From life-size virtual helicopters to a haptic suit that lets soldiers feel faux gunshot wounds, I/ITSEC 2019 demonstrated the rapid evolution of high-tech training aides. Rick Adams, Andy Fawkes, Rona Gindin, Dim Jones, and Marty Kauchak report.

Based on the buzz at I/ITSEC 2019, the Military Simulation & Training sector is vibrant and expanding. Total attendance was 17,400 with nearly 2,000 international visitors from 56 countries, plus 550 exhibiting companies, including 81 “first timers” or “returning after a long hiatus.”

XR, VR, MR, AR & 5G

Cost and efficiency are at the crux of the surge toward mixed, virtual and augmented reality military training. In “5G – From Hype to Reality,” panelists including US Army MG Maria Gervais agreed that sophisticated new technology and hardware, together with access to 5G when it becomes readily available in the next few years, will enhance virtual training operations significantly. Since 5G promises very low latency, various technologies will blend more easily, and, as a result, servicemen and women in far-apart locations will be able to train together, in seemingly real time. Costs will be lower, they predict, because “we’ll bring training to the soldier, not the soldier to the training.” Soldiers can virtually enter scenarios in dense urban areas or challenging rural ones without the need to replicate situations or equipment in physical space, or to transport soldiers from one location to another.

One of the most sophisticated introductions was the XR1 Developer Edition by Varjo Technologies, a Finnish XR headset maker. Goggle users can see even minute details in a virtual dashboard, streaming reality with only a 20-millisecond latency, which is practically undetectable. Most notably, the XR1 has integrated eye tracking, allowing trainees to reality. The Varjo headset overcomes current resolution limitations of VR headsets via a high-res inset, driven by six miniature cameras and mirrors. Varjo co-founder and CEO Niko Eiden calls it a “stack strategy,” and told MS&T their goal is to eliminate tethering and go wireless with future iterations.

Kratos Defense & Security Systems displayed its Holodeck, a mixed-reality training option formally branded the Reconfigurable Virtual Collective Training System (RVCTS). In a single room, participants wearing helmet-mounted display VR goggles sat in the seats of a helicopter pilot, co-pilot and gunner while a hoist module also enabled hoist or rescue training via virtual reality. They viewed the simulated scenario (gunnery, pilot engagements, etc.) while operating a real weapon replica or cockpit controls, while communicating with the rest of the crew.

On a more basic level, Inlusion Factory of Emotions demonstrated how XR can help train those who would de-ice an aircraft. A trainee can go into any conference room, put on a helmet, and learn the task step-by-step. Guided by a virtual manager, the trainee will virtually bring the de-icing fluid to the correct temperature, check the thermometer, then move on to another section of the plane.

WorldViz has VR training software called Vizible that is fully drag-and-drop. A trainer in California, for example, can invite a trainee in another location to walk through a procedural task such as removing a radio transmitter from an aircraft’s nosecone. They can work together virtually using a lifelike model of the aircraft. One trainee can learn by wearing an immersive headset, or a group can learn together via a projection on a wall.

Saab showed mixed-reality (traditional live instrumented blended with VR) to simulate indirect fire weapons, such as mortar and, in the case of BVR-guided artillery, including a man-in-the-loop; these effects can be displayed using Saab’s EXCON technology, in the HoloLens Virtual Sandbox, both in real time and to enhance the After Action Review.

TRU Simulation + Training touted a derivative device called the Adaptable Mission Trainer, a mixed-reality visual system that is optional to a dome-based solution with a small footprint and low cost. TRU CEO David Smith explained to MS&T: “You get tactile feel, real switches and knobs, and the device can be expanded to an even higher level of fidelity. … You can populate these types of devices at the point of use for trainees; if a student wants to become the best today, they have to wait for their slots in the sim or wait for their slots in the aircraft. We want to give them access to devices that both fill their demand and they want to go try out specific maneuvers.”

All Hands On Deck

The Teslasuit is a full-body haptic suit described as “highly integrated smart clothing.” It can be programmed to deliver authentic physical feelings, even pain, without harming the trainee. Introduced at the partner booth of VR/AR maker Brightline Interactive, the Teslasuit has an on-board mini-computer that delivers sensations via small electrical impulses, essentially telling the trainee how to do each specific step of an operation, such as storming a house.

BeBop Sensors displayed its haptic gloves, which are wireless and made with “smart fabric” on the bottom two knuckles of each finger. That allows trainees to flick virtual switches and press virtual buttons, feeling the interaction. A military outfit can use it for maintenance training, in place of controllers, so trainees articulate their fingers and build up muscle memory.

At Cyberith, the Virtualizer Elite 2 is essentially a round treadmill meant to be used with VR programs. It has six optical motion sensors, which track trainees as they walk, as well as rotation and height sensors. Together with electric motors, it reacts to users’ movements. In a multiplayer military police simulation, say, the motion platform will detect direction, acceleration and speed, then provide data for analysis.

Mixing Virtual and Real Worlds

Simthetiq specializes in digital twins, which are detailed, realistic, digitized 3D models of more than 3,000 military vehicles and aircraft. The company invited attendees to don goggles and sit in front of authentic reproductions of the controls of a life-size helicopter. Then, in what is actually an empty space except for the controls, testers were invited to step out of the helicopter to view the entire aircraft, peek into the back seat, see the underside as the entirety was “lifted” to the ceiling, and look down upon it as it was lowered into the floor. All virtual.

Amsterdam-based Cruden displayed their full-motion, dynamic fast-craft marine simulator, which once again proved to be a crowd-puller.

When Design Interactive launches its new Optimus product in 2022, medic trainees will don Microsoft’s HoloLens 2 while perched over a full-size synthetic-tissue mannikin that has every realistic body part except skin. When wearing the smart glasses loaded with Optimus, Combat Life Saver trainees who are learning the Tactical Combat Casualty Care (TCCC) curriculum might see Rescue Randy mannikins retrofitted by SynDaver to include high-fidelity synthetic tissue analogs – the mannikin will be contextualized with visual injury overlays and spatial audio cues.

Plug & Train

CAE featured the new Medallion MR e-series visual and their TRAX Academy training system. The e-Series, optimized for fast-jet simulation, features a 225-degreerear projection dome, and 3D visual. The TRAX Academy enhances ab initio learning through a three-stage process: Learn, where the student watches the procedure, complete with commentary on the techniques; Practice, where the student tries it out, with corrective commentary; and Perform, where the student completes the procedure without commentary, and is evaluated on it.

MetaVR is refining its long-standing competencies in JTAC training, physically scaling down its solutions to better meet the demands of an increasingly expeditionary military force. The Deployable Joint Fires Trainer (DJFT) allows JTACs to train alongside fixed-wing and rotary aircrews within an immersive, joint training environment. The deployable, mobile joint fire trainer’s core software is MetaVR’s VRSG (Virtual Reality Scene Generator). In one demonstration at MetaVR’s booth, the DJFT was networked with the company’s F/A-18 Block III PTMT (part-task mission trainer).

Bohemia Interactive Simulations displayed its new VBS4 simulation software, a new whole-earth virtual desktop trainer and simulation host with improved usability and VBS3 backwards-compatibility. Operators can edit training materials to create a virtual version of any military scenario they choose, using mission plans and terrain edits to do so. They can even modify battlespaces in real time.

LLS has a cross-platform 3D modeling web-based editor that allows drag-and-drop creation of training videos for everything from changing a tire to handling a crisis such as a rocket falling on a house. It recently began creating 3D models specifically for the military.

Epic Games showcased Unreal Engine, an established, widely popular game engine now being used by a significant number of defence specialists in applications ranging from joint fires training to a parachute trainer.

Building on their recent success in the US Army STE Program, VT MAK announced that its simulation and visualization software will be core components of the RAF’s “Gladiator” program, which will support distributed collective air training.

Prominent on the Barco stand was UniSee, a system of LCD tiles or panels, making up a video wall. The panels are quickly and easily replaceable, using an ingenious mounting system similar to a TV wall bracket, use NoGap technology to eliminate edge effects, and Sense X, which automatically adjusts the brightness of a replaced tile to match its surroundings.

Thales showed their fuzzy logic-based Psibernetix AI technology to drive computer-generated forces, which can vary the scope and degree of response of enemy forces to provide a more unpredictable and capable opponent. Also on show: HuMans (Human Performance Monitoring), which uses non-invasive sensors to capture physiological data, such as gaze-tracking, and an inertial navigation system to provide accurate personnel location data when GPS is not available, such as inside buildings.

LVC Remains Prominent

“The last year has brought a lot of advancement in Live, Virtual and Constructive (LVC) for Cubic and the market in general,” Mike Knowles, President of Cubic Global Defense, told MS&T, principally in the air and ground domains. A major forcing function is the strategic shift to quickly evolving, renewed, near-peer threat scenarios together with a paucity of training areas and ranges in which to train in a high-fidelity, high-threat setting. Knowles pointed out, “To really simulate them, in a way that can truly be threat representative, LVC is going to have to be the way we make that happen.”

Collins Aerospace prominently displayed Joint Secure Air Combat Training System (JSAS) and featured actual equipment and software from the program. Michael Jebautzke, Business Development Director for Air Combat Training & LVC in the company’s Mission Systems group, pointed out JSAS is available to replace the legacy-era offering, which began fielding around 2000, when the main requirement was to support interoperability among coalition partners. “Those systems were unclassified, open systems with an unclassified data link,” he recalled and pointed out the 2020-era JSAS product is meeting military requirements which “are being pushed by the F-35 Lightning II program. The data must be protected, so those systems have to be secure and have different classification levels at the same time.”

Lenny Genna, President, L3Harris Military Training, lauded the “standardization of tools, process and procedure, employees and benefits” in last year’s mega-merger between L3 and Harris “That allows us to really leverage the strength of 50,000 employees, and the ability for people to move around, which are our most important asset, will be much greater. It allows synergy to accelerate when we're working with other parts of the L3Harris family.

Emphasis: Innovation

Militaries around the world are on the search to innovate and exploit the latest developments in S&T with the need to reduce the time to contract and lower the barriers to non-defense small companies. As an example, the USAF held a private “Simulators Pitch Day” at I/ITSEC, asking small businesses to “creatively repurpose existing technologies that could be leveraged to satisfy Air Force training needs.” The businesses included Perceptronics Solutions, Information Systems Laboratories, DTI, PlaneEnglish, Take Flight and King Crow Studios with some awarded a $1-million contract in as little as 20 minutes. They were also given the chance to pitch their initiatives to the wider I/ITSEC community at a “Media Day” event.

Published in MS&T issue 1/2020.