How the Army is using advanced technology to modernize training

By Maureena Thompson, Army Futures CommandJune 28, 2022

FORT HOOD, Texas — A hot breeze moves across tall grass and under the square shade of a black tent.

Subject matter experts, industry tech developers, organizers and observers cluster beneath and beside the tent, taking note of which aspects of the 81 mm mortar prototype are working well and which could benefit from further improvements.

The prototype — like the others under scrutiny at this June Soldier touchpoint — is being tested multiple times over multiple days, allowing developers and analysts to make tweaks and corrections based on iterative performance feedback, robust data collection and a keen focus on ensuring emerging capabilities meet outlined requirements.

As the training mortar round drops through the cannon, it is met with the sound of mortar fire — a more subdued effect than a real launch would produce, but a nevertheless helpful indicator that a simulated action has taken place.

The sensor in the mortar round, which is activated when the device is held diagonally and triggered when dropped, relays a message to the system software that the device has fired, providing detailed data that can later be analyzed and utilized to improve training performance.

A Soldier demonstrates an 81 mm mortar prototype at Fort Hood, Texas.
“Same data, three rounds, fire for effect.” A Soldier receives the order to demonstrate an 81 mm mortar prototype during a Synthetic Training Environment Live Training System Soldier Touchpoint at Fort Hood, Texas, in June 2022. Once a location for tank destroyer training and basic combat instruction, the site has grown into one of the Army’s premier training areas, with extensive ranges to match the demands of both tactical and digital exercises. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo) VIEW ORIGINAL

By harnessing and integrating the synthetic environment that converges the live, virtual and constructive environments, the Synthetic Training Environment Live Training System, or STE LTS, will augment reality with improved tactical engagement simulation systems, producing more lifelike training scenarios for Soldiers.

Rather than simply simulating fire, for example, new technologies will allow a commander to evaluate whether and how a virtually rendered fire makes contact with its intended target. Enhancements to tactical simulators mean that training exercise evaluators can detect the precise impact of fires that pass through plexiglass, plywood, billowing smoke and other obstructive materials.

The integrated system will also enhance situational awareness, common operating pictures and the depth of after-action reviews, cultivating a system that serves requirements at the command level as well as on the ground.

Enabling these new training capabilities is a 5G network capable of non-standalone, standalone and millimeter wave technologies accessed by devices using 3D terrain maps from the Program Executive Office Simulation, Training and Instrumentation’s Agile Acquisition Response, or STARR, Team — the prototyping lead for STE LTS.

A Soldier tests out a Synthetic Training Environment Live Training System prototype at night.
A Soldier tests out a Synthetic Training Environment Live Training System prototype during a night exercise at Fort Hood, Texas. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo by Austin Thomas, Army Futures Command) VIEW ORIGINAL

“The enablers are essential to modernizing training envisioned by Army Senior Leaders,” said Curtis Leslie, Director of the STAAR Team. “We’re fully committed to ensuring the combat training centers and home station training sites have low latency networks with sufficient throughput to support scalable augmented, virtual and mixed reality training.”

“When we do that, coupled with next-generation engagement solutions, we will effectively equip the greatest Soldiers in the world with the greatest training tools in the world for many years to come,” Leslie said.

The Joint Readiness Training Center will be the first unit equipped with new devices from the STE LTS, with initial fielding beginning in Fiscal Year 2024.

As for the overall program, the STE LTS team will continue the cycle of iterative and agile development “until we have a solution that we’re ready to prove and field to the Soldier,” said Lt. Col. T.J. Naylor of the STE Cross-Functional Team, who serves as capability development lead for the STE LTS program.