Army to expand use of virtual tools, augmented reality for training

Technologies would help soldier and small units prepare for major field exercises.

The Army is looking to incorporate more virtual environments, augmented reality tools and gaming into its training, as a way of preparing troops for major field exercises while adhering to tight budget constraints.

The Army Contracting Command has issued a Sources Sought notice asking for companies interested in demonstrating mature technologies for military training at home bases, including augmented reality tools that could be used by individual soldiers or units smaller than a company.

The tools would be used for home-base training in advance of the Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) 15.1, set to be held in October and November 2014 at Fort Bliss, Texas, and White Sands Missile Range, N.M., during which the Army plans to evaluate its tactical network baseline amid a variety of operational scenarios. The command is looking for responses by Jan. 31.

Tight budgets have led the military to explore greater use of virtual environments for training. The Army doesn’t have the resources at individual bases to conduct realistic training that incorporates joint, interagency, international or multinational environments, the contracting command says in its notice.  So training leaders are looking for simulated solutions.

The Army also is planning to combine several virtual programs into a single environment to support integrated training programs, Amber Corrin reports for FCW. "As we look to the future, we are going to transition ... into the future holistic training environment, live synthetic,” Brig. Gen. Michael Lundy, deputy commanding general at the Army Combined Arms Center, said at the recent AUSA Aviation symposium in Arlington, Va. “We want to get away from having multiple environments, virtual gaming and instruction, and go to one synthetic environment, get to a lower overhead and integrate the full operations process... according to the common operating picture."

NIE 15.1 will be the eighth of the Army’s twice-yearly exercises to evaluate and improve battlefield communications. NIE 14.2, scheduled for this spring, will test a new set of Network Operations tools developed under the Increment 3 of the Army’s Warfighter Information Network-Tactical.

NIE 15.1 will focus on a Network Baseline Assessment to evaluate how well current integrated network capabilities work in several operational scenarios, the Army said.

Like other NIE exercises, the Army will solicit soldier feedback on performance of the systems and where gaps exist, but NIE 15.1 will take a more deliberate approach that other evaluations. Past NIEs focused on accepting feedback and applying fixes quickly, so they could be readily applied in theater. But the move out of Afghanistan allows more time to assess any gaps in network capability and let vendors propose solutions, the Army said.