Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) have various defense advantages. The U.S. Army and Air Force employ the technologies to save costs, apply flexible student training, streamline weapon development and provide advantages in the field.
Army Combat Training & Field Advancements
The Army uses a Synthetic Training Environment to simulate cities around the world in VR. The program provides training for soldiers for specific locations before arrival. Complex simulations are carried out from any training facility and familiarize soldiers with a foreign environment. Efforts are underway to improve the technology, making it plug-and-play ready and adding weather, complex terrain and military vehicles to the simulation.
Recently, the Army employed a virtual marksmanship training system to save ammunition costs from live firing. The system also allowed the programming of specific tactical scenarios. The program was canceled this past April, however, with funds redirected to the Synthetic Training Environment.
VR is in development to train soldiers in tank combat scenarios. The program focuses on cognitive training, with the student juggling mission updates and enemy status while making critical battlefield decisions. The goal of the program is to give soldiers more confidence in real-world, stressful, decision-making situations. The program will eventually allow up to four tank commanders to train together in a full platoon.
In the field, the Army wants to outfit soldiers with augmented reality headsets. The devices’ thermal and low-light sensors enable soldiers to access battlefield information and identify enemies in the dark or without moving from cover. The headsets are in development and are expected to see use in late 2021.
Air Force Pilot & Maintenance Training
The Air Force uses VR to train pilots. VR training saves costs on fueling real planes, and students can train at will due to the readability of the VR headset. Traditionally, students must wait for an available real-world plane. VR creates a safe environment for new pilots, and students show more confidence when entering a real cockpit. Sensors used in training measure student stress levels to detect if a scenario is challenging enough. Flight scenarios can then be tailored to specific student needs. Results of the program show students using VR complete training faster than students training traditionally.
The Air Force uses VR to train students in airfield maintenance, enabling students to be placed in hazardous scenarios safely. Compared to traditional lecture-based classes, students are more effective and efficient in real-world duties with virtual hands-on training. A VR aircraft maintenance training program is also in development to reduce downtime and wear on real-life aircraft due to training use. The program is expected to increase student proficiency as they can train repeatedly and at will on virtual aircraft.
The Army is using VR to test prototype weapons. Soldiers can handle the weapon and view it from any angle, and their feedback influences the weapon’s development. Groups can enter and view the testing program together, enabling a unique viewpoint. The program hopes to streamline the weapon design process, resulting in a faster road to production and a reduction in issues discovered after design is finalized.