Defense contractor Raytheon has just unveiled a new virtual training simulator designed to immerse full platoons of soldiers at a time into realistic battlefield settings, where they can shoot enemy targets with individual weapons and even call in close-air support.
Raytheon began showing off its new Synthetic Training Environment Soldier Virtual Trainer at the Interservice/ Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference (I/ITSEC) in Orlando, Florida this week.
The prototype system is Raytheon's attempt to satisfy the U.S. Army's need to create a synthetic training environment that dramatically increases the level of realism in training.
"They need a way to get soldiers into the same virtual environments that they have had for tanks and helicopters for decades," Harry Buhl, lead investigator for synthetic training at Raytheon, told Military.com.
"When you do that in an immersive, synthetic environment, you can go beyond the [live-fire] range -- you can put people soldiers into urban scenarios or into combat-type scenarios ... so you can stress them at a higher level and gain higher levels of proficiency."
The Army recently told industry officials that it will begin seeking prototype solutions early next year designed to develop similar types of simulator training technologies.
"We intend to compete for that opportunity," Buhl said.
Currently, Raytheon is demonstrating its new soldier virtual trainer to simulate an observation post for two soldiers. But it can be configured for much larger units, Buhl said.
"We can support up to a platoon ... that is something that the Army hasn't asked for. But the technology path that we have chosen allows us to actually do this for a platoon-sized unit over a large area. So we have the capability to do squad training or situational training exercises which we believe will be the next step as the Army goes down this path," Buhl said.
The new trainer uses very high-quality graphics, similar to high-end games and relies on virtual-reality headsets and instrumented weapons, he said.
"You can pick up a weapon, and the weapon is in that virtual environment," Buhl said. "When you put your cheek to the stock of that weapon, you have that same sight [picture] as you would in real life, but you are in a virtual environment."
The trainer relies on commercially available tracking sensors, roughly two-inch cubes, that are spread out across any area, Buhl said.
"The software package that we put behind them will link them together and make them smart enough to understand where you are in the environment so that you can be realistically replicated in the synthetic environment," Buhl said. "As you ... take a knee, go to the prone, you are doing the same things in that synthetic environment.
"If you were training on a basketball court, you could put these things up in the rafters of the basketball court and just leave them there."
Eventually, the sensor technology will be built into the headsets, so there will be no need for tracking sensors, Buhl added.
One of the features the Army is looking for is the ability for soldiers to train for calling in artillery or close-air support, Buhl said, describing how Raytheon's simulator shows realistic training distances.
"You are ... on a hilltop looking down the valley, you've got some threat vehicles few miles away," he said. "You have [Air Force] A-10s circling overhead; they come down and you control them and call in their attack, so that you can apply close-air support directly on those targets."
The simulator also allows soldiers to engage enemy targets with individual weapons at realistic ranges, another feature on the Army's wish list, Buhl said.
If soldiers are using a rifle with an effective range out to 500 meters "you can engage targets out to 500 meters," he said.
The trainer will also allow units to train for scenarios involving checkpoints that could call for the need to escalate from using non-lethal devices to lethal force, Buhl said.
The Army is now developing the Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS), a Microsoft-based headset that uses augmented reality to equip soldiers with a heads-up display allowing them to sight their weapon and view key tactical data.
Scheduled to be ready for fielding in fiscal 2021, IVAS will also allow soldiers to train in synthetic training scenarios such as mission rehearsals before going on a live operation.
Buhl said Raytheon used virtual-reality headsets because it "provides an immediate capability" the Army could take advantage of, but the system will be adaptable to work with augmented-reality headsets used with IVAS.
"All of this is ... able to be packed up in a Pelican case and taken anywhere in the world," Buhl said. "It's also cloud-enabled, so if you did want to link into a networked training exercise with soldiers in another location, with tanks or helicopters that are in synthetic simulators, you could do all of that."
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at email@example.com.