'Gamified' Military Training Offers Familiar Tools for Millennial Recruits

By Vivienne Machi
Boeing's Advanced Deployable Accelerated Personalized Training program (ADAPT) uses advanced technologies and game-like controllers to enable virtual training for service members.

Photo: Boeing

Orlando, Fla. — The latest and greatest developments in gaming technology could boost the U.S. military’s ability to engage and train its newest, digital-savvy recruits, at a faster pace and a lower cost than traditional live training, industry representatives said Nov. 29. 

Companies including the Boeing Co., Cubic Global Defense and Raytheon displayed the newest advancements in virtual and augmented reality simulations at National Training and Simulation Association’s annual Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference. 

The high-fidelity, immersive training simulations more closely resemble a Call of Duty video game than an educational tool, paired with Xbox 360 controllers and compatible on smartphones and tablets. These advanced technologies allow trainees born in the millennial generation to train more quickly on familiar devices, said Tom Nugent, senior director of neurotechnology, new media and training solutions at Intific, a subsidiary under Cubic Global Defense.

The military is moving away from the “traditional 500-page PDF manual” to train its soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, he said.

“Millennials don’t have time to read that; they don’t want to read that,” he said, adding that they typically prefer to access information digitally. “All of our training capabilities are moving in that direction.”

The services are taking note of how their newest recruits take in information. Rear Adm. Michael White, commander of the Naval Education and Training Command, said in a Navy panel Nov. 30 that new sailors are “managing information that they want to be useful,” multi-tasking over diverse devices. 

“As I look at this mobile generation … the training needs to be engaging,” he said, noting that the push toward live, virtual, constructive technology is a step in that direction. 

New training also needs to provide reference points that allow trainees to quickly recall what they’ve learned, rather than attempt to remember what was said in a notebook or in a PowerPoint presentation in a schoolhouse, he said.

Delivery of the information is also key, White noted. “It has got to be delivered in a way … that we can quickly turn and match to systems that we see in the ship.” 

Millennial recruitment and engagement are recurring problems being voiced across the services, he noted. Training systems that employ cloud-based technologies, such as Cubic’s game-based littoral combat ship courseware — called the Immersive Combat Ship Environment — or augmented/virtual reality can boost trainee interest and increase information retention while saving money, he said.

“We all have a little bit of [attention deficit disorder] nowadays, so if I can keep your attention on something for an hour, that’s a huge win for us,” he said.

Raytheon displayed its new Army training program — called the multi-player scenario — at the conference. Developed over the past two years, it employs augmented reality headsets, like the Microsoft Hololens, and game controllers to train recruits how to perform tasks, such as fixing a flat tire in the middle of the desert.

Many of the program’s engineers are in their mid-to-late 20s, and these are the technologies they’re interested in working with, said Roy Portillo, a software engineer at Raytheon. 

“Since most of us are relatively young, this is what we were into,” he said. “Of course the soldiers are young, so they like it. When they come back from being out in the field, they’re going to be ... playing a PlayStation.”

The program has been fielded at school houses at Fort Sill Army Base in Oklahoma, Portillo said. 

It’s not just the military that is trying to attract the newest college graduates. Boeing is using its own recruitment experiences to inform its development of military training solutions, said Tim Noonan, vice president of training systems and government services. 

“We hire thousands and thousands of college graduates every year, and we’re adapting the way that we onboard those employees to the company,” pulling some of those ideas into the company’s services, he said. The company’s new advanced deployable accelerated personalized training (ADAPT) system is one such program, he said. It uses augmented and virtual reality headsets and game controllers, and can be linked up to a virtual P-8 Poseidon maritime aircraft maintenance training system to enhance the learning experience. 

“That does start to get at the promise of how do we bring tools and engage and gamify training in a new way,” he said.

Nugent said that Intific and Cubic employs former game designers, and works to recruit high-level developers who want to use their skills to benefit the military.

“It’s exciting to them, because they immediately see the payoff,” he said.

Still, simulations cannot completely replace the benefits of having real tools in hand, White noted in the panel.  “If we’re going to train someone to maintain the jet engine or a diesel or something like that, I’ve got to give them those hands-on skills first,” he said.

Topics: Training and Simulation

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