmarks, enemy locations and the natural surroundings is a powerful tool,” Johnson said.
The military is training a generation that grew up on video games, and this new breed of soldier understands learning in a virtual environment, he said. The evidence is all around.
Raytheon has developed a control system for unmanned aircraft based on the same technology behind popular video games like Halo, and the Army has used Xbox controls with ground robots. A former Navy pilot has even come up with a way to control a drone with an iPhone.
“Technology drives innovation,” Johnson said. “As technology evolves, so does the way we train the soldier.”
By the end of 2012, the armed forces will operate more than 250 classrooms for PC-based military training. The ultimate goal might be “true mission rehearsal,” using gaming technology to practice a combat task right before it’s undertaken on the battlefield, Johnson said.
“The technology’s there — it can be done right now,” he explained. “It’s just a matter of the industry catching up with technology.” Already, the Army has used virtual exercises to prepare for live training. A unit at the Yakima Training Center, Wash., recently prepared for a live fire exercise by playing a video game set up to mirror the actual environment and targets on the range.
“Simulations exist today, but they are not quite at the level of what a layman might see in some action-packed, summertime film,” Johnson said.
The military, though, probably will follow Hollywood, he added.