Every profession and career involves some training and professional development. Companies will hire speakers and experienced professionals to come in and address their employees. They’ll provide educational courses and classes for their staff. They’ll even help pay for part or all of an employees continued education in a related field if it will help them to better perform their job and advance personally and professionally.
Although training and professional development is important for all organizations in all industries, very few organizations intentionally place their members in literal life and death scenarios. That’s exactly what the United States military does every day.
Enlisted military personnel are required to leave their families behind and intentionally place themselves in harm’s way for the safety and security of their country and its people. And to do that effectively, the military needs to ensure that every soldier and civilian employee that does a job that is essential and critical to the organization’s mission is adequately trained for any scenario or situation they may face.
But this creates some problems. It can be difficult to replicate the environment that many soldiers will face in the field in a safe, training environment. It can also be costly and time consuming to replicate or transport troops into geographies that replicate the ones they’ll be operating in. And it’s essential that these training environments are as close to the real life scenarios facing soldiers as possible if they’re going to be truly ready for what they’ll experience in theater.
Then there’s the issue of cost. Military platforms and vehicles are both expensive to produce, and expensive to operate. Just last year, Senator John McCain lamented that the cost to build littoral combat ships had exceeded $6 Billion and that the USS Enterprise’s price tag exceeded $13 Billion.
When a Navy ship costs more than $13 Billion to build, it’s understandable that the government and military would be frustrated if something happened to it – especially in a training exercise. Military platforms simply cost too much to risk taking on damage in simulations and training environments. But they also cost money to operate. Fuel, staff and other costs needed to operate some of these platforms could make training and simulations – even those that are uneventful – fiscally irresponsible.
So, what’s the solution?
Let’s get gaming
When we hear the word “gaming” we often envision couch-surfing youngsters guzzling Mountain Dew and yelling something about “noobs” into headsets. That’s wrong for two reasons. First, that’s a terrible stereotype that certainly doesn’t describe ALL gamers. Second, gaming has evolved to incorporate a lot more than just Dorito-dust-stained youngsters playing Call of Duty.
Just this month, Breaking Defense published an article looking at some new ways that the Army is looking to train their personnel – and gaming plays a huge role in that.
New innovations being utilized across the commercial gaming industry are being increasingly considered for implementation in military training and simulation programs. This includes a new generation of vehicle simulators that will be more connected and life-like. But it also includes something new and revolutionary – virtual reality training for soldiers on foot.
Currently, there really is no simulator for troops on foot. There is simply no way to replicate the experience of being a soldier, on foot, in theater, in some kind of simulation room or box – it simply doesn’t work with the requirements of being able to run, jump, etc. But new commercial gaming advancements may have found a solution for that.
Virtual reality and augmented reality is rapidly gaining traction in the commercial gaming industry. Think of games like Pokemon, Go, where augmented reality let mobile device users literally walk around their neighborhoods, towns and cities, interacting with virtual creatures that didn’t really exist in the real world.
It’s very easy to see how that VR and AR technology could be translated into military training and simulation environments for soldiers. Utilizing some kind of heads-up display, soldiers in training could have obstacles, enemies and other items superimposed on their real terrain or location. Or, they could be quickly transported to a different geography virtually, without spending the time and money needed to travel. The opportunities are almost limitless.
Designing the next training frontier
Virtual reality and augmented reality could very well be the future of military training and simulation. They’re capable of putting military personnel into life-like, realistic scenarios, situations and geographies – and they’re capable of doing so without significant travel, or risk to expensive military vehicles or platforms.
We don’t know yet what this new generation of VR and AR simulations for the military will look like, or what, exactly, they’ll enable warfighters to do, but we do know that they’ll be built using today’s advanced digital design solutions. Today, almost every single AAA video game studio is building their uber-realistic, 3D videos games in digital design programs, such as Autodesk’s Maya and 3ds Max.
Digital design software will soon usher in a new generation of life-like training and simulation tools for the military. The result will be a better trained, more prepared, more lethal warfighting force that’s prepared for literally anything that may await it.