By Joyce M. Conant, ARL Public Affairs and Sara Preto, ICTAugust 8, 2017
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- The development of advanced learning technologies for training is underway. Linking augmented reality with live training will enable units to achieve the highest levels of warfighting readiness and give valuable training time back to commanders and Soldiers.
The U.S. Army must train to win in a complex world that demands adaptive leaders and organizations that thrive in ambiguity and chaos. To meet this need, the Army has developed Force 2025 and Beyond, a comprehensive strategy to change and deliver land-power capabilities as a strategic instrument of the future joint force. The successful implementation of this strategy requires a new training environment that is flexible, supports repetition, reduces overhead and is available at the point of need.
A joint effort between the U.S. Army Research Laboratory and several entities -- University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies, Combined Arms Center-Training and Program Executive Office for Simulation, Training and Instrumentation -- are working to research, prototype and eventually deliver the Synthetic Training Environment, otherwise known as STE.
STE is a collective training environment that leverages the latest technology for optimized human performance within a multi-echelon, mixed-reality environment. It provides immersive and intuitive capabilities to keep pace with a changing operational environment and enables Army training on joint combined arms operations. The STE moves the Army away from facility-based training, and instead, allows the Army to train at the point of need -- whether at home-station, combat training centers or at deployed locations.
"Due to the rapidly expanding industrial base in virtual and augmented reality and government advances in training technologies, the Army is moving out to seize an opportunity to augment readiness," said Col. Harold Buhl, ARL Orlando and ICT program manager. "With STE, the intent is to leverage commercial advances with military specific technologies to provide commanders adaptive unit-specific training options to achieve readiness more rapidly and sustain readiness longer."
Buhl said the intent is to immerse Soldiers in the complex operational environment and stress them physically and mentally, in order to "make the scrimmage as hard as the game," as General Martin Dempsey, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, once remarked.
This training environment delivers the next generation of synthetic collective trainers for armor, infantry, Stryker and combat aviation brigade combat teams. These trainers will result in lower overhead costs and will use advanced learning technologies with artificially intelligent entities to simultaneously train BCT-level and below. This multi-echelon collective training will be delivered to geographically distributed warfighters, at the point of need, for both current and future forces.
"As the Army evolves with manned and unmanned teams and other revolutionary battlefield capabilities, STE will be flexible enough to train, rehearse missions and experiment with new organization and doctrine," Buhl said.
Leveraging current mixed reality technologies, STE blends virtual, augmented and physical realities to provide commanders and leaders at all levels with multiple options to guide effective training across active and dynamic mission complexities. STE will provide intuitive applications and services that enable embedded training with mission command workstations and select platforms.
"This capability coupled with the immersive and semi-immersive technologies that bring all combat capabilities into the same synthetic environment, add to this quantum leap in training capability, the geo-specific terrain that STE will use in collaboration with Army Geospatial Center and you have the opportunity to execute highly accurate mission rehearsal of a mission and multiple branches and sequels," Buhl said.
STE adaptive technology supports rapid iterations and provides immediate feedback -- allowing leaders to accurately assess and adjust training -- all in real time. With a single open architecture that can provide land, air, sea, space and cyberspace synthetic environment with joint, interagency, intergovernmental, and multi-national partners, Army multi-domain operations are inherent with STE.
An increasingly complex element of the land domain is the expansion of megacities. In the coming decades, an increasing majority of the world's population is expected to reside in these dense urban areas. Technologies in development by ARL for STE will provide the realism of complexity and uncertainty in these dense and stochastic environments. STE is intended to evolve and enhance readiness in megacities by replicating the physical urban landscape, as well as the complex human dynamics of a large population.
"It enables our formations to train as they fight using their assigned mission command information systems, and all other BCT and echelons above BCT warfighting capabilities," Buhl said. "Operational informative systems and the training environment systems will share an identical common operating picture; enabling seamless mission-command across echelons."
Ryan McAlinden, director for Modeling, Simulation and Training at ICT, said his team has been working with ARL, the TRADOC capabilities manager, Combined Arms Center for Training and PEO STRI for the past year to help inform the requirements process for the STE.
"The team has been researching and prototyping techniques and technologies that show feasibility for the one world terrain part of the program," McAlinden said. "The hope is that these research activities can better inform the materiel development process when the STE is formally approved as a program of record."
By leveraging technology to provide the means to train in the complex operating environment of the future, integrating technologies to optimize team and individual performance, and providing tough realistic training that is synchronized with live capstone events and gives commanders options for accelerated and sustained readiness, STE is transforming Army training to achieve readiness and win in a complex world.
"As we develop, demonstrate and transition technologies across the U.S. Army Research Development and Engineering Command that provide solutions to tough Army problems, we never lose sight of focus on Soldiers and commanders," Buhl said. "These men and women deserve the very best in technology and more importantly in our respect for their leadership, initiative and ingenuity in the use of that technology. STE has tremendous opportunity for the Army if we develop and deliver with that focus."
The U.S. Army Research Laboratory, currently celebrating 25 years of excellence in Army science and technology, is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to provide innovative research, development and engineering to produce capabilities for decisive overmatch to the Army against the complexities of the current and future operating environments in support of the Joint Warfighter and the Nation. RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command.