TRAINING AND SIMULATION
Industry Develops Next-Gen Small Arms Trainers for Troops
Photo: MeggittNew small arms trainers equipped with high-fidelity simulations and realistic weaponry could give soldiers and Marines the ability to hone their skills well before they ever set foot on a battlefield.
Among the many gadgets a modern foot soldier carries, their rifle is one of the most important. The military puts a premium on small arms training, and in an effort to reduce costs is eyeing more investment in virtual reality.
The Army, for example, has listed the development of the synthetic training environment as one of its top modernization priorities under the soldier lethality category (See story on page 34). Developers of the STE — which encompasses all aspects of training for troops — are working closely with the Army’s soldier lethality cross-functional team, noted Maj. Gen. Maria Gervais, head of the team for STE and the deputy commanding general of the Combined Arms Center-Training.
Together “we have put a focused effort to increase the lethality of our close-combat soldiers and Marines,” she said during remarks at the Association of the United States Army’s annual conference in Washington, D.C. “We’ve done that in a couple of ways: No. 1 is an immediate training capability — a squad advanced marksmanship trainer — to get that out in the field to our close-combat soldiers so they could start training immediately.”
That is being delivered as a training-as-a-service capability, she noted.
Another is the development of a squad immersive virtual trainer that the service hopes to field much sooner than its anticipated 2025 timeframe, she said.
“[We want to] get after what the secretary of defense has challenged us with — and that is to provide a simulation training capability to our close combat soldiers … in order to get the sets and the reps … and to execute 25 bloodless battles before the first [real] battle,” she said.
Brig. Gen. Michael E. Sloane, program executive officer for simulation, training and instrumentation, or PEO STRI, said the Army wants to work closely with industry to develop new technologies. He noted that the service is leveraging rapid prototyping and entering into other transaction authority agreements.
The Army is putting a premium on engaging with industry so it can better understand where technology is today and tomorrow, Sloane added.
“[We want to help] you make informed decisions on where … to put your investment dollars, your IRAD dollars, so you know on the backend that there’s going to be a capability you can help us deliver,” he told members of industry.
During the conference, numerous companies marketed small arms trainers that executives said could reduce overall training costs and increase proficiency.
Meggitt Training Systems, which is based in Suwanee, Georgia, recently finished deliveries of marksmanship trainers for the Army’s engagement skills trainer II, or EST II, program, said Jonathan Ayala, a virtual sales representative at the company.
Since 2016, Meggitt has delivered more than 895 systems for the program, as well as 700 platforms for the Marine Corps under a similar effort known as the indoor simulated marksmanship trainer, he noted.
Before soldiers participate in live-fire training, they take part in what is known as “dry-fire” training where they learn the basic fundamentals of shooting. Now, however, the service can use simulated training supplied by EST II in between those two phases, Ayala said.
“It augments their training by using compressed air and simulated firearms in a virtual environment,” he said. This “increases their safety [and] they’ve come to find out that it increases … marksmanship course scores drastically.”
The system consists of large screens, a projector and a tethered rifle, he said. The simulator projects a virtual 3D image of a range and targets pop up and move. “We can create any course of fire that exists in real life,” he added.
It also provides users with analytic information that can be used to track a soldier’s performance and score, Ayala said.
The simulator is based on the company’s commercial FATS 100MIL product. Newer versions of the system have since been released, such as the FATS 180 and 300, which offer 180 degrees of view and 300 degrees of view, respectively.
Meggitt can provide the Army with upgrades to those simulators, he noted. It can also swap out the current tethered rifles for wireless ones that use its BlueFire technology.
AEgis Technologies Group, a Huntsville, Alabama-based simulation company, showed its reconfigurable virtual trainer, or RVT, during the conference. The system — which was originally designed to train for Stinger operations — has now been modified to include a number of weapon platforms such as the M4 carbine rifle, said Del Beilstein, vice president of business development for the company.
“We thought, ‘Well, if we’ve already got the architecture, the core of the system worked out, why wouldn’t we extend it to other weapons systems?’” he said.
With the RVT, users would be able to employ the same system for different training scenarios and would only need to swap out the mock weapon, Beilstein noted.
“The whole idea is that we will have weapons system modules,” he said. If one day someone wants to train with Stinger they can, and another day they can with the M4. Stingers are man-portable air-defense systems.
The company plans to demonstrate a room-clearing scenario using the M4 trainer during the Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference in Orlando, Florida, he said.
The company plans to eventually expand to other weapons such as the M17 pistol, M249 and M240 machine guns and the M27 automatic rifle, he said.
Beilstein said he sees small arms trainers as a burgeoning market opportunity for the defense industry.
“If you look at M4 rifles or really any of the weapons systems that are in the Army’s [inventory], … a lot of those weapon systems are high density, which means there are a lot of soldiers carrying those things around,” he said. “There’s a big demand for training because ranges are finite, ammunition is finite, live training is finite. But if you could provide an ability to train more frequently then competency improves.”
Pratish Shah, CEO of Zen Technologies USA, said he sees a growing number of opportunities for U.S. military training with simulation and particularly for smalls arms.
Zen Technologies USA was established earlier this year, he noted. Its parent company, Zen Technologies, is based out of India and has been around for 25 years.
It has shipped more than a thousand simulators over that time to countries throughout South and Southeast Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, he said.
The company opened up its U.S. branch as a way to get after the market in the Western Hemisphere and to set up U.S. operations that can support the global business as well, Shah said.
“We’re focused on combat training, but our higher-level mission and our goal is to focus on combat readiness,” he said. “What we look for is how do we support improvement of combat readiness through our hardware, through our software, through our innovation, through our systems, … through things like data analytics and analysis and mathematical modeling and adaptive training.”
The company provides over 40 training devices to support live training and virtual training, he said. The U.S. office is able to connect back to India and access the company’s entire portfolio of capabilities including its intellectual property, software and hardware, he said.
“Needless to say, there will be some unique development work” on the U.S. side, he noted.
During the conference, Zen displayed a small arms trainer that was customized for U.S. military weapons such as the M4. However, the company is easily able to swap out other systems used by different countries, he noted.
“Whether it’s for the U.S. Army or whether it’s the Canadian Forces or any other global forces out there that needs an arms trainer or virtually any of our type of software, the technology is built in house so we have control over it and … [can] adapt it and customize it for each military’s needs,” he said.
Data from Zen’s small arms trainer feeds into the company’s adaptive training system which is powered by Paladin’s artificial intelligence data analytics capability, he noted. The system generates a combat readiness score, compares how a user performed against others and can gauge how that user would affect the overall performance of a squad, Shah said.
“Many in the industry feel adaptive training is … [the] future of training,” he said. Adaptive training “looks at your experience level, your performance compared to lots of other data and then puts it all together to then come up with recommendations … based on what you’ve done, how you perform and where you need to be.”
Rather than following the same checklist for every individual soldier, the training curriculum is adapted based on user needs, he added.
Another technology demonstrated at the show was an app developed by Double Shoot, an Israel-based startup, that was primarily designed to help streamline the zeroing process for rifles and pistols but can also help with marksmanship training, said Tal Tinichigiu-Abergil, co-founder of the company. Zeroing is the process of aligning the sights on a rifle with a weapon so a rifleman can accurately aim at a target.
The system works by utilizing an advanced image processing system through a smartphone application that allows users to quickly and efficiently zero high accuracy weapons as well as take advantage of the platform’s scoring system.
The app is compatible with all of the rifles employed by the Israeli Defense Forces such as the M4 and AR-15, Tinichigiu-Abergil noted. However, more weapons can easily be added, she said.
“Our system is very versatile and we can adjust to any sight and to any weapon that a customer would ask” for, she said. It takes two to four weeks for the company to upgrade the app for a new sight or weapon.
The app utilizes data-analytics and information is stored in the cloud for easy access, Tinichigiu-Abergil said.