Simulation Technology: Air Force Sets Sights on 'Airman of the Future' Video Games

By Erwin, Sandra I. | National Defense, December 2006 | Go to article overview

Simulation Technology: Air Force Sets Sights on 'Airman of the Future' Video Games


Erwin, Sandra I., National Defense


The runaway success of military video games--particularly "America's Army"--is motivating the Air Force to attempt even more sophisticated simulations. Gaming technologies, officials say, would allow the Air Force to broaden the training options available to airmen, and would help the service save money by shifting flying time from real aircraft

to simulators.

The Air Force traditionally has relied on simulations for war planning, analysis and pilot training. But the service has lagged behind the Army and the Marine Corps in employing video games as educational tools that can be made widely available online.

That could change, if simulation technology advocates within the Air Force can persuade the top boss, Chief of Staff Gen. T Michael Moseley, that the cost of developing the next-generation gaming systems could be offset by savings in flying hours and other efficiencies. They also assert that these technologies are key to the future of the Air Force because they would help airmen learn new combat skills and sharpen their ability to make tough decisions on the battlefield.

"We want to be able to empower the airman with tools to make decisions, and keep them educated without sending them to school," says Keith E. Seaman, command-and-control modeling and simulation senior advisor to the secretary of the Air Force.

"We want to create the models and simulations for the airman of the future," he says in an interview.

"Our simulators are good," but they tend to be one-dimensional and don't stimulate "out of the box" thinking, says Seaman. Everyone in the Air Force--from recruits in basic training to airmen, officers and noncommissioned officers training for combat--would stand to benefit from gaming technologies.

"The Air Force has not been engaged in the gaming community as well as the Army and Marines have," he says. But the intent is not to copy what the other services are doing. "They primarily focus on the shooter. Our approach is holistic."

The ideal simulation, he says, would be adaptable to suit many different audiences. Further, it would challenge airmen to tackle problems unconventionally. "Think of the Kobayashi Maru," he says, referring to the complex training exercises that challenged Captain Kirk of Star Trek to contemplate seemingly no-win scenarios.

Gaming technologies could give airmen a competitive edge in their preparation for combat and in their overall education as they move up the career ladder, Seaman says.

Another piece of the long-term strategy to improve training technology in the Air Force is to introduce more advanced simulators that not only can replicate a single aircraft model but also complex combat missions.

Instead of employing simulations just to learn how to fly the F-22 fighter, for instance, operators would engage in unscripted scenarios, such as opening up an airfield in hostile territory. These game-like simulations could be played on home computers or adapted for large-scale exercises. The technology would help boost unconventional combat skills, Seaman says.

The Air Force's hub for flight simulators at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M., known as the distributed mission operations center, or DMOC, is connected to other facilities nationwide. But the technology needs improvements, Seaman says.

One upgrade currently in the works is a new "dome" to train tactical-air controllers who are responsible for identifying ground targets and directing air strikes to the correct location. The dome will be up and running by 2008, says Seaman.

Even though the DMOC is by any measure a state-of-the-art simulation center, the Air Force needs to incorporate new technologies for non-traditional warfare and global operations.

"It's got to be more dynamic," says Seaman. "We are working on that."

Future simulations also must address the emerging challenges of cyber-warfare, he says. …

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