Army Using Simulators for ‘Soldier Centric’ Technology Development

By Stew Magnuson
An Army researcher uses a simulator to teach a soldier how to use the experimental Advanced Targeting and Lethality Aided System.

Army Combat Capabilities Development Command C5ISR Center

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. — On a coastal plain at the Army’s East Coast test and evaluation center, researchers at the Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s C5ISR Center spent the summer and fall developing upgrades to boost the lethality of tanks and other fighting vehicles.

The ATLAS, or Advanced Targeting and Lethality Aided System, program wants to automate target acquisition to make fighting vehicle crews faster and more lethal on the battlefield.

But behind two massive testbeds with their cannons fixed downrange on a variety of cutout targets, stood a small tent housing two booths, both of them resembling simulators that have been used in the military to train war­fighters to operate weapon systems.

About 50 soldiers have cycled through the tent over the past few months — not to learn how to drive a tank or find, fix and finish targets — they already knew how to do that — but to try out the new targeting system and provide immediate feedback to researchers as they develop the technology.

“We can’t have five, six, seven-year programs where at the conclusion of the effort you haven’t hit the targets that we’re trying to try to hit.

There’s a concerted effort … to do more prototyping, but not just at the final system level,” said Richard Nabors, acting principal deputy for systems and modeling and simulation and associate director for strategic planning at the C5ISR Center.

He called the idea “soldier centric” development.

Christopher May, deputy director of the modeling and simulation division at the C5ISR Center, said the simulators are a digital representation of the new fire control system the Army is looking to possibly integrate in present or future fighting vehicles.

The booths were cobbled together from various off-the-shelf simulator components. The grips the soldiers use to control the turret and weapons are 3D printed, which allows for rapid changes if operators want to test the system on different platforms.

“It does give us the ability to swap that out if we wanted to see how the soldier would interact with a different set of hand grips,” May said.

The simulators collect data on whether the new systems are indeed performing as desired. Unlike the real vehicles outside the tent, developers can add “false alarms” and a wider variety of targets to see how soldiers react.

ATLAS’ goal is to automate the process of finding and fixing targets, while lessening the cognitive load placed on crews.

Searching for targets today has changed little over the past 40 years, researchers noted. Once the soldier spots a target, he must then manually select the appropriate ammunition, carry out range finding before pulling the trigger, then repeat the process for each target.

ATLAS is using upgraded sensors, machine learning and touchscreens to rapidly improve targeting times. The sensors scan the area for vehicles and foot soldiers and can place four or five potential targets on the screen for the crewmember to choose from. After picking a possible target, the touchscreen lists the types of ammunition that might be appropriate.

It’s still up to the soldier to decide whether or not to pull the trigger, developers said.

A secondary goal of the program is to shorten technology development timelines using the simulators.

After the soldiers do several reps on the simulators, Army psychologists debrief them to find out what they liked and didn’t like about the system and garner their feedback for possible improvements.

They ask: “What are your general impressions of the system? How do you see this impacting the way that you currently do your operations?

And then what changes would you make to the system based off of your use of it?” May said.

Nabors said using simulators to speed up development and gain user feedback earlier in the process is an idea bound to spread in the Army.

“We don’t know how a soldier might use the tech until we put it in front of them. And historically, we only do that when something is over.

We need to get things to them much earlier in the process,” Nabors said.

Topics: Training and Simulation

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