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Beyond Immersive Training? Services Embrace Immersive Training

Part 1

One of the underlying concepts emerging from this month’s Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference (I/ITSEC) 2013 involved the optimum levels of “immersion” that should be employed in future military training systems.

Over the past decade, the U.S. military has embraced the concept of immersive training, as reflected in the establishment of several large immersive training environment systems across the armed forces.

Over the past decade, the U.S. military has embraced the concept of immersive training, as reflected in the establishment of several large immersive training environment systems across the armed forces.

The U.S. Army’s Joint Fires and Effects Training System (JFETS), for example, was installed at Fort Sill, Okla., in 2004 to provide what designers describe as “a suite of state-of-the-art immersive virtual reality environments designed to help soldiers make critical decisions under stress and provide collective team training and cultural awareness lessons.”

The system leverages the mixed reality technology of the University of Southern California’s Institute for Creative Technologies (ICT).

Joint Fires and Effects Training System (JFETS)

The U.S. Army’s Joint Fires and Effects Training System (JFETS), installed at Fort Sill, Okla., leveraged technology developed by the University of Southern California’s Institute for Creative Technologies (ICT). U.S. Army photo

According to ICT overviews, JFETS “recreates life-like environments that place soldiers in real world settings. Stressors include heat, wind, explosions, human distress noise, and snipers. JFETS also provides added artificial intelligence behaviors to insurgent forces and realistic, reactive behaviors to civilians. Using JFETS, soldiers interact with both the physical and virtual worlds seamlessly without the costs associated with live exercises.”

JFETS transitioned to the Army’s Program Executive Office for Simulation, Training and Instrumentation (PEO STRI) in 2008.

The training system “uses Hollywood-style special effects to create challenging and realistic training scenarios for recruits.”

Meanwhile, in another example, the U.S. Navy launched its own immersive training environment when “Battle Stations 21” opened for recruit training in June 2007. Located at Recruit Training Command (RTC) Great Lakes, the system is based on the “USS Trayer” (BST 21), a 3/4-scale, 210-foot long mockup of an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer enclosed within a 157,000-square-foot building on board RTC.

According to RTC representatives, the training system “uses Hollywood-style special effects to create challenging and realistic training scenarios for recruits. Recruit divisions work through a 12-hour Battle Stations 21 experience as a comprehensive test of the skills and teamwork learned during their eight weeks of basic training at RTC.”

Battle Stations 21

Damage Controlman 1st Class Tiffany Castillo, left, a facilitator for Battle Stations 21 at Recruit Training Command (RTC), explains a damaged berthing compartment aboard the 210-foot-long Arleigh Burke-class destroyer simulator USS Trayer (BST 21), to foreign officers from the Naval Education and Training Security Assistance Field Activity. The group of nine foreign officers toured RTC to observe how U.S. Navy sailors are trained. U.S. Navy photo by Scott A. Thornbloom

Developers added that the BST 21 design “is outfitted inside and out with salvaged gauges, pipes and electrical gear from decommissioned ships. Inside, compartments are outfitted as berthing spaces, engineering control rooms and bridges. There are also special controlled areas where magazine spaces flood and compartments are engulfed in flames, all in a carefully controlled manner that balances realism with safety.”

Just a few months later, in the fall of 2007, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton opened its own state of the art Infantry Immersion Trainer (IIT) in a once empty 32,000 square foot facility aboard that base.

Reflecting the growing embrace of immersive training, additional IITs were subsequently opened at other Marine Corps facilities. In addition, 2010 saw a significant expansion of the original IIT that added 120,000 square feet of outdoor space.

Supported by entities like San Diego-based Strategic Operations, ICT, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Lockheed Martin‘s advanced simulation center (in Burlington, Mass.) and Naval Air Systems Command, Orlando, Fla., IIT is designed to provide a hands-on training facility “for practical application of tactical skills and decision making in an immersive, scenario-based training environment.”

Reflecting the growing embrace of immersive training, additional IITs were subsequently opened at other Marine Corps facilities. In addition, 2010 saw a significant expansion of the original IIT that added 120,000 square feet of outdoor space.

Infantry Immersion Trainer (ITT)

Lance Cpl. Tom Conchie, a New Zealand Army soldier serving with 2nd, 1st Battalion, provides security at the Infantry Immersion Trainer (ITT) during Exercise Dawn Blitz 2013, Camp Pendleton, Calif., June 13. The IIT gave the New Zealanders a taste of what they might encounter in future combat operations. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. James Gulliver

While examples like the Army’s JFETS, the Navy’s BST 21, and the Marine Corps’ IIT highlight the broad acceptance of the value of immersive training over the past several years, science and technology professionals have begun to look beyond today’s immersive concepts in an effort to identify optimum training technologies for the future. The second part of this article will look at some of those ongoing technology investigations and their possible impact on the future of immersive military training.

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Scott Gourley is a former U.S. Army officer and the author of more than 1,500...