Army Leaning on New Crop of Soldier System Simulators

By Taylor Feuss
As limited budgets and time constraints make live training more difficult, the Army must continue to rely on simulators to prepare soldiers for combat, industry and government representatives said at a recent exposition on Capitol Hill.

Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., said simulators help train warfighters in a way that saves money, time and lives. “It makes sense. It does save lives. It’s a step into the future,” he said at the Capitol Hill Modeling and Simulation Exposition sponsored by the National Training and Simulation Association.

Vendors and military program managers lined up at the event to show their latest wares.

Modeling and simulation has “underpinned” Army training, experimentation, analysis and operations for more than three decades, according to a statement by the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command. Its Athena Simulation, a laptop-based decision support system, is TRADOC’s latest contribution to the field.

The Army uses Athena to better understand how different social, economic and political situations can affect an area over time, said Matt Reynolds, senior analyst at TRADOC’s data science, models and simulations operational environment lab.

By evaluating all political, military, economic, social, infrastructure and time variables, Athena provides decision makers with potential outcomes for their anticipated courses of action, allowing them to make better informed operational decisions, he said.

“[You] say, ‘okay, here we are’ and you want to do X, Y and Z in a given area … What comes out of it is trend lines. It will show influence of a given actor, of a different force group that’s in an area over time. It will show control that that actor has in a given area. It will show the mood of the population … It will go from day one to three years out and you can watch the political control, influence [and] security change in each neighborhood over time,” Reynolds said.

Greg Mueller, a TRADOC spokesperson, said the trend lines Athena produces “indicate changes in non-combatant populations’ satisfaction levels or mood, levels of volatility and/or stability in an area, and the relationships between actors and civilian groups and/or force groups.”

The software was previously deployed in Jordan in 2013 to assist Central Command Forward in understanding the Syrian refugee crisis. Combined Joint Task Force - Operation Inherent Resolve and its support staff in Kuwait now uses it to aid in the fight against ISIS, Reynolds said. 

For soldiers in the field, Georgia Tech Research Institute’s Augmented Reality Reconnaissance Operation Warfighters (ARROW) allows soldiers to practice specific ground operations in a 3D environment, said Ron Smith, senior research scientist at GTRI’s information and communications laboratory.

ARROW, a simulated application available on computers, iPads and iPhones, can replicate existing environments or create imaged ones to train soldiers on how to inspect and patrol operational areas, such as a village, he said.

“Seeing the 3D version helps you get a better perspective for what you’re going to encounter [in the field],” Smith said.

Trainees can learn how to inspect vehicles for potential threats such as bombs. Moving forward, the institute hopes to improve the application to give soldiers the ability to analyze vehicles even closer down to their wiring through detailed 3D visuals, Smith said.

The institute also plans to have the application’s next phase include hands free, hologram views in which users can make the images as detailed as they want, allowing for the most up close, detailed training experience, he said.

Similarly, Science Applications International Corp. provides “Training on Demand,” software which allows soldiers to practice decision making, operational strategies and target shooting in a virtual live fire environment using 3D video game technology, said John Fairchild, SAIC’s game design department manager for the training and simulation service line.

 “Modeling and simulation has revolutionized how we train and [how we] save money on training by bringing people into centers. We want to take that one step further. We want to re-define ingenuity and actually push the training to them on devices they already own,” Fairchild said. “We don’t have to reinvent the wheel … We stand on the shoulders of [the] multibillion dollar … commercial gaming industry and we repurposed that for modeling, simulation, training, education, experimentation, you name it.”

Using cloud-based technology, the simulator is available on mobile devices such as smartphones, laptops and iPads, permitting training to take place anywhere and at any time. Progress stored on the cloud can be made available to the instructor before soldiers come in for formal training. “So day one isn’t square one; the trainer already knows where they’re proficient and where they might need more remediation,” Fairchild said.

Other simulation programs, like those of CSE Software and Simformation, can train soldiers on how to operate more specific machines when in the field. CSE offers two custom simulation software programs, one that imitates medical devices and another that teaches heavy equipment operations, said Casey Messenger, CSE Healthcare’s new business developer.

On the healthcare side, CSE offers simulation applications that teach soldiers how to properly use medical devices and administer medications through an interactive application available on any mobile device that can be used in any place and at any time, even without Wi-Fi, she said.

“We can pretty much simulate anything. We don’t have to have the Wi-Fi or anything, we just need to have a device,” Messenger said. Once the application is downloaded, “they will be able to do their training, education and competencies on an app that mimics a [medical] device, so they can do all their training online.”

For example, the Smart Pump App One trains medics on how to administer the anti-blood clotting medication heparin through a smart pump in the interactive app. The application takes the user through different operational scenarios in which he must correctly administer the medication. The user’s results can be saved for trainer viewing, according to a statement from CSE Software’s Health Scholars.

CSE’s CAT Simulators offers large equipment training, teaching users how to operate heavy machinery, such as bulldozers, hydraulic excavators, and tactical and support vehicles, without having to be on the actual machine, said Nate Hurn, government account manager for the company. 

The software gives soldiers the skills to operate equipment in a safer environment and at a lower cost, Hurn said.  The simulator, which is displayed on monitors, includes adjustable machine seats and actual controls for an authentic experience, according to CAT Simulators’ product guide.

“You’re saving your money. You’re mitigating the risk factor of something happening … [such as] flipping a bulldozer over and killing a soldier,” he said. “These guys are getting up on the machines and training on them so they continue to stay proficient [for] when they actually go out to the field and actually use the machines.”

CSE Cat Simulators are currently used at Fort Leonard Wood Army Base, Missouri, to train soldiers how to safely operate large machines, Hurn said.

To help improve soldiers’ sensory performance, MJ Impulse offers Black Box technology, a device in the form of glasses that is used for sensory distraction training, according to company information. 

Using a strobe light effect, the dual sensory device creates visual and auditory distractions that disorient the user and lead to a decline in performance, MJ Impulse stated.

Over repeated use, the soldier learns to compensate neurologically for the sensory deprivation and their senses become heightened, causing them to operate more proficiently under the extreme stress of future combat situations, MJ Impulse stated.

“It’s literally like weight training for the visual and auditory processing systems,” said a MJ Impulse spokesperson. “It has a shocking type of effect … So you can train your warfighters that under any circumstance there would be nothing that would overwhelm their senses, especially the eyes.”

The training device improves hand-eye coordination, read and react skills, speed and span of recognition and other fundamental sensory processing skills. It can be used at any time of day, in any level of outside light, in open and closed quarter environments and in all weather conditions, MJ Impulse stated.

Standard use of the Black Box sensory training device involves five to 10 minute sessions, taking place at least three times a week, with visible sensory improvements expected by the third week, the spokesperson said.

Other simulators, such as Wegmann USA Inc.’s Turret Trainer, can be used more broadly by the Army and Marine Corps. The software offers individual training with precise weapon systems, team work training, emergency procedures, weapon and vehicle malfunctions, and more, according to a statement by Wegmann USA Inc.

Users are trained in large 3D environments that spread across vast cultural and ethnic regions, offering detailed simulations of various terrains, weather conditions and traffic patterns, according to the statement.

The software allows instructors to observe, record and playback the simulations to better score trainee progress, said Olen Atkins, director of operations at Wegmann’s Training and Simulation division.

“The concept there is saving gas, saving bullets. It’s a safer environment and it’s easier to score because we know exactly everything that’s going on because we’re controlling the simulation so we can score every single aspect,” he said.

Topics: Science and Engineering Technology, Simulation Modeling Wargaming and Training

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