Soldiers don the Capability Set 3 militarized form factor prototype of the Army’s Integrated Visual Augmentation System and wield a Squad immersive Virtual Trainer during a training environment test event at its third Soldier Touchpoint at Fort Pickett, Va. 

Jan 12 2021

The Army Uses AR to Make Training More Dynamic

By using augmented reality heads-up display technology, the Army enables soldiers to learn skills at an accelerated pace.

For years, Army soldiers have trained at mission training complexes in live environments using simulations that today seem a little old-school. They would gather into rooms with large video screens, be tethered to training equipment and would shoot at the screen, like a giant game of Duck Hunt. That is starting to change in a major way, thanks to the Army’s Synthetic Training Environment Cross Functional Team (STE CFT).

The STE CFT is working to rapidly test and expand the use of virtual training and simulation technologies and then get them deployed at the battalion and company level, National Defense magazine notes.

STE CFT is aligned under the Army Futures Command (AFC) and is using augmented reality headsets to train soldiers in a more agile way. The heads-up display devices that are being used in the STE program are known as Integrated Visual Augmentation Systems, or IVAS, which is being developed by Project Manager IVAS, Soldier Lethality CFT, and Army enterprise and industry partners as a part of a larger modernization effort.

In November 2018, the Army struck a deal with Microsoft to use a modified version of its HoloLens AR headset for training. Since then, the Army has significantly modified the hardware and software of the device, in partnership with Microsoft, to create the IVAS platform to meet the Army’s unique training needs. IVAS is a crucial tool for the Synthetic Training Environment.

“We are trying to take a live environment where you have live individuals that do force-on-force, so think laser tag,” Maj. Gen. Maria Gervais, director of the STE CFT with AFC tells FedTech. “Then there’s also force-on-target, so think about being able to engage targets in a live environment, and then also converge that with a virtual environment.”

How Mixed Reality Training Helps Army Soldiers

Using the IVAS platform, soldiers no longer need to go to a mission training complex to get training and learn to do common tasks, says Lt. Col. Carlos J. Kavetsky, capability developer at STE CFT. “Now, he does that at the point of need with the actual equipment he uses to fight with,” he says. “He gets to do that, augment the actual environment with holograms that are intelligent, that will react to what the soldier is doing, seek cover, fight back and engage and interact with the soldier in that simulation.”

The Army has been iterating on the IVAS platform in design sprint cycles with a wide range of Army components, including Program Executive Office Soldier, the SL CFT and STE CFT, with soldier input at each decision point.

The IVAS platform has a body-borne compute pack, conformal wearable battery, squad radio and integrated thermal and low-light sensors that provide the close combat force a single platform on which to fight, rehearse and train.

Additionally, IVAS integrates next-generation, 24/7 situational awareness tools and high-resolution simulations to deliver a single platform that improves soldier sensing, decision-making, target acquisition and target engagement. All of those capabilities make it easier to train soldiers in an agile and dynamic way.

“It really captures the effects of actual combat,” says Staff Sgt. Travis Hodge of the Army’s 10th Mountain Division, based at Fort Drum, N.Y. “I can take soldiers from any formation and get them up to speed with what the squad’s good at.”

The technology also allows soldiers to review training simulations after the fact. “You can see it, play back in third-person,” says Sgt. Loren Collins of the 10th Mountain Division. “When you get to walk through in real time, looking down on the virtual projection of what happened, you get to see things that maybe you didn’t see while you’re on the ground as a leader.”

Collins adds that the training platform enables soldiers to interact with “a dynamic, intelligent opponent that will give you feedback and will actually engage you. It definitely adds another dimension of realism.”

In November, the Army finished its third of four major testing and demonstration events of IVAS at Fort Pickett, Va., with participants from the 82nd Airborne Division and a contingent of Marines taking part in company-size training events using the first militarized prototype of the IVAS. “Events included land navigation, live fire, mission planning, rapid target acquisition, trench clearing, after action review using augmented reality, and more,” the Army says in a blog post.

The Future of Modern Training Tools in the Army

The Synthetic Training Environment started most of its efforts in 2018, Gervais says. “We’re starting with our concept and our requirement, and then we’re taking that and doing rapid prototyping and experimentation,” she says. “We’re putting it in the hands of soldiers early and often.”

The IVAS effort has progressed significantly since 2018. By the end of fiscal year 2021 at the end of September, the Army aims to deploy 40,000 IVAS units to soldiers, as Task and Purpose reports.

The STE CFT has the infrastructure it needs to make sure the training it conducts is a success, Gervais says. However, she adds, “it just needs to be upgraded.”

“We’re looking at upgrading the routers and switches so that it can increase the pipes coming in, because some of the things we have to do with the STE just require some increased bandwidth,” Gervais says.

Additionally, the STE CFT is looking into how it can leverage 5G wireless networks, Gervais says, “because in a live environment with the instantaneous information flow that has to go back and forth … that’s a lot of information.” The team is also looking at how to use cloud services more to process information and support artificial intelligence and machine learning applications that it wants to use, Gervais adds.

Kavetsky says he has used the IVAS platform many times and it represents a significant change in how the Army trains soldiers. “Knowing how I used to train when I was a platoon leader with my soldiers and how trainees can train now with this equipment, it’s just a game changer,” he says.

MORE FROM FEDTECH: Find out how the Air Force is using virtual reality for training.

Courtney Bacon/U.S. Army Photo