From gaming to the battlefield: the benefits of virtual reality in military training

Today’s technology allows gamers to wage battles against players around the world through immersive, cross-platform play. Beyond entertainment, this type of cross-platform, virtual technology could revolutionize the way the U.S. Army trains.

Limitations of Today’s Training Simulators
The U.S. Army already uses thousands of virtual training devices. The downside to these simulators is that they require large facilities and large, boxy hardware. The modern battlefield is complex and calls for simulating human interaction and other nuances not included in current simulations.

To train for a European tank battle, the Army’s current simulators are fine until a soldier has to dismount the tank and speak with someone. Human interaction is critical on today’s battlefield as is understanding the psychological stress that these more personal interactions bring. How can the Army immerse a team of soldiers into a training environment that simulates and stimulates all senses, offers realistic training and develops resilience, all in a more accessible manner? Enter the Synthetic Training Environment (STE).

The Power of Synthetic Training Environments
Commercial virtual and gaming technology is of great interest to the U.S. military. By connecting soldiers through virtual reality, commercial tech offers the Army’s STE a plug-and-play solution that ideally is small enough to fit in a suitcase. STE can be powered by a virtual reality interface and a laptop — cloud enabled and accessible where it’s needed, as opposed to a huge room of screens, sensors, and projectors. STE can be set up nearly anywhere, at any time, giving commanders the flexibility to train more soldiers more quickly and in more mission scenarios with hands-on, immersive simulation training. The great promise of STE is its ability to bring advanced training to the unit as opposed to always taking the unit to a training site. The latter, while effective for some training, is less efficient and costlier.

Another major benefit of STE is that software and commercial hardware can be easily updated to ensure the Army is training on the latest technology, and is tailored to the actual gear and weapons currently in use. STE technology also allows proprietary systems used in training to communicate with each other, which to date, has only been possible in traditional “room-sized” simulators with teams of contractor support and weeks of preparation. STE can train for air, land, sea, space, and cyber using virtual and constructive environments that can be mixed with live training exercises where value warrants – opening the door for even more realistic environments.

The Future of Virtual Reality is Now
Today the Army is defining its future and needs next generation technology to meet a dangerous and changing threat environment. Augmented reality, virtual reality, spatial reality, cloud computing, and artificial intelligence provide great potential, but bringing these promising technologies together in an integrated capability for training is not easy. By adapting commercial technologies, adding the human dimension to training events, and being able to easily change software and hardware, U.S. forces will be ready to fight tonight with the greatest battlefield advantage. The immersive training future is here and the time to act is now.