Simulated Warfare Gets Real for Ground Troops

By Yasmin Tadjdeh
At a test range on the southern edge of Marine Corps Base Quantico, troops prepared for battle. Helicopters flew overhead, tanks roamed the field and the echoes of artillery fire could be heard. These threats, however, were simulated.

The Office of Naval Research organized exercise, which took place in early August, used augmented reality — a method of overlaying simulated images onto the real world, usually through goggles or a tablet — to create a comprehensive training environment. It represents a growing trend in the Army and Marine Corps as they look to shed some costs associated with expensive live exercises, experts said.

Using ONR’s augmented immersive team trainer (AITT) system, Marines enrolled in the infantry officer course at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, tested the system that comprises a laptop, software, battery pack and helmet-mounted display, said Peter Squire, a program officer with ONR’s expeditionary maneuver warfare and combating terrorism department and lead for the AITT program.

“Instead of just having their imagination to visualize what may be occurring there, they can now use simulation and actually see events and effects occurring on top of the real environment,” he said.

AITT is loaded with a variety of scenarios, and in this case, simulated live-fire training, he said. The system is part of ONR’s future naval capabilities science and technology program that identifies sailors’ or Marines’ capability gaps. AITT addresses a gap known as the “squad immersive training environment.”

During the demonstration, ONR researchers monitored the students for immediate feedback such as whether any of them became ill from motion sickness or if the brightness of the simulated images was at an appropriate level.

ONR also hosted another demonstration at Quantico in October. It was larger in scale than the previous exercise and included officials from the Army.

With both exercises considered successes, the AITT system will soon be handed off to the Marine Corps for additional research, development, testing and evaluation, Squire said.

While AITT is the only funded augmented reality effort at the office, Squire said there are plans for future research.

Augmented reality is “a priority for me,” he said. “Really in order for a Marine … to train, they need to go be out in the real environment, and in order to support that from simulation you need augmented reality.”

Atul Patel, director of advanced technology for Lockheed Martin’s training and logistics solutions division, a partner on the project, said it included “virtual tanks on a field that were being attacked by virtual aircraft with simulated weapons interactions and we were doing all this without having to spend the money to fly real aircraft [and] to address the weapons restrictions that may occur when you’re doing exercises like this.”

Augmented reality will play a large role in the future training of military forces, Patel said.

“There’s going to be a stronger application of AR … primarily when you start to look at how the dynamics are changing. We had a long period of fighting a war, which has challenged some of our financial elements within the Defense Department,” he said.

“We’re looking for a more affordable and effective way of training our forces. AR is one of the approaches that you can apply,” he added.

Through augmented reality, a user can create a training environment in an area that is not necessarily suited for a live engagement, he said. For example, Lockheed early on in its research and development created a virtual tank that could operate in one of its parking lots.

“That’s not something that would happen in a real environment, where you’ve got a tank that’s actually moving down our parking lot but … being able to demonstrate and showing it in an effective manner just shows how we can start applying AR to an environment that is appropriate for the warfighter,” he said.

While augmented reality has its advantages, live training is still necessary. “When you look at augmented reality, it is one of the arrows in our quiver,” Patel said. “It definitely is going to have a significant impact to training and how we deliver training, but we also have to remember that there is value associated with live training and that’s where we have to kind of balance the best of both worlds.”

Lockheed has looked to the commercial world for innovation in augmented reality technologies, Patel noted. The company wants to apply successes in systems, such as Google Glass, to its own customer base.

The Army is also making investments in augmented reality, said officials from the National Simulation Center at the U.S. Army Combined Arms Center in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
“Augmented reality is a game changer. It will revolutionize the way we train,” said Lt. Col. Jason Caldwell, chief of the National Simulation Center’s futures division. “Today we need separate simulations because there are things we just cannot do in a live environment, whether we’re constrained on resources like ammo or land” or if there are safety, availability and environmental constraints.

Additionally, augmented reality gives the military the option to train at a greatly reduced cost, he said. Every virtual round that is fired, or every virtual tank of gas that is burned is less expensive than the real-world version and the overall system is still as complex, he said.

The service is closely monitoring the work industry is doing in augmented reality, and Caldwell noted that many systems are coming to maturity. “It’s kind of on us to figure out how to take that and make it part of a synthetic training environment or a future virtual program or a future live program,” he said.

Caldwell stressed that while live training is the best possible kind, augmented reality is an affordable and realistic option.

“We do a lot of virtual and synthetic type training because it’s just not feasible to do live training” every time, he said. “Augmented reality is a live training enabler. It makes the live training environment better, more complex, more realistic.”

Augmented reality is even better than training with holograms, because augmented reality gives soldiers the options to train anywhere, he said.

With “technology like holograms, you need a medium to present that on, whether that’s smoke or fog or water vapor, you have to have an environmental change in order to present those types of images. So when we talk about controlling the environment, we’re really talking about putting something back indoors, so that’s not a live training environment.”

He called the augmented reality market a “boon industry,” and noted that the Army plans “to leverage a lot of that goodness” as commercial and entertainment companies further develop the technology.

The Army is also carefully watching the work that the other services are doing, he said. He noted that the Marine Corps is further ahead in the development of augmented reality technology than the Army with its augmented immersive team trainer.

On the Navy side, Caldwell said the sea service has begun firefighting training using the technology. “You can’t just set a ship on fire and train [in] that,” he said. “If I’m on board a ship … I can put on a set of goggles and visualize where the fire is.”

Lt. Col. Scott Gilman, capability manager for virtual and gaming simulations at U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, said the service is using Oculus Rift — a virtual reality goggle — to help with Stryker training.

Using a mock up version of the vehicle — made out of plywood, chairs and flat panel television screens — users can “pop out of the hatch” and see an entire simulated world through the goggles. The environment is created using the Army’s Virtual Battlespace 3 software.

“The ideal thing is they are working with the community, the Stryker community, to identify, ‘OK, what is the right mix of hands on interface and virtual interface?’” he said.

Bert Ges, director of Cubic’s warfighter effectiveness group, said his division is using commercial off-the-shelf technology for its augmented reality training offerings.

“We’re never going to be able to compete against the commercial world as far as developing the latest glasses for augmented reality — that’s why we use Google and Epson and there are other types of glasses out there — but the thing is making it suitable for military training,” he said.

Last year, during an army network integration evaluation, Cubic tested augmented reality systems that used Google Glass and goggles manufactured by Epson. “We equipped them on soldiers and we had them go to a location and they actually were able to see rounds being fired [and] the effects of the rounds,” he said.

Augmented reality gives military officials the option to rapidly change environments and keep soldiers on their toes, he added. Soldiers in such a training scenario may one day turn a corner and come upon a shepherd with a flock of sheep and the next day a Russian T-90 tank, he said.

While AR is useful for training purposes, it also has real world applications, Ges said. For example, a soldier might use Google Glass to help him positively identify a suspicious person. “We can get the latest imagery sent to us and we can look at the imagery through our augmented reality” device, he said.

Topics: Simulation Modeling Wargaming and Training

Comments (0)

Retype the CAPTCHA code from the image
Change the CAPTCHA codeSpeak the CAPTCHA code
Please enter the text displayed in the image.