Magazine article National Defense

Soldiers Test Impact of Virtual Training on Live-Fire Performance

Magazine article National Defense

Soldiers Test Impact of Virtual Training on Live-Fire Performance

Article excerpt

Simulators could soon allow soldiers to train repeatedly for nearly any mission, in any environment, before ever heading to the field.

During a recent exercise called Bold Quest, held at Ft. Benning, Ga., soldiers and Marines tried their hands at the latest virtual training technology. The event was aimed at studying whether and how such training can augment live exercises at the small-unit level. Initial reaction to the use of simulators to train dismounted soldiers was positive, but the systems still cannot replace the real-world in many instances, officials said.

"We don't believe immersive training will ever be a replacement for live training," said Gary Daniel, project lead for the Army's Expeditionary Warrior Experiment, of which Bold Quest was a part. "We are focused on how it can enhance a training program at the small-unit level to make their live training more effective and more efficient."

During the exercise, several squad-sized units from the Army, Marine Corps and Canadian military performed specific missions using a suite of simulators over a three-day period. On the fourth day, the squads performed the same tactical missions--area reconnaissance, cordon and search and attack--in a live environment. A squad also used a virtual marksmanship training system and then qualified on its weapons at a live-fire range.

The jury is still out on whether virtual rehearsal improves performance in the real world. Army Test and Evaluation Command is scheduled to publish a report on the exercise within 60 days.

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Officials involved with the testing agreed, however, that virtual and immersive systems could have a significant impact on the way small units train and the breadth of scenarios they can practice.

"The ability to alter the environment the soldiers are training in," is unique to immersive training systems, said Lt. Col. Aaron Lilley, ATEC's lead military analyst for Bold Quest. "You could have a squad in an urban environment in the desert and with a few keystrokes, move them to the jungle, and with a few more keystrokes, move them to grassland somewhere else. Even in a very large training footprint in reality I don't know if you could get that variety of environments at one station."

Virtual, or immersive, training simulators are based on video-game technology that is familiar to many soldiers. Several systems were tested during the Bold Quest exercise, including the Dismounted Soldier Training System, the Small Unit Immersion Training System and virtual marksmanship systems.

Dismounted Soldier allows up to nine troops to participate in an area about the size of a basketball court. Each wears sensors and experiences the virtual world through a helmet-mounted display.

"We're finding out that they can do lots of things to some benefit," said Daniel. "One of the real benefits at the squad level is the squad leader can take his eight soldiers into these immersive trainers and teach things that are learned through repetition and do them with multiple repetitions in a short period of time, cheaply."

Virtual and immersive training systems also allow administrators to alter the complexity of the scenario in which soldiers are engaged. A training official at a computer console can instantly add or subtract obstacles or enemies with a click of a mouse, said Daniel. …

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