Three Ways Virtual Reality Can Improve Military Training

AETC collaborates their virtual world work through an active participation in the Federal Consortium for Virtual Worlds.

AETC collaborates their virtual world work through an active participation in the Federal Consortium for Virtual Worlds.

Col. John Thompson is the Future Learning Advisor to the Air Education and Training Command (AETC) Director of Plans, Programs, Requirements, and Assessments. He is responsible for facilitating innovation across AETC’s recruiting, training and education mission.

Efficiency of flight simulators has improved since they first appeared in the 1930s. My first flight as a commercial airline pilot was with a full passenger load because the fidelity of the flight simulator made the training so realistic that it didn’t require aircraft flight hours.

We now have a similar capability available for a far broader training and education spectrum. We can now use virtual environments to train more efficiently or in environments that are too dangerous to recreate.

The key to this training is a realistic immersion. You need to feel like you are present in the environment. The virtual environment provides the immersion and the scalability is drastically improved. An example of the scalability is a base exercise which is generally limited to a portion of the base. The reason for the limit is due to some portion of the mission needing to continue. However, if a weapon of mass destruction were to be used in a large city it would likely effect large portions of multiple bases (like Joint Base San Antonio). We can use a virtual environment to train such a cataclysmic event. AETC is testing large-scale exercise scenarios in a virtual environment by building the Joint Base San Antonio command post.

Another scenario AETC is exploring is mission rehearsal. Imagine a humanitarian effort using an international airport as a base somewhere in AFRICOM’s area of responsibility. In order to support the effort, we need to quickly expand the existing international airport infrastructure. To increase the productivity of the deploying Airmen, we expose you to the virtual environment in training for familiarization of the base, your work environment, and your fellow workers. AETC is testing this concept in a virtual environment by building a virtual Fort Sam Houston, using its existing infrastructure, and simulating plans for the BRAC related construction.

AETC’s final virtual environment projects are related to the classroom. Certain classes require an instructor to be present. It is not efficient to fly students from around the world to the course location, so we propose immersing the students in a virtual environment to save the travel cost.

This is the second post in Col. Thompson’s five-part series on advanced learning technology. In his other posts, Col. Thompson explored mobile learning systems and gaming and simulations.

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