US Military draws on armoury of VR tools for training vision

The US Army has set out plans for future combat training that integrates a range of virtual reality tools to accurately recreate battle scenarios. The idea would link soldiers on the ground, using headsets and earpieces, with others in aircraft simulators or on computer gaming stations. Even the smells of battle would be recreated with odour machines and, using satellite communications and video streaming technologies, each trainee could be thousands of miles from the others.

Col. John Janiszewski, director of the National Simulation Center, US Army Combined Arms Center, Fort Leavenworth, Kan, said: "We're now looking at a concept called the Future Holistic Training Environment Live Synthetic that will eventually do this and much more.”

Janiszewski plans to define the specific requirements for the concept next year with hopes that systems will be rolled out in 2022 and Army-wide by 2025.

The National Simulation Center (NSC) is in discussion with industry and experts in the science and technology community to further develop the concept. Live simulation, virtual simulation, constructive simulation and gaming simulation are all currently used by the US Army but have never been integrated on the scale that is now being planned.

Live simulation – or “real people operating real systems in the field” – already uses audio, odour and tracking systems.

Recently computer generated images of animals and people have been added to scenarios and augmented reality, delivered through headsets, is starting to become more advanced thanks to cloud computing capability.

Janiszewski describes virtual simulation as “real people operating simulation systems". Sophisticated systems – with verisimilitude displays, motion, tactile and auditory feedback are already in place.

Constructive simulation is simulated people and equipment operating in a simulated environment and is used for analytical and experimentation purposes as well as gaming future scenarios.

Finally, gaming simulation, is the area that has advanced most in recent years. It’s not yet officially part of the Army’s simulation syllabus but is reported to be added soon.

"Gaming is probably the most prevalent and popular capability we now have," said Janiszewski. “That's because one, it's realistic and engaging, two, you don't need a bulky, expensive piece of equipment like a virtual simulator, and three, there is a plentiful supply of computers.”

Janiszewski cites funding and security challenges as potential barriers to getting the system off the ground but argues it will improve training while lowering costs.