New Video Game Could Speed Up Acquisition Timelines

By Yasmin Tadjdeh

ORLANDO, Fla. — By the time a piece of military equipment is fielded, it has already reached a point where it would be extremely costly to make soldier-recommended alterations. An Army-led initiative called synthetic prototyping hopes to collect that troop feedback earlier in the acquisition process in order to save time and money.

ESP is a synthetic game environment that lets soldiers evaluate emerging technology and provide feedback, said Lt. Col. Brian Vogt, a simulations operations officer at the Army Capabilities Integration Center.

It is important that the Army collects this critical soldier feedback at the start of an acquisition cycle in order to work in adjustments before it becomes too costly to make changes, he said Dec. 2 at the Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference.

“You don’t necessarily know the problem when you start. You have to evolve your understanding of the problem as you’re developing a solution,” he said. “By involving soldiers as the centerpiece of capability development, what happens is you are able to evolve the problem, your understanding of the problem and potential solutions for that problem. You’re also able to incorporate the natural creativity of soldiers into the solution as well.”

Too often soldiers are cut out of the acquisition process until the very end, he said. By the time a soldier gets a piece of equipment, there could be major problems that are expensive to fix.
“It’s like this trickle down effect. Soldiers are the last ones … to be involved in the process,” Vogt said. “Because soldiers aren’t always an integral part of the solution or the development, [the technology] may miss the mark.”

When a capability or need is discovered, engineers can create models of a piece of equipment, such as a vehicle, and put it into a game scenario. Soldiers can then go into a scenario “that address questions associated with that capability,” Vogt said. Participants then provide implicit and explicit feedback while playing.

“We can take their feedback and … put it back into the system,” Vogt said. “They say, ‘That’s a great vehicle. It needs to be able to do this. Or it should look like this. Or it needs to have a capability that does this.’”

That type of experimentation in the game can be done very quickly, he said. Game engineers can then modify the model within one to two weeks.

The game, which the Army is still producing, will be played by both on- and off-duty soldiers during their personal time. Convincing a soldier to play the ESP game over a popular one such as Call of

Duty is tough, Vogt said. However, an individual soldier knowing that his or her participation can influence a program is a powerful incentive, he noted.

If just one percent of the Army, including active duty, the Guard and the Reserve, played one hour per month of the game, the Army would collect 10,000 hours of game play for analysis.

Because the game can be played anywhere, it is cost effective. Further, the environment resonates with soldiers who grew up playing video games, Vogt said.

The Army Capabilities Integration Center in November tested the game with 32 soldiers at Fort Bliss, Texas. Afterwards, the Army was able to collect feedback and run an analyses, Vogt told National Defense. Next week, the group will test the game with 100 soldiers of varying ranks.

The game is slated for completion by July 2015, Vogt noted. It is anticipated that 5,000 soldiers will be able to play it at that time.

Topics: Simulation Modeling Wargaming and Training, Videogames

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