As the U.S. Military continues to implement interactive training as a means to prepare its members for combat, the Future Immersive Training Environment (FITE) team hosted a conference call today in order to discuss a pair of new training initiatives.
Clark Lethin, of the Office of Naval Research, began by noting that FITE’s focus was on training small units, or “squads of 10-13 soldiers, marines, sailors or airmen,” with an emphasis on improving team unity, unit cohesion, unit decision making and communication skills. The first new training initiative, which has been completed, revolves around a personal virtually reality system.
Lethin explained, “An individually worn virtual reality system with helmet-mounted display and a weapon with a toggle switch on it that allows you to locomote through the virtual world… then we have sounds tied into that system, as well as a shock device that will receive shock if these men are hit or wounded by any kind of connectict event.”
The second cutting-edge training method, which is still under development, is billed as a “mixed-reality facility-based system.” Lethin described it further, “The infantry immersive trainer at Camp Pendleton is a prototype system that’s basically inside an abandoned warehouse with a set that’s now creating an Afghan scenario and is populated with role-players, special effects, avatar projections on the wall… that’s its current state.”
The group is exploring improvements to the current setup, such as implementing voice recognition, replacing role-players with animatronics (to reduce costs) and developing a state of the art infantry After Action Review (AAR) system.
The mixed-reality facility-based system offers new challenges for trainees explained Lethin, “This mixed reality environment takes into account the complexity of the battlefield and gets away from a single task training methodology to a multitask complex training methodology.”
Ensuring that the training environments are safe and productive is extremely important to its creators. To that end, cognitive psychologists, human behaviorists and training experts are constantly involved, offering feedback. The training methods are also subject to independent assessment by the Joint Testing Assessment Agency (JTAA).
Feedback from returning combat veterans was also “critically important,” to the success of the program said Lethin.
Jay Reist, of the United States Joint Forces Command (USJFCOM), on how today’s young soldiers take to the new training methods:
Because of the generation that these young men come from, they adapt very quickly to this technology, they understand it and they are very comfortable in using it, not as a game, but as a training system.
Do the training methods feel real to trainees? Reist stated, “We also added a layer to do some measurement within stress inoculation, through heart-beat measurement. The system proves out to be very effective in creating a realistic immersion environment and that was validated through the stress inoculation piece that we put in play."
The mixed-reality facility-based system is expected to be ready for demonstration this September.