Mission Planning and Rehearsal
Simulators and training systems play a critical role in every branch of the U.S. military, as well as the defense forces of most other industrialized nations. These simulators range from large physical systems such as the U.S. Navy’s USS Trayer (BST 21), a 210-foot-long Arleigh Burke-class destroyer simulator where recruits are taught to respond to 17 different ship board emergency scenarios, to state-of-the-art, high-fidelity, full-motion flight simulators used by fighter pilots. Every U.S. soldier who deploys to combat zones overseas uses simulators in some aspect of their preparation, with an increasingly heavy reliance on immersive virtual training. As with all simulator methodologies, these systems provide the opportunities to hone skills, rehearse missions, and make mistakes without actual life or death consequence in a safe and cost-effective manner. The next few sections offer an overview of some of these solutions.
Dismounted Soldier Training System
The Dismounted Soldier Training System (DSTS) is a fully immersive virtual reality infantry team training solution specifically designed for the U.S. military. In its basic configuration, the DSTS is a robust, self-contained training system supporting up to nine soldiers, the current size of a standard U.S. Army rifle squad. As shown in Figure 17.4, each soldier is outfitted with a stereoscopic head-mounted display with integrated sensors to track position and orientation of the head, stereo speakers, and microphone for simulation of voice and radio communications, a small backpack containing graphics hardware for generation of display imagery, additional sensors that track movement of the user’s body, and an instrumented weapon.
Figure 17.4 This image shows a U.S. Army soldier geared up and participating in a training scenario utilizing the Dismounted Soldier Training System (DSTS).
Credit: Image courtesy of DoD
Each soldier stands on a four-foot diameter rubber pad placed in the center of a 10-foot by 10-foot training area. The feel of the pad beneath the soldier’s feet serves to keep each participant in a specific area within the training location. Instead of physically walking, soldiers maneuver their position through a virtual model using simple controls on their weapon. This specific aspect of the systems allows for training to be held in small, multiuse facilities at a fraction of the cost of live exercises.
Specifically designed to enhance squad and team tactics such as movement formations and room-clearing exercises (as opposed to marksmanship skills), the DSTS system provides infinite flexibility in developing training scenarios. The nine-person system is completely portable and can be used anywhere you can find electricity and about 1,600 square feet of space. Hundreds of these systems are in use around the world and are capable of unlimited networking for larger, geographically distributed training exercises (Koester, 2013).
PARASIM Virtual Reality Parachute Simulator
The very idea of humankind being able to step off into space from a great height and descend safely to the ground has been traced as far back as 9th century Chinese civilization. The first recorded design for a parachute by a known individual came from Leonardo da Vinci in 1495. That design consisted of a pyramid-shaped linen canopy held open by a square wooden frame. The first practical parachute and the generally accepted predecessor to modern parachute systems came in 1783 from French physicist Louis-Sebastien Lenormand. His work ultimately led to the first military use of the parachute by artillery observers in tethered observation balloons during World War I. Because the balloons were dangerously idle targets for enemy aircraft, the observers would bail out of the basket as soon as the threat was spotted.
Fast forwarding to the present, the parachute has become an essential tool for most modern armies. Parachutes enable the rapid delivery of large numbers of soldiers, equipment, and supplies into a warzone, and they facilitate the silent, nighttime arrival of small groups of special operations forces directly into the backyard of an enemy. But with all the advances to the science of parachute design and utilization, the activity, by its very nature, remains highly dangerous given the large number of variables and potential fault points. Those whose profession makes regular use of parachutes are in a constant search for new technologies and methodologies that can help mitigate risk.
One of those advances is the PARASIM Virtual Reality Parachute Simulator shown in Figure 17.5, from Systems Technology, Inc. of Hawthorne, California. Initially developed for the U.S. Forest Service to help train smokejumpers (wilderness firefighters) in identifying emergencies in their chutes, the system has gone on to become a vital training tool for all branches of the U.S. military, Special Operations Command, USDA Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and similar organizations worldwide.
Figure 17.5 The PARASIM Virtual Reality Parachute Simulator is used by all branches of the U.S. military as well as other departments and agencies to train personnel in critical airborne operations.
Credit: Image courtesy of Systems Technology, Inc
The PARASIM system is available in multiple configurations with the selection based on end user needs. For instance, in premeditated static-line and freefall operations, jumpers exit an aircraft and either immediately assume a horizontal orientation until a chute is deployed, or in the case of a static line jump, are relatively quickly moved into a vertical orientation. To support training for these operations, one version of the product includes powered winches, which will automatically transition a user from a horizontal to a vertical orientation once a virtual chute is deployed within a simulation.
Another version of the product is specifically designed to facilitate training in aircrew emergency ejections and bailouts. In most real-world training scenarios, these situations result in immediate canopy deployment, thus eliminating the need for extra rigging in the simulator.
As shown in Figure 17.6, the general configuration of both versions of the system include a stereoscopic head-mounted display (a variable component based on customer specifications), IMU sensors to track orientation of the user’s head, and control lines/steering toggles. In the version of the simulator used for premeditated jumps and delayed openings, a Microsoft Kinect sensor (see Chapter 11, “Sensors for Tracking Position, Orientation, and Motion”) is used to track hand and arm motions to enable control of the fall through virtual space, just as in an actual jump.
Figure 17.6 The PARASIM Virtual Reality Parachute Simulator includes a stereoscopic wide field of view (FOV) head-mounted display and sensors to track the orientation of the user’s head.
Credit: Image courtesy of DoD
The real magic of this simulator is in the software. PARASIM is a high-fidelity, physics-based jump simulator that includes more than 50 different chute designs, the detailed performance characteristics for which are accurately reproduced within the simulations. This enables high precision training using any chute, under any atmospheric conditions. Designed for training both novice as well as experienced jumpers, the system allows for simulation of malfunctions and emergency procedures, canopy control, development of proper situational awareness, variable landing techniques, and more. The software suite also includes a variety of simulation environments based on real-world locations (STI, 2013a).
Another highly useful feature of PARASIM is the ability to network an unlimited number of systems. In such simulations, all jumpers can see representations of one another, providing an ideal means through which to plan and rehearse group operations.
As shown in Figure 17.7, a third variation on the system is available for training jump masters. Using the Fused Reality technology described in the previous section, the system is a mixed-reality application intended to develop and refine the skills necessary to oversee and manage a combat-equipped jump and can be used in combination with groups of PARASIM users (STI, 2013b).
Figure 17.7 The Jump Master variant for the PARASIM system is a mixed reality application enabling in-depth training of jump masters in the management and oversight of airborne operations.
Credit: Image courtesy of Systems Technology, Inc