Bohemia Interactive Simulations' co-founder Pete Morrison believed video games could drive advancements in training and after partnering together for two years, BAE Systems has acquired "BISim." Here is how they are carrying that vision forward.
Now in the fold of BAE Systems’ U.S. subsidiary, Bohemia Interactive Simulations started in Australia nearly 10 years ago with its headquarters being on farmland at the time with animals making noise in the background.
Roughly halfway through that typical startup origin story, company co-founder and former Australian army officer Pete Morrison realized that video games could both inspire and be adapted into training platforms for soldiers.
“We’re at very interesting inflection point where with the adoption of virtual techniques for training soldiers, virtual is becoming almost more important than live,” BISim CEO Arthur Alexion told me.
Case in point: a 2018 statement from the U.K. army that described a paradigm shift to “’virtual before live,’ where live training is used to consolidate and confirm skills learned in a virtual environment."
BISim has arguably hit their own inflection point in becoming a 325-person team that works in 60 countries around the world. BAE Systems Inc. has closed its nearly $200 million acquisition of BISim that was first announced in November, nearly two years after the companies first started working together.
That partnership originated in a program with the U.S. Marine Corps on helping the branch advance its wargaming and virtual approach for training.
Peder Jungck, vice president of BAE Systems Inc.’s intelligence solutions business area, said in the same interview that BISim’s product line has been “core to that architecture under the system” BAE built for the Marines.
In another example, Jungck said BISim has developed a terrain-focused product that “helps map the entire globe within these simulations.”
“That really struck a chord with all of our geospatial teams,” Jungck added.
How BISim’s team and product library fits into the larger 80,000-employee enterprise that is BAE is where both businesses look to make the classic “one-plus-one equaling three” equation work for this acquisition.
“We expect to be able to leverage the deep customer relationships they have, all of the technical knowledge and intellectual property that sits within BAE,” Alexion said. “Some of which we are bound to commercialize and push out through our distribution network.”
Perhaps not as overtly stated in the U.S. versus the U.K., the direction of virtual-before-live when it comes to the training of soldiers has become more pronounced as military branches look for ways to incorporate more software and gaming technologies.
As Jungck pointed out, live training is very difficult and expensive to do at the necessary scale for replicating what happens in the field. Virtual not only provides simulations of the experiences, but ways to assess how people go through the exercises.
Take ground-based activities for instance, where 50 people may be spread multiple hundreds of yards apart and that makes it challenging for their commanders to keep up with them all individually.
“In virtual you can see if they are keeping their eyes focused in the right direction, keeping their distance and spacing, there’s many things people are learning in that, and that’s leading to a change,” Jungck said. “Our customers all have different timeframes in how they get this shift done, but it’s really at the forefront of this trajectory change.”
Also of mutual interest to BAE and BISim is how they incorporate technologies outside of their control into the training environment, including but not limited to cloud computing and augmented reality headsets.
Alexion said much of BISIm’s growth has been driven by those tools to some extent, “but are very useful technologies for the virtual environment” given how many of them come from the gaming realm.
“The headset is simply the visualization and the sound of that world,” Alexion said, adding one problem they focus on is how to use and control actual physical items in that virtual space.
Cloud in particular has been an area of emphasis for BAE’s intelligence and security sector, which is the organization Jungck resides in and houses the defense company’s systems integration work.
Having upwards of 10,000 people into a broader training event requires a scalable environment and computing resources to support it for example, he said.
Those cloud environments are going to have to be secured as well, he added. BAE and the Marine Corps have been collaborating on that issue with BISim participating as well.
From the BAE perspective, Jungck said much of that harkens back to its approach of bringing commercially-developed tools into the government environment and not attempting to outrun the economics in the former.
“The billions and billions of dollars in advancement of technology has really changed the footprint of things that we do,” Jungck said.
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