Virtual Training world could become the norm for future soldiers

Virtual Reality (VR) training could become the norm for the soldier of the future, as the Army Warfighting Experiment 2021 on Salisbury Plain Training Area is demonstrating this month.

The Army issued a series of challenges to industry partners asking them to come up with innovative ideas that would assist and improve the training of troops in the future.

AWE 21 is primarily here to make sure the Army and industry are collaborating together, therefore we are both striving for excellence in the terms of our technological development. Major Peter Guo,
Infantry Trials and Development Unit

With the assistance of personnel from a range of units, these innovations are currently being showcased and appraised at AWE 21. It is now a real possibility that much of the training and assessment elements required to be undertaken by armoured vehicle crews, artillery and infantry personnel could take place not on the ranges or inside of vehicles but in an augmented and virtual Reality environment.

Major Peter Guo of the Infantry Trials and Development Unit based in Warminster said:

“AWE 21 is primarily here to make sure the Army and industry are collaborating together, therefore we are both striving for excellence in the terms of our technological development. In this way we can develop the Army to the best standards in the face of our adversaries.”

One challenge asked partners to: Provide a common, immersive, and credible synthetic wrap that seamlessly supports training across the live, virtual, and constructive environments.

A solution was the Immersive in Barracks Virtual Training (IBVT). This is a VR crew trainer that utilises headset and glove technology so that personnel can simulate a high-fidelity representation vehicle that a crew can use which mirrors their armoured vehicle and simulates operating functions and controls.

Once equipped the crew can network with each other whilst using objects such as hand controls and switch panels as they would in their normal mechanical environment. They can control the vehicle, see the terrain in front of them and even virtually load weapon systems as if they were in a real vehicle. The only difference is they have not had to leave their barracks to fulfil this.

IBVT is a reconfigurable deployable training system, it can be modified and programmed to reflect almost any military vehicle. The kit itself is contained within a small number of transit cases so is easily transported.

The future soldier will not perform as it does today. Some things will remain the same like the ‘will to win’ and the ability to strive forward into contact, Major Peter Guo,
Infantry Trials and Development Unit

The technology aims to reduce the complexities of simulator hardware using mixed reality technologies that will provide highly immersive, distributed training using a single hardware and software.

Another challenge asked partners to: Provide an immersive, complex and multifaceted Audience, Actors, Adversaries, Enemy and Specialist (A3ES) ecosystem that challenges the training audience across the human, physical and information domains.

In response to this our partners put forward Learning Behavioural Data Science (LBDS), which is a competency model that looks at a soldiers’ behaviours.

This approach utilises learning behavioural and data sciences, which then builds a framework of competence that allows measurement, testing and adjustment where required when a soldier is conducting activities over virtual and live training.

Soldiers are fitted with sensors which gather data such as heart exertion and stress rate. They wear optical data glasses which are used for visual on-screen tracking with the aim of analysing blink rate and pupil diameter. From data gathered, assessors will be able to gauge each soldiers’ speed of reaction in specific environments and how their stress levels cope with live and virtual scenarios.

Also, commanders will get information in real time which enables them to look at any problem areas a soldier or collective unit may have. For example, do they need to spend more time with any individuals on battlecraft? Do they need to perfect their objectives before moving on to other more testing tasks?

A less high tech offering but no less innovative is the Urban Subterranean Trainer (UST). This above ground modular tunnel training solution provides a safe, flexible, realistic, and challenging subterranean environment for soldiers, a key Army training requirement, which can either enhance existing urban training facilities or be delivered at point of need wherever the soldiers are.  

Major Peter Guo of the Infantry Trials and Development Unit added:

“The future soldier will not perform as it does today. Some things will remain the same like the ‘will to win’ and the ability to strive forward into contact, but the way we get that soldier to that position is going to be different. We must recognise that industry leads us in their ability to bring new technologies to the fore and cohere them into system integration. When we have the soldier of the future who is going to be digitally enabled, able to talk to robotics and is able to talk to each other across an entire battlefield without the need to come together, that is the future soldier and that is what we are going to train for.”