Army Expands Use of Cognitive Development Training Tools
A wave of new simulation technologies is helping Army personnel improve their cognitive skills so they can make better decisions faster during battles.
“We are taking a neuroscience approach to simulation exercises,” said Alison Rubin, executive vice president of business development at Conflict Kinetics. “We teach your mind to take an image in quicker; your body to align with your decisions quicker; and your central nervous system to react in the appropriate way.”
Conflict Kinetics focuses on short, intense, purpose-built drills. Through its synthetic marksmanship training program, it is able to replicate the physical and ocular challenges of combat, according to Rubin.
“By putting all these components together, we concentrate on achieving better situational awareness and better decision making,” she added.
Conflict Kinetics, which focuses on virtual small arms training, was one of several vendors who took part in the Capitol Hill Modeling and Simulation Exposition, sponsored by the National Training and Simulation Association.
The company has gunfighter gyms located in the greater Washington, D.C., area and Virginia Beach, Virginia. The walls are lined with three 8-by-12-foot screens with targets flying down at the shooter from all angles. Training goals range from identifying biases when targeting enemy fighters and improving reaction time for shooters of all levels.
“When you’re in a threat situation you’ve got to be trained for much more than just weapon shooting,” she said. “We teach in a chaotic situation to help [soldiers] make better decisions out in the field.”
By teaching soldiers and commanders how to deal with stress and calmly approach high-risk situations, Rubin said both groups will be better equipped with the thought processes necessary to decide whether to use lethal force while in the field or while making leadership decisions from a base.
“Our program has an incredible return on investment — the metrics prove it. We reduce all expenses associated with live fire training while still providing real world effects and scenarios,” Rubin said.
Soldiers trained by the company have shown up to 300 percent improvements in peripheral target acquisition after a single session, according to Rubin.
Modeling and simulation training systems like Conflict Kinetics’ SMT collect metric evaluations to track decision-making to be extracted by users for individual analysis.
“Our metric evaluation is extremely rich,” Rubin said. “We track about 70 data points per movement at any given time during the exercises, allowing us to include biometrics in our system as well.”
Time and budget constraints remain an important concern for military officials. Virtual training simulations like the ones provided by Conflict Kinetics allow the military to train its soldiers and commanders at a quicker rate without the live-fire costs, she added.
VT MÄK, which also offers tools for simulation, training and visualization, is offering video-game style training programs, where soldiers and staff members are able to use controllers — like wheels, joysticks and model guns — to perform tasks onscreen. Customers can make use of the platform to model various areas of expertise, such as playing the role of squad leader, training drivers and flight simulations.
“If customers have 3D models they want to use instead of ours, they can go ahead and plug their own data into the system,” said Daniel Williams, business development executive of VT MÄK. “It can be set up for use with the Oculus but it can also be a virtual game played with a joy stick — there’s room for customization.”
The company’s command staff training combines user-friendly features with the capabilities of large-scale threat situations, helping trainees make stronger battlefield decisions. Operations can be conducted at all levels — from the squad leader to the brigade commander — and gives officers the opportunity to experience the subsequent effects of their decisions on troops in the warzone.
“You can simulate and work out a decision to a specific situation by saying ‘OK, how do I react and what do my forces need to do in response to my decision?’” Williams said. “The goal is to decide how to best respond and plan better for any given scenario. You have to ask, ‘Where should I have my forces deployed so if something like this happens [in real life] we can be in the right places at the right times?’”
VT MÄK’s focus is now shifting toward unmanned aerial vehicle training.
“We’re working with Boeing and exploring what the logistics and training involved are for managing a UAV system and simulating that experience realistically,” Williams said. “Flight simulators can be multimillion dollar ventures, so we’re creating specialized hardware to use with something like the Oculus to recreate that experience.”
Williams said the company aims to reduce time in flight simulators to help military branches save both time and money. He sees virtual flight simulation training as a beneficial augmentation to the actual thing, at least until trainees can graduate to being in a real aircraft or tank.
“We have seen an upswing in the last few years where more and more troops are coming home with a discussion on how prepared they were,” Williams said. “If we can save money by putting someone in a virtual situation instead of in the field, let’s do it.”
But money isn’t the only reason officials are moving toward a virtual training environment. As cyber threats continue to increase in risk and probability, the need for experienced info-tech personnel has also risen.
Ingenia Services, a modeling and simulations training company providing engineering and management services to the Department of Defense, developed a tool that allows it to simulate various cyber attack effects in a secure manner.
“Conducting an actual cyber attack as a training exercise can potentially damage the software,” said Derek Bryan, senior experimentation analyst at Ingenia. “By carrying out an attack simulation, we can do it in a secure manner and reverse the effects in seconds, whereas in real attacks you may never know where the malware actually ends up.”
Ingenia’s system allows operators to experience the conditions under a realistic cyber attack and come up with ways to work around it. Trainees using the program have to find alternative solutions to complete the mission, even with communication and visual services disrupted. The metrics gleened by Ingenia allow officials to see how well personnel performed with and without a cyber disruption.
“What we’re aiming to teach is alternative ways to continue a mission even when certain aspects are compromised,” Bryan said. “Whether operators need to change communication paths, switch to voice communication or another alternative form, we are all about giving them an arm to experience what a cyber degraded atmosphere is like.”
The Army is also adapting its cyber training programs to teach personnel how to leverage existing cyber components in the field to their advantage by hacking onsite technology.
“We’re looking at how a team on the ground could leverage cyber forces if they had them at their disposal,” said Lt. Col. Brett Lindberg, a research scientist at the Army Cyber Institute. “We want to explore how to hook cyber forces alongside traditional Army maneuver forces on the ground.” For example, using an existing traffic camera to get a picture of a situation on the ground, or hacking into street lamps to turn lights off.
The demo created by Lindberg’s team is in its research stage. He predicted that five or 10 years from now, cyber forces will be serving on the ground — alongside the infantry.
“The military is trying to keep up with technology and training a new generation of soldiers who are used to having screens around them all the time,” Lindberg said. “We’re not doing this to train anybody specific right now, but we’re trying to look at when this becomes a need and how we will train a cyber active force into traditional Army kinetic operations.”
The fear of another “black swan” event — an extremely difficult to predict situation — post 9/11 has pushed the military further in its attempt to be as prepared as possible. By leveraging modeling and simulation environments, Lindberg said “we will have the organizational and mental capacity” to deal with the unknown. The only way to be able to act against unpredicted events is if the military has the internal ability to react to them, he added.
The defense and modeling simulation and coordination office, housed under the Department of Defense, has begun to codify data farming — using a high performance computer to run a simulation thousands of times — to analyze possible outliers, or anomalies, within a given situation, said Gary Horne, a participant in NATO MSG-124, a cyber defense group contributing to the development of improved decision support to NATO forces.
By more fully understanding the landscape of possibilities, the hope is that the findings will allow decision makers to reduce surprise, he added.
“In the past we would throw out the outlier information because a simulation could only be performed once or twice,” said Horne. “With the technology now available, we can run scenarios thousands of times and we realized that the stuff we used to throw out can be really useful in determining the occurrence of a black swan.”
Horne’s group uses data farming to collect information on possible situational outcomes, but also on weapon systems like the Gunslinger — an automatic response firing weapon. The group observed six different characteristics of the system to determine what aspect of the weapon system the military should invest money in.
“We used a scenario and manipulated all six different characteristics separately,” Horne said. “What we found was that survivability was the most important thing about the weapon. Without that, those in the vehicle are put at risk.”
The team continues to use data farming to manipulate all possibilities of a catastrophic cyber event. Horne is hopeful that the process will help prepare cyber forces with the ability to be better equipped when faced with a cyber attack.
“Data farming as a methodology is very, very useful. After 9/11, everyone thought it was obvious that the terrorists would fly an airplane into a building — but nobody expected it. Data farming helps us reduce the amount of time we have to work from hindsight,” he said.
Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., in a speech at the exposition, said: “We can no longer afford to do the testing we need without modeling and simulation. We cannot train our warfighters and other individuals without a high risk training process — and we can’t do that without the modeling and simulation piece.”