Monday, December 12, 2011

Combat Readiness- Digital Direction

David Walsh
Bethesda, Md.
Neelam Mathews
New Delhi

Simulators enhance training without risk
Play Hard, Fight Smart

Militaries are redoubling efforts to improve the realism of training, while reducing the potential for injury or death to trainees, and cutting costs. An important way of doing this is by using commercial gaming technology in advanced multiplayer (MP) mission-simulation systems. The result is simulators with high data fidelity that give personnel—whether recruits or seasoned operators—exposure to realistic battle scenarios.

The axiom that soldiers should train as they fight and fight as they train is becoming as true in virtual reality as in real life.

Leslie Dubow, project director of the U.S. Army’s Program Executive Office for Simulation, Training and Instrumention (STRI), says intense interactive training has value. “Multiplayer games are inexpensive enough to train every soldier in the Army,” she remarks. “Simulations enable experiential opportunities to rehearse a multitude of missions many times. They can be used to prepare for a deployment or live exercise.”

MP games allow users to devise scenarios, content and terrain. Middleware tools plug in to, say, a first-person shooter (FPS) scenario via an Army Performance Improvement modality. “The Army has added call-for-fire features to the flagship FPS video game genre, to VBS2, the latest edition of the Virtual Battlespace simulation technology developed by the U.S. military, and is integrating its T3 Tactical Combat Casualty Care game into VBS2 to include medic and combat lifesaver capability,” says Dubow.
Simulator exposes Iowa National Guard soldiers to an IED explosion during training at Camp Shelby, Miss.Credit: U.S. ARMY CONCEPT
STRI, 18th Airborne Corps and the Joint and Coalition Warfare Center provide equipment and VBS2 to units deploying to Southwest Asia, along with software and terrain models.

Multiplaying, Dubow says, is an improvement over older modeling and simulation tools, in its incorporation of user-development tools, runtime editors and realistic scenarios.

Given that budget restrictions mandate a “use up before replacing” approach, she explains, “We connect with legacy simulations and simulators and operational mission command systems though high-level architecture, distributed interactive simulation and the application programming interface.”

The Army accepts that commercial gaming technology is leading-edge, so “our strategy is to take advantage of that and acquire ours from the market,” Dubow says. “We use a PC mouse as a game controller, but better and cheaper controllers or haptic (touch-sensitive) control devices have been requested by soldiers.”

One popular resource, she says, is the MilGaming portal on the Army’s Knowledge Online system. It’s a “web-based multilayer site for distributing games and mobile apps, and for sharing content, tech support, forums and blogs. Some 19,000 personnel signed up from the services. “We have more than 52 gigabytes of user-developed game content and over 22,000 downloads of games and materials.”

And she adds, “Every week at the Training Brain Operations Center—part of Training and Doctrine Command—participants take actual missions conducted in a theater of operations and develop scenarios and videos of the events using VBS2. This allows follow-on units to take a virtual ride with the deployed unit and practice their reactions to an event.”

As MP training evolves, the user base grows. “We have linked over 100 participants in the same environment,” Dubow says. “With the next version of VBS2, we plan to build a terrain box (a virtual set) and ‘page-terrain’ into the game. This will allow more users to be integrated with large simulations, and more efficient use of multicore processors on the laptop and desktop hardware we’re using.”

India is investing $2 billion in simulators. One supplier is Raytheon, with Virtsim.Credit: RAYTHEON
MP game training on a broader scale is supported by Lockheed Martin’s Combined Arms Tactical Trainer (CATT) system, used by the British Army. A collective simulator, it has trained 800 participants at a time in two European locations for ground, air, logistics and other battlefield activities.

“Training systems need to be as adaptive and dynamic as the battlefield,” says Chuck Woodman, CATT program manager. CATT handles 1,000 players, organizational elements from subunits and battle groups to brigade headquarters, and “6,000 controllable entities such as enemy combatants, air and ground vehicles, friendly forces and civilians.” Instructors create and modify scenarios.

“The virtual environment needed to support mission-specific training replicates the real world,” says Andre Elias, program director for Lockheed Martin’s simulation, training and support division. “We’re training on Afghanistan terrain with models of the towns and representations of people on the street, vehicles and so on.”

Challenges include geographic and interactive fidelity—the more moving entities behave in a predictable and realistic manner, the more effective the training. “When soldiers run into civilians, their behavior affects what soldiers have to do from a training perspective,” he says. “So there are cars, trucks, buses and motorcycles, the military presence and the civilian marketplace and other areas where insurgents operate.” This gives soldiers practice at rapidly “differentiating innocent civilians from those planning to kill you.”

CATT uses a “remembering” algorithm, Elias says, enabling soldiers to become attuned to variances in scenes by looking for out-of-place details. “The system captures everything that’s been done during the sessions and plays it back for viewing and analysis of which elements were identified or not.”

Training scenarios focus on tactics and how soldiers work together. More parts and players mean more potential glitches, Elias acknowledges. “In the real world there are malfunctions. We simulate them.”
Elias says CATT is an offshoot of the Army Close Combat Tactical Trainer. The Army has adapted this legacy system to the training environment, adding reconfigurable vehicle simulators  to the fleet. “Now you’ve got tanks, Bradleys, Humvees, trucks and motorcycles playing together.” Details of real operations are synthesized and used for training, then added to a database for reference or enhancement.
Raytheon’s Virtsim features controllable action to train soldiers in a variety of scenarios.Credit: RAYTHEON CONCEPT

Recruits are tech-savvy, Elias says. “We challenge our engineers to challenge them with commercial game-like realism.” Of course, someone is watching the behavior of trainees, capturing and playing it back to them and doing an after-action review. “We’re using gaming tech to make the simulation realistic for a person who’s grown up in the gaming generation, but the rest is military training.”

Dubow and Elias note the dramatic cost reduction of MP simulations. But just as important, soldiers hone their performance without risking life and limb.

Simulation technology is not only for advanced forces. In India the military is modernizing equipment and capabilities, and seeking to enhance training with virtual reality.

India’s military recognizes gaps in skills training that need to be filled. The safety and cost advantage of simulators over live training convinced the government to procure $2 billion worth of simulators  in the next five years.

The country’s defense procurement policy recently made aerospace training aids such as simulators eligible for defense offsets. “Spinoffs will be immense from military offsets, as there is a need for aviation simulators for all platforms,” says one official.

“For all our acquisitions, the simulator package is part of the [offsets] process, including the [$10 billion] Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft,” Air Chief N.A.K. Browne tells DTI Simulators for Sukhoi Su-30 MKI fighters are operational at three centers, and those for six Lockheed Martin C-130J transports are to be delivered this month.

CAE Inc. is developing the C-130J simulator for the Indian air force under contract to Lockheed Martin. Presently undergoing software and systems integration and assembly and testing at CAE’s facility in Tampa, Fla., the full-mission simulator will be ready for training by February, according to Browne.

Raytheon films Virtsim images for simulation software.Credit: RAYTHEON CONCEPT
Indian systems are not as capable as foreign simulators. “This can be overcome in about seven years when enough data is acquired,” says a defense official. While some simulators are being built locally as part of new-aircraft programs, more than 50 required for legacy systems may have to be imported.

Nevertheless, whenever possible local production is the mantra. The army released a bid recently that is open only to Indian companies for 800 infantry weapon training simulators. “Since an Indian company has to be the prime, we’re looking for an international partner with good price and value,” says Samar Bhargava, assistant vice president of Defsys, a Bangalore company bidding for the project, along with Teknotrove of Mumbai and Zen Technologies of Hyderabad.

Raytheon recently signed a contract with BCL Secure Premises of New Delhi to provide its virtual immersive training system to the company, which will be an exclusive re-seller of the system. The 3-D tactical training system uses motion reality—a Hollywood technology—to interactively train up to 13 soldiers in customized mission scenarios in a 360-deg. environment.

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