Gaming technology: Blurring lines between digital and physical

Video game technology is being transformed into a tool to prepare soldiers for combat


Bernd Debusmann Jr.

Published: Sat 28 Feb 2015, 12:22 AM

Last updated: Thu 25 Jun 2015, 10:29 PM

Abu Dhabi — The role digital training technology is playing alongside traditional training methods was highlighted at the International Defence Exhibition and Conferences (Idex) in Abu Dhabi from February 22-26.

Several ‘games’ are currently part of the US military training. Some, like “Tactical Iraqi” and UrbanSim, have been used to help teach counter-insurgency doctrine and provide cultural tips for use during in-country deployments.

The prepare-for-combat games take their cue from flight simulators and first-person-shooters such as the popular Call of Duty series.

But unlike their recreational counterparts, military training simulations can be tailored to simulate the exact environments in which operations take place.

Dusseldorf-based Eurosimtec, for example, has produced software that can be used for mission planning and rehearsals, after-action reviews and the training of drone operators preparing to fly over faraway skies.

“The main objective is mission readiness,” said Eurosimtec managing director, Andreas Hartmann. “This is not a trivial thing. This is about enabling mission success in an unmanned way.”

Hartmann said that digital training technology, combined with advanced satellite data, has already been put to good use by the German army preparing for deployments to northern Afghanistan.

“Let’s say there is a village full of civilians. We can represent suspects carrying weapons, planting IED’s, all virtually,” he said. “We can really simulate anything. It just depends on what a user needs. It’s more of a general enabling technology.”

Chris Stevens, the sales and marketing director for Inzpire, a British-firm that designs technology that simulates combined air and land operations, said that digitally modelled missions have already been exactly replicated on the battlefield by the British armed forces.

“There is a bit of a blur now with the gaming industry, but some scenarios have been played out for real,” he said. “You can have a real pilot talking to a real person, in a virtual environment. You’re training their brain.”

“In Afghanistan, there were cases when pilots and ground personnel even recognised each other’s voices from having trained on these systems.”

Some of the training systems on display at Idex blur the lines between the digital and the physical. The Dismounted Soldier Training System, for example, connects sensors attached to a soldier’s body, weapon and goggles to computer software, allowing them to be fully immersed in an environment without leaving the safety of an indoor training facility.

Clarence Pape, vice-president of simulation and training for Intelligent Solutions, said the use of gaming technology comes natural ly to many young soldiers currently in the armed forces.

“They grew up playing with this. They can relate to the technology,” he said. “They’re used to the style and the approach.”

Over 30,000 American soldiers train digitally in a year before going on live-fire training exercises and overseas deployments.

“First these products were used because of a safety perspective,” Pape noted. “Now it’s from a budget perspective, as well.”

Pape added that the near future will see multiple different types of digital simulations being combined into massive virtual battlefields.

“You’ll be seeing more collaborative training and interoperability,” he said. “You’ll have tank simulators working with UAV simulators and small unit simulations.”

According to a study released by ASDReports in 2014, the market for military “games” is expected to grow to up to $12.6 billion by 2024. Andreas Hartmann said the coming years would see the widespread proliferation of digital training.

“I’m one hundred per cent sure this will be a general need and a general enabler,” he said. “This will become a key issue anywhere.”

“People are still underestimating this today,” he continued. “But I’m sure there will be an awakening.”

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