Increasing the Reach, Realism, and Affordability of Military Training with Immersive Technologies

In recent years, the Department of Defense (DoD) has concluded that its competitive military advantage is eroding, and has cited growing concerns about the ability of warfighters to operate in contested environments. Against this backdrop, readiness has emerged as a top priority, and updating its training has been a key focus of this modernization effort. 

Military training has long been a balancing act between richness and reach. While live, in-person training in which military personnel apply battlefield tactics and skills on a training range in scenario-driven exercises are incredibly valuable, their scope has been limited due to the amount of time and resources they require. 

On the other end of the spectrum, training programs centered around classrooms, simulators, manuals, and online training tools are widely accessible and affordable, but fall well short of preparing military personnel for the rigors of a real battlefield experience. 

Few, if any of today’s DoD training approaches generate, capture, and leverage the variety and volume of performance data that can quickly improve training effectiveness and efficiency. Moreover, for most recruits entering service today, they expect a training environment that not only includes vivid detail but also in-depth scenario-based storytelling and availability from wherever they are sitting. Taken together, these challenges constrain how much and how well U.S. military personnel train, as well as how effective that training is in preparing them for scenarios they are likely to face when called upon to fight.

Immersive training is emerging as a powerful new solution that collapses this traditional dichotomy between richness and reach through its realistic, virtual experiences and low-cost portability. Continuing improvements in computing power and fidelity in head-mounted displays have combined to create an ever-narrowing gap between user perceptions of the real and virtual worlds, making immersive training highly realistic and effective. Additionally, as the data and simulation tech of immersive solutions has advanced, their costs have declined, enabling training for situations that would be dangerous, expensive, or difficult to replicate in a live environment such as a pilot evacuation or first response procedures in the wake of a terrorist attack.

Immersive training efforts are already delivering improved readiness. Take the Marine’s Tactical Decision Kit (TDK), for example. Among their many capabilities, the TDKs literally bring training to where warfighters live. The TDK uses an augmented reality system that enables Marines to do mission planning across a variety of terrains. Groups of Marines can “walk through” the virtual space together and interact with one another in the simulated environment. Finally, an “Interactive Tactical Decision Game” allows users to customize training experiences, to see the effects of their decisions and to engage in after-action reports, debriefs and digital exercises. Col. James Jenkins, director of Science and Technology for the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab, remarked that the value of the system is in the ability of squads and small units to run the same scenario multiple times with detailed after-action feedback.

“This suite of new training tools is easy to implement and can be tailored to Marines’ needs,” said Dr. Peter Squire, a program officer in ONR’s Expeditionary Maneuver Warfare and Combating Terrorism Department. “It will allow Marines to think more critically and adapt more quickly to changing environments and adversaries.”

Immersive training tools are also being used to transform maintenance training in the Navy, better prepare warfighters to deactivate IEDs, and revolutionize exercise planning, modeling, and simulation with VR systems and algorithms that construct a virtual battlespace for military exercises based upon given parameters. By effectively utilizing data-driven immersive training, military trainers will be able to deliver increased reach, realism, and affordability resulting in improved readiness.

Read the thought piece to learn more about this topic.