Meeting the Challenges of Modern Warfare with Immersive Technology

While average citizens can explore global cities and national parks without ever leaving the comfort of their living rooms, thanks to software programs like Google Earth, the sailors who operate U.S. Navy submarines in hostile conditions often still rely upon two-dimensional charts and non-intuitive displays to plan missions, evaluate potential threats, and navigate the ocean terrain.

The strategic environment warfighters face today is uncertain, complex, and changes rapidly, and if the approaches to military planning don’t evolve to match the changing character of warfare, it could not only cost military leaders mission objectives, but also American lives and treasure. 

Current planning methodologies — which may involve the use of paper maps, sand tables, board games, computer modeling, electronic displays, or some combination of those — are limited by how time-consuming they are to construct and reset, how poorly they represent geographies, topographies, and distances, and how ill-equipped they are to allow for people in the field or at higher headquarters to collaborate in real-time. 

To better provide insights into unpredictable adversaries and environments, and prepare for a wide range of contingencies, military leaders are shifting to a new planning methodology: immersive planning. This technology can quickly present artificial environments that accurately replicate and enhance the real-world. 

By overlaying intelligence, satellite, and topography data onto a virtual battle zone, military planners can immerse themselves in 3D representations of locations and conditions and get a much more realistic sense of where and how they might deploy forces, where and how unforseen threats may emerge, and which paths and alternate paths exist into and out of battlespaces. This technology also enables rapid resetting, which allows planners to test out various scenarios, environments, weather conditions, times of day, and more. Lastly, because these are virtual environments, planners and operational units in dispersed locations — even those located in the field — can collaborate and contribute ideas and insights regardless of their location, which leads to stronger and more resilient plans. 

The flexibility of immersive technologies allows users to visualize the non-visual, as in, they can depict the changing strength of communications links between friendly forces as they maneuver and illustrate the impact of enemy jammers and geography on those communications, enabling planners to avoid potential communications gaps. 

One example of this technology in action is called OceanLens, which fuses actual topographic and bathymetric data into an interactive 3D environment. Using OceanLens, a mission planner can drop a virtual sub anywhere in the world, visualize the surroundings from the ocean floor all the way into space, and perform multiple “what-if” course of action scenarios in a fraction of the time that it takes using current navigation tools. 

With an immersive approach that allows planners to game out every ‘what if’ situation and account for every challenge, they can provide leadership with options that offer the highest probability for success at acceptable risk, as well as facilitate the efficient use of limited resources. 

Read the thought piece to learn more about this topic.