MS&T has followed and reported on the evolutionary journey defense training enterprises have made through the last several years to embrace increasingly complex and capable technologies, including virtual-, mixed- and augmented reality, and others. As this article was submitted, the ability of military-industry team members to understand returns on investment and other outcomes from wisely integrating technologies in defense training and education programs is taking a quantum leap forward. An emerging use case that provides vital lessons learned and ROIs from bringing different technologies to bear, can be observed with the Mission Rehearsal Training (MRT) system being used at 582nd Operations Support Squadron. The Wyoming Army National Guard Camp Guernsey, Wyoming-based unit is tasked with providing operations support to Air Force Global Strike Command's helicopter group and three helicopter squadrons.

In a document provided to MS&T, it was noted that training conducted on the MRT is fully immersive, allowing for each student to experience the “fog of war” in a realistic and structured training environment. Ryan Leighton, Senior Instructor at Kratos, provided additional context on the device, first explaining, “The visual database used in this system is a game-based virtual environment offering the entire planet down to one square meter providing endless possible training locations around Air Force Global Strike Command’s operating areas and the globe,” and added, “Automated forces can be generated on the fly with the ability to edit each individual entity health and training levels, creating a realistic virtual opposing force of potential enemies these warfighters might experience during real world operations.”

In terms of student throughput for the MRT, 174 students have been trained by the 582nd OSS, equaling 62% of the entire UH-1N aviator community assigned to Air Force Global Strike Command. “The plan is to increase to 224 in FY2023 to account for loss of actual gunnery ranges due to budget reduction,” an Air Force spokesperson added.

Mirroring another trend reported by MS&T, Kratos is not “going it alone,” and indeed, has an interesting mix of suppliers and other team members: LightTape; Valve Index (for VR headsets modified internally by Kratos for MR); Calytrix Technologies and Titan Integrated Military for Titan Vanguard; and internal Kratos capabilities. “Our internal divisions built the container to house the MRT and the cabin internal is a recovered UH-1H. The mixed reality is run by an internal software that uses the modified Index headsets to keep costs down and for ease of replacement,” Leighton further explained.

More Substantive ROIs

While the loss of training ranges and areas is one compelling reason to invest in learning technologies, this industry team has developed much more substantive ROIs which should hold sway during future discussions with budget makers and other stakeholders.

An Air Force spokesperson initially told MS&T, that training time to complete the Rotary Wing Progression Training syllabus per student was reduced from nine months to eight weeks with the MRT. The service spokesperson added, “Instructors have commented on how much better prepared students were for live-fire training compared to students that did not use the MRT device and that safety of flight is much better than before due to increased situational awareness of the crews. Eight hundred eighty flight hours have been saved with a O&M [operations & maintenance] cost of $4.5million ($5221 per hour/FY2022), $1million in ammunition savings, and $600,000 saved in travel costs.”

Design Observations 

Of special interest to courseware and content creators, and instructional designers, the MRT program reports early lessons learned during its formative period.

Courseware was designed and developed by the 582nd OSS with input from Kratos Aircrew Training Centers (KATC) instructors. Leighton pointed out, when using virtual reality (VR) for instruction on skills that require manual operation, there tends to be a loss of fidelity and immersion when the student has to come out of the virtual world to interact with the objects. “For example, Kratos (KATC, in particular) teaches aerial gunnery. In a real aircraft, students have to be able to keep scanning for threats and hazards while working weapon malfunctions. In a VR environment, the student has to remove the HMD and work the malfunction, which means they can no longer scan for threats and hazards. This is the primary job of any aviator to prevent mishaps.”

Of additional importance, as this community embraces MR and adjacent domains, it was observed, with MR technology the student never gets the “break” since they are in the environment and are required to perform all normal duties plus address the weapons malfunctions. The Kratos senior instructor further observed, “This leads to more realistic training and the ability to induce higher stress levels in training which closer simulate real life. In fact, we have noticed that most students are so immersed in the training that they will forget they are wearing an HMD and that the MRT is not on motion. They lean with the aircraft turns, they communicate like they do in the real aircraft, and they feel a sense of urgency about the training scenario. The repetition of performing tasks in an environment that is very close to the real aircraft translates to better utilization of actual aircraft hours.”

MRT Roadmap

Multiple MRT upgrades are scheduled for this year. These include Close Air Support training functions (laser pointers/tracer fire), flight instrumentation upgrades, and improved device communications allowing independent student instruction without scenario interruption. Leighton additionally noted, the MRT has been certified for 70% of mission training events and has an amazing potential to continue providing advanced training opportunities.

Compressing the Acquisition Cycle

The Pentagon continues its quest to have articles and services across its enterprise, including simulation and training, delivered faster to the end user. The procurement and delivery of the MRT provides an interesting datum point in the effort to compress program acquisition timelines. Leighton recalled the Kratos team took the MRT from a “napkin drawing” to delivery in Wyoming in six months.

“The team spent long days and weeks to meet that deadline and did an amazing job. The teamwork between the 582nd Helicopter Group and KATC is a model of how collaboration should work between industry and DoD. For us at KATC, the uniformed customer is our driving force. We want them to receive the best training they can receive so AFGSC UH-1N aircrews can be better prepared for real world mission scenarios while integrating crew resource management,” the subject matter expert concluded.