ORLANDO, Fla. -- One conundrum to providing a realistic and immersive virtual training experience for Soldiers is portraying computer-generated people and objects behind real things, and doing so in real time from multiple perspectives as actors and objects move around.

Addressing this challenge, known as dynamic occlusion, is one focus as the Army works with industry and academia partners to build the Synthetic Training Environment.

Members of the Synthetic Training Environment Cross Functional Team are working with the Program Executive Office for Simulation, Training and Instrumentation, or PEO STRI, and the Simulation and Training Technology Center, known as STTC, to build the Army's most advanced training capability. These partners discussed dynamic occlusion and other known challenges during the 2019 Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference, Dec. 2-6 in Orlando, Florida.

This event presented an excellent venue to address current and future needs with industry and academia, said Maj. Gen. Maria Gervais, director of the Army's Synthetic Training Environment CFT.

The Synthetic Training Environment is the Army's No. 1 training modernization initiative. It is a holistic strategy intended to address limitations in training for multi-domain operations today and into the future, Gervais told a standing-room-only crowd at the conference.

"We've made great progress with technologies such as One World Terrain, and we are on track for initial fielding of our Reconfigurable Virtual Collective Trainers in 2021," Gervais said. "So we wanted to talk here about the progress we made, and we also want to help our business and research partners understand where we need the most help as we move forward."

ACHIEVING GREATER REALISM

The dynamic occlusion problem may be familiar to some video gamers. When virtual projections within a player's view of the world are not layered appropriately with real-world objects, the experience feels unnatural. In military scenarios, the problem can adversely affect the learning experience or lead to negative habit transfer if a Soldier can't realistically take cover or if a vehicle crew is hindered from accurately aiming and firing on an enemy position.

At the same time, the Army wants to improve live training, including finding alternatives to I-MILES -- the Instrumentable-Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System. That system is built on technologies developed in the 1970s and 1980s and is widely used to support live force-on-force and force-on-target training at Army training centers worldwide.

Although I-MILES has seen enhancements over the years, laser-based systems inherently introduce artificialities into live exercises because of their limited ability to realistically represent lethal effects. A shrub or cardboard box, for example, provides effective cover from a laser hit, but would be useless in a firefight.

The cross-functional team also told conference attendees they want to more accurately depict the effects of direct and indirect fire and to facilitate training on more sophisticated or longer-range weapons that can't easily be integrated in a live training exercise.

"Our goal with 'live' is to better replicate the lethality, vulnerability and effects of actual live-fire engagements at all of our Army training centers," Gervais said. "Simultaneously, the consequences of all the actions and the weapons systems in use must be accurately depicted in the virtual environment so Soldiers training via simulation at other locations will have the same operational picture in real time."

PURSUING NEW TECHNOLOGIES

As the acquisition director for the cross-functional team, Destry Grogan's message to vendors and academics is the need to synchronize government and commercial spending to avoid the pursuit of non-priority technologies.

"Military and government-funded institutions -- like the Simulation and Training Technology Center here in Orlando and the Institute for Creative Technologies at the University of Southern California -- are focusing research dollars on solving some key technical challenges associated with all-source terrain conflation, dynamic occlusion, and weapons and ballistic accuracy," Grogan said. "We want other academic institutions and industry partners to show us the art of the possible in areas like artificial intelligence with a focus on machine learning, adaptive networks and reasoning."

Other key areas where the team seeks help and collaboration to meet future STE requirements include intelligent tutoring, streaming delivery across adverse networks, cybersecurity, big data, augmented virtual reality, and 3D terrain data storage, processing, transmission and dissemination.

"A focus in these areas where we have known technology gaps will allow government and industry to avoid duplicating research efforts as much as possible," Grogan explained.

ADVANCING AIR AND GROUND TRAINING

Efforts also continue on developing virtual trainers intended to support Soldiers and small unit training. The CFT remains on track to begin fielding Reconfigurable Virtual Collective Trainers to support air and ground crew training and achieve initial operating capability in 2021. The RVCT-Air will replace the Aviation Combined Arms Tactical Trainer, while the RVCT-Ground will replace the Close Combat Tactical Trainer and replicate the range of ground vehicles in the Army's inventory while supporting dismounted Soldier training.

"By improving on legacy systems that use 1980s and 1990s technology, we will be able to train air-ground coordination and enable combined arms training for units at home station, which we haven't been able to do before," Gervais said. "Also, by ensuring the STE is built using common standards, common authoritative data, common terrain and an open architecture, we will be able to easily integrate future hardware and software solutions."

Other trainers currently in development include:
• Soldier Virtual Trainer: Comprises several capabilities. The Weapons Skill Developer will replace the Engagement Skills Trainer to support weapons qualification at Army installations. The Joint Fires Trainer will replace the Call for Fires trainer to train Soldiers on joint fires operations. The Use of Force Trainer will support escalation of force training for Soldiers and units. Scheduled for initial implementation in 2023 with full operational capability scheduled for 2025.

• Squad Immersive Virtual Trainer: SIVT is already in development as part of the Integrated Visual Augmentation System, a co-effort with the Soldier Lethality CFT. The IVAS is a mixed-reality heads-up display that overlays simulated imagery within a Soldier's view of the real world. The first squad trainer capability set will be fielded in 2021.

STE INFORMATION SYSTEM

These trainers all will be enabled by software that is under development to converge the live, virtual and constructive environments. Consisting of training simulation software, the Training Management Tool and One World Terrain, the STE's Information System will portray a common scenario for all training participants, depicting all player actions and battlefield effects in real time using authoritative 3D terrain models.

The introduction of artificial intelligence and machine-learning technologies will enable the creation of dynamic scenarios that present increasingly complex problems to the training audience, with the ultimate goal of training Soldiers to make better decisions when seconds count.
"Our intent with STE is to challenge leaders and units in the human dimension using cognitive performance feedback," Gervais said.