Oct 23 2020

Army Invests in Virtual Training Tools for Soldiers

Virtual and augmented reality solutions have helped the Army keep troops trained up during the pandemic.

The Army, like other elements of the armed forces and the wider federal government, has had to maintain its focus on its mission during the coronavirus pandemic while adhering to safety guidelines. Normally, groups of soldiers would gather together for training, but the need for social distancing has hampered that.

The Army has invested in virtual and augmented reality technologies to help soldiers keep training amid the pandemic. The tools have enabled soldiers to maintain communication and learn from each other despite being separated by physical distance.

Maj. Gen. Maria Gervais, cross-functional team director for the synthetic training environment at Army Futures Command, said in late September that the pandemic has underscored the importance of virtual training technology, National Defense magazine reports.

The synthetic training environment, or STE, brings together live, virtual and constructive training and gaming environments to support operational, institutional and self-development training domains.

“Because of COVID-19 and what we’ve had to experience over the past three to four months, we have understood now the power of distributed learning, training and connection; and also the power of what the synthetic training environment can deliver to our Army,” Gervais said at the National Training and Simulation Association’s Training and Simulation Industry Symposium, the magazine reports.

 Army Training Gets Modernized with Virtual Reality 

The STE has been using gaming technology, including “playing games to get through some of their training capability to synchronize some of their efforts,” Gervais said.

“We’ve also seen more use of the virtual capability to help units train, to help them continue preparations,” she added.

The Army is conducting a study to help update its requirements for the synthetic training environment, according to National Defense magazine.

“We definitely need help from our industry partners in this area because it is time to change a 1970s technology that has evolved over time,” Gervais said. “It will no longer meet our needs and we’re looking for a revolutionized training capability for our live training environment.”

A synthetic training environment can help the Army better train soldiers remotely for combined arms training. “We can’t effectively replicate the operational environment for the future” without new technologies, Gervais said. “Creating a synthetic training environment in which a unit may train will give back to the leaders some of the time they have spent in planning, preparing, executing and assessing training.”

LEARN MORE: How is the Air Force using virtual training tools?

Augmented Reality Provides Army with Flexibility in Training

Meanwhile, the Army has been exploring the use of AR tools to enhance training as well.

“How do we do collective training when we have to maintain disbursement for safety? It’s the same problem we have with our technical operations commands. How do we make a collective decision, do collective brainstorming, have a collective understanding of a situation,” said Cynthia Bedell, the director for the U.S. Army Research Laboratory’s Computational & Information Sciences Directorate, in a presentation during the Association of the United States Army’s virtual annual conference on Oct. 13, according to FCW.

AR-based tools, which overlay digital data onto a view of the real world, help with virtual training. They also allow the Army to maximize the benefits of in-person training because they enable “crew training on simulated systems but from your own room” Bedell said. For example, she said, each user in a virtual vehicle can see his or her orientation from their perspective in the vehicle.

“We could be trained up as high as we can be trained in a simulated environment before we go to the hard stand before we’re out at the [National Training Center], so the time spent at the NTC is not doing the little things, it’s doing the big things that matter that you can only do when you’re actually on the real equipment,” Bedell said at the conference, FCW reports.

“You do the training, you operate together, you understand each other’s commands, thoughts, signals and you learn to be a team so when you do eventually … come together and work on the equipment you have much less time you have to spend just getting to know each other.”

The AR tools can also be tailored for how each soldier learns, with digital graphs for visual learners or audio for those who learn better by listening to instruction.

So far, Bedell has tested with special operators “because they don’t get all upset when something’s not perfect.” However, AR-based tools could become more standardized throughout Army training.

“We’ve got work to do, but it holds tremendous potential and it actually has helped with some brainstorming sessions and course of action development while we’ve been COVID separated,” she said.

U.S. Army