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SPECIAL REPORT: Training and Simulation

Gaming Warfighters
The military is growing its use of gaming technologies to build simulations that train these soldiers in virtual reality, so they’ll be as prepared as possible for battlefield reality.   

*Simulating Reality
*Simulating Flight
*Gaming Warfighters
*Defense SimulationTraining [PDF] “At DOD they’ve been very forward thinking in the advancement of eLearning,” said Steve Kerschenbaum, Chief Technology Officer of Vertex Corporation. “The whole area is referred to as ADL – Advanced Distributive Learning – and there is actually an entity known as the ADL co-laboratory, a DOD sponsored entity that focuses on the specifications for standardization.”


Vertex provides a variety of eLearning services to government and has worked with the Air Education & Training Command (AETC), DHS, Agriculture and other government agencies.


An effective game or simulation requires an analysis of the task to be performed and the training system used; and then allowing gamers to put the story together in an intuitive way that creates a high degree of user acceptance.

Back in the old days – 15 to 20 years ago – someone would come up with some digital training that could be anywhere from 45 minutes to 12-14 hours and they would think of that as one chunk of training. But from a reusability standpoint, how are you going to use 14 hours and plug it in somewhere asks Kerschenbaum. According to Kerschenbaum that’s where SCORM – Sharable Content Object Reference Model – comes in. Instructional theory says you could really boil content down into a number of nuggets known as SCOs – Sharable Content Objects – that can be separately indexed and reused. That’s one of the big goals of the ADL SCORM standards.


At DOD content developed for delivery on a learning management system needs to be SCORM conformant, so that when it’s launched from the DOD systems, the student can be given credit for the course and mark their progress. “DOD has done a great job of providing guidance and standardization,” added Kerschenbaum, “and SCORM has emerged as the de facto content standard for eLearning.”


Wanted: High Fidelity Training

The services want training that is as “high fidelity” as possible said Dennis Wikoff, former Air Force program manager and Vertex gaming expert. “So to a pilot, for example, the highest fidelity training is getting in his jet and flying it and conducting a scenario based exercise in the sky. Dropping dummy weapons or doing air to air engagements or a refueling mission, in the plane he’s going to fly. That’s the highest fidelity training. And that’s considered training.”


Conversely the lowest fidelity training would probably be sitting and listening to an instructor with power point slides and pictures of airplanes and explaining the different parts of an airplane. Wikoff explained there are many stages in between. “Consider the weapons systems trainer, which is a full 3 degrees of freedom, full motion simulator – a $40 million visual system where they fly the aircraft. In commercial industry, the first time that pilots fly the actual aircraft, is when they are carrying passengers. They get certified fully on the simulator and their first actual aircraft flight is with passengers on board.”


So basically what you have then is the trainees and their bosses want the highest fidelity training possible. However, because of the expense of aircraft maintenance and the number of airplanes and jet fuel, they can’t always fly around to do their training. Weapons systems trainers say they can do emergency procedures, however you may run 5,000 students a year through a training program and only have three or four full up weapons systems trainers, so you can’t train everyone in those. So then they have cockpit procedural trainers. And it’s the same in the Army, you can only do so many field exercises where you deploy everybody in the field where you have the armor and the infantry guys show up for a big exercise.


Highest Fidelity On Lowest Level Device

So, how do you get high fidelity training to the lowest level device possible, to the most commonly distributed device possible, like a PC?Thus you see this big push towards simulation and gaming in the military according to Wikoff. “They have what’s called distributed mission training now, where you can have an observer who is trying to identify and lays a target and then calls for close air support to drop a bomb on that target,” explained Wikoff.


“So it’s an Army guy in the field with his binoculars filling out his form, and his laser designator and he is working with some Air Force guys. So you can have a guy flying an airplane over a range; you can have somebody else in an aircraft simulator; you can have another guy working a simulation on a PC of the laser designator; and they can all be communicating together and nobody really knows who is who; who is in the aircraft or who is in the simulator. Is the guy actually out in the field designating a target, or is he just using a PC simulation of that?”


They are all linked together and are all communicating together just the way they would be in the mission. “So that’s the top end of an integrated simulation system, or as the military calls it, a system of systems,” said Wikoff.  Another element Wikoff is working on is “screen real estate”. PCs may be the most common computing device, but younger generations are more accustomed to using hand held gaming devices and are more used to that kind of screen real estate.


Wikoff said research shows you need to have a certain visual acuity level to see moving objects on the small screen and the audio. Some of the simulation audio has three dimensional sound as well so that you can hear where the different input is coming from. “With Millennials, with the younger folks, it’s not only that they use technology, it’s the way they learn. The way the content is presented has to change and we are going to have to think a little bit more about how we deliver effective high fidelity training to those devices.” “The Army right now has 8 inch screens for all of their digital combat systems,” explained Wikoff. “With an iPhone, you’ve got a 2x3 screen. It’s surprising how much data you can display on that size screen, so it’s a matter of rethinking how we display a course where you are not going to have text and with the forward and back button and a bunch of menus at the top and some graphics pulling up on a mobile device.”