Technology moves ever forward. What one generation of war-fighters trains on will, in many cases, be obsolete when the time comes to train the next. Though the specifics may vary from year to year, the US Military is constantly innovating and upgrading our training tools to reach the same goal: giving troops experiences as near to the real thing as possible, while balancing costs and safety factors.
If you keep all of these elements in mind, there's a clear, logical next step to take in terms of training technology: augmented reality.
You can only do so many "washer and dime" drills it the point is lost.
(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Paige Behringer, 1BCT PAO, 1st Cav. Div.)
There's no replacing actual, rifles-in-hand training. No kind of simulation could ever give troops the same kind of experience as using the weapon that they'll actually be using in combat. Putting holes in paper or drop-down targets at the range is a valuable experience that can never (and will never) be replaced.
But the supplemental trainings that you'll find inside an NCO's book exercise could always use a technological touch-up.
It's both awkward and fun at the same time.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Joseph Guenther)
Today, it's not uncommon for troops to play out a few key strategies on video game consoles as the NCO gives step-by-step breakdowns of what's about to go down. These types of exercises are extremely safe and cost effective, but they're also not nearly true-to-life.
The next step in achieving realism comes with virtual reality centers, which have already been experimentally fielded at certain installations. It's called the Dismounted Soldier Training System (or DSTS) and it places troops in a room with a simulated rifle and a few screens all around them. Troops then "shoot" and move around the room in a safe (but expensive) simulation. It's more effective than video-game training because the troops must use their bodies, learning important physical techniques. Here, they'll train their responses on what to do when they see an enemy appear on screen.
These are fantastic for leaders looking to monitor a troop's performance, but they're still more akin to taking the guys out to an arcade and watching how they do with, essentially, a really expensive version of Time Crisis 3.
At the very least, this will be a far more engaging way to learn tactics than watching a senior NCO scribble on a whiteboard for a few hours.
(U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Samantha Whitehead)
Finally, we arrive at augmented reality. Augmented reality is the intersection between digital and physical. It's when technology is used to place digital elements in real-world spaces. And it's not future tech — it's happening right now. An advanced training simulator that leverages this technology is currently being developed by Magic Leap, Inc. It differs from virtual reality in that it brings the simulation into the real world, as opposed to putting real-world troops into the simulation. The current design is called HUD 3.0.
Troops place goggles over their heads as they step into a specially designed environment, similar to MOUT training grounds, that is linked to a central hub. The goggles then intelligently lay digital images over the real world. The program can then place simulated elements in the troop's vision — like a digital terrorist appearing in a real window. The troop can then raise their training rifle that is synced with the program, pull the trigger, and watch simulated gunfire unfold as it would in actual combat.
The advantage this has over other types of simulations is that it isn't limited to putting a single troop out there. In theory, an entire platoon could don sets of goggles and train together, getting an experience close to real combat while remaining completely safe.