Virtual military training

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The origin of the virtual training goes back to the eighties of the twentieth century‭, ‬when computers were used to simulate training‭, ‬which granted military personnel a chance to train in a safe and controlled environment‭. ‬The virtual reality takes computer based training to the next level‭. ‬It gives trainees the chance to not only train in a safe way‭, ‬but one that is incredibly realistic and intuitive‭. ‬This gives them the chance to perfect their military skills[1‭]. ‬This analysis will shed light on virtual training and its most prominent forms‭, ‬in addition to the multiple benefits it provides to armies‭. ‬It will also refer to the American and Chinese experiences in benefiting from some forms of virtual training‭.‬

Virtual Training Forms‭ ‬

Virtual training is considered an application of virtual reality and it is intended to create an unreal environment by using computers and other information technology devices and tools‭. ‬Virtual reality is a three-dimensional world made by computer to enable personnel to move and interact with the help of some technical devices‭, ‬such as special helmets‭, ‬glasses‭, ‬headsets and special gloves that enable users to hold and grab things in the real world‭. ‬

There is also the socalled augmented reality‭, ‬which differs from the virtual reality technology in one important aspect‭: ‬the user will be able to see imaginary dual and three dimensional scenes in real surroundings‭. ‬These scenes are integrated with reality‭ ‬before the user‭, ‬to produce what is known as‭ ‬“Augmented Reality”‭.‬

In‭ ‬“virtual training”‭, ‬users act‭, ‬behave and have experiences closer to what is happening on reality‭. ‬This is similar to the virtual environments‭, ‬which are used in flight training‭, ‬or marine navigation‭, ‬etc[2‭] .‬

Some analysts coin a more general definition for‭ ‬“simulation training”‭ ‬or virtual training‭, ‬and considered it‭: ‬“the process of using a comprehensive modern simulation technology based on computer technology‭, ‬virtual reality technology‭, ‬distributed simulation technology and artificial intelligence technology to simulate the performance of weapons systems‭, ‬the environment of combat‭, ‬the enemy performance‭, ‬combat tasks‭, ‬and the combat operations with high precision‭. ‬The trainee can feel an atmosphere close to the actual fighting atmosphere‭, ‬which resulted in raising his training level to the maximum by the end of the training”‭[‬3‭] .‬

The market size of virtual training and military simulation amounted to about 10.31‭ ‬billion US dollars in 2016‭. ‬It is expected to reach 12.67‭ ‬billion US dollars by 2021‭, ‬with a compound annual growth rate of 4.20‭ % ‬during this period‭.[‬4‭]  ‬Some estimates expect that this market will grow even more in connection with the Corona pandemic‭, ‬that caused in postponing a number of joint military trainings around the world‭.‬

Virtual training can be divided into four main types

1‭ ‬Weapon Simulation Training‭: ‬This type of training aims to improve the operational level of equipment‭, ‬and its maintenance‭, ‬so‭ ‬it can be divided into operation simulation and maintenance simulation‭. ‬

2‭ ‬Military Campaign Simulation Training‭: ‬It aims to simulate military operations‭, ‬which revolve around carrying out specific combat missions‭.  

3‭ ‬Strategic Simulation Training‭: ‬It helps senior and middle leaders on decision making strategy‭, ‬and also helps in the development of strategic thinking‭.‬

4‭ ‬Weapons Using Simulation‭: ‬This simulation method of work equipment and weapons which saves required time and effort‭. ‬It can reduce the technical corrosion of weapons and equipment‭, ‬and is used widely in different types of training on military equipment‭. ‬

Multiple benefits

‭ ‬A number of virtual trainings benefits can be clarified‭, ‬namely‭:‬

1‭ ‬Reducing Spending‭: ‬UK Ministry of Defense revealed that training a soldier in the British army on the basic combat skills costs 38‭ ‬thousand sterling pounds‭. ‬Of course‭, ‬advanced and specialized training and combat actions that need more equipment will require spending far more than the previous cost‭. [‬5‭] .‬

It is known that military training requires spending a huge amount of money‭, ‬as well as moving massive amount of vehicles and the mobilizing a large number of troops to be trained‭. ‬In addition‭, ‬national legislations impose restrictions on training places‭, ‬which is considered an additional benefits of virtual training‭. ‬

Growing restrict regulations reduce the list of training places that can be used by armed forces‭. ‬Germany offers an example of‭  ‬how civilian population has become a restricting in regard with the number of training and where the armed forces can be trained‭. 

2‭ ‬Reduction of losses in the ranks of the armed forces‭: ‬Some military statistics show that one of every 20‭ ‬soldiers die in military training‭, ‬which demonstrates the importance of virtual and augmented reality techniques in training without loss of life‭, ‬as‭ ‬they are considered very safe‭, ‬in addition to the low cost‭.[‬6‭] ‬In the United States‭, ‬31.9‭ % ‬of the total US military deaths happened between 2006‭ ‬and 2018‭, ‬during training while there were only 16.3%‭ ‬deaths in hostilities‭ [‬7‭]‬‭ .‬

3‭ ‬Hone the skills of the trainees‭: ‬VR training is a good way to give military personnel an opportunity to learn basic skills to survive in highly stressful‭, ‬dangerous and diverse environments in a safe and risk free location‭. ‬Virtual and augmented training can hone individual’s fighting skills and decision making in response to different scenarios‭, ‬as well as promoting tactical and strategic thinking‭.‬

4‭ ‬Provide a collective training opportunity‭: ‬The ability to rely on colleagues is critical to all military units in order to perform their functions efficiently‭. ‬Virtual reality training provides units an opportunity to train together‭, ‬which means that it can help in training on how to work effectively by mutual dependence between trainees‭. ‬They will understand the impact of their deeds on their colleagues‭[‬8‭]‬‭ .‬

5‭ ‬Collective training with the ability of individual assessment‭:‬‭ ‬Virtual and augmented training contributes to training large numbers of personnel at the same time‭. ‬This helps reduce training‭ ‬spending‭, ‬as well as ensuring the consistency of the training method among thousands of military personnel‭, ‬with the added advantage of being able to monitor and evaluate individual performance‭. 

6‭ ‬Embodiment of complex environments‭:‬‭ ‬Virtual reality can provide a realistic digital replication of the complex environments‭, ‬providing soldiers a safe way to learn‭ ‬how to engage with the enemy‭, ‬whilst also coping with external factors such as the presence of civilians‭, ‬as well as varied conditions‭, ‬including different times of day and weather challenges‭. ‬Moreover‭, ‬virtual and augmented reality training enables soldiers to learn how to cope with highly stressful situations and improve a range of skills‭, ‬from effective communications to decisive fighting techniques‭. ‬And it can also help them to learn how to deal with hostile environments‭, ‬such as suicide bombers or sniper attacks‭ .‬

7‭ ‬Training during epidemics‭: ‬Corona pandemic has raised questions about how the military forces can carry out their training and preparations to protect the‭ ‬homelands against any potential threats‭, ‬in light of the commitment to implement safety measures to prevent infection from corona virus‭. ‬Experts and specialists answered that there is a need to accelerate plans to develop and update training programs and to increase investment in new virtual reality technology‭. 

The American Experience

The Army US tends to shift its focus to fighting in the multienvironment‭. ‬Therefore‭, ‬the army requested contracting a new system‭ ‬that allows collective training on air‭, ‬land‭, ‬sea‭, ‬internet and space‭. ‬This system will not be used for training purposes‭, ‬but‭ ‬as a planning tool for military tasks‭. ‬To meet the requirements of this new system‭, ‬they developed‭ ‬“Synthetic Training Environment”‭. ‬

Synthetic Training Environment is considered a 3D training tool for soldiers‭. ‬It combines virtual gaming and training environments to help troops better prepare for war against technologically advanced enemies such as China‭, ‬Russia‭, ‬or other potential enemies‭ .‬

This system consists of‭  ‬“One World Terrain”‭, ‬and gathers accurate virtually realistic maps for all regions‭, ‬in addition to the training simulator‭, ‬a tool for the management of training‭, ‬and virtual collective trainers‭. ‬The idea of this system is to enable that the trainee to click anywhere on the virtual globe and go there‭.‬

Soldiers can then be effectively trained in a specific environment where they are expected to work in reality‭. ‬A few years ago‭, ‬the construction of this system was difficult‭, ‬tedious and costly but through of new technology applications‭, ‬we can build the system in eight hours instead of nine months in the past‭[‬9‭]‬‭ .‬

The training simulator also supports the simultaneous training process across multiple sites and training platforms‭. ‬The Training Manager tool allows users to build training scenarios based on simulation databases‭. ‬The United States expects to finish this‭ ‬system‭, ‬and to be employable in military training‭, ‬in fiscal year 2023‭.‬

Chinese experience

Rocket Force in the Chinese army use virtual reality to train soldiers on using the missile systems‭. ‬This step means the possibility of training frequently at low cost‭, ‬as the forces can be‭  ‬trained on launching missiles without really installing and launching them‭. ‬It was also possible for the Chinese soldiers to train on tactics associated with launching missiles without leaving‭ ‬the base‭.‬

The new virtual reality training platform enables the Chinese soldiers in The Missiles Force Unit to exercise leadership‭, ‬work and support tasks in an environment that resembles the real world‭. ‬This technology has also turned‭ ‬“largescale”‭ ‬missile training in the past into a‭ ‬“quiet and effective training”‭. 

A missile launch exercise in practice involves the participation of thousands of soldiers and requires the transportation of large pieces of equipment to a training environment‭. ‬The‭ ‬“virtual training ground”‭ ‬means that it is possible to simulate the exercise‭, ‬so that soldiers can use it for training repeatedly‭. ‬China seeks to emulate‭ ‬the world’s most advanced armies in this field‭ ‬‭[‬10‭]‬‭ .‬

As paratroopers in China turn to‭  ‬virtual reality in a try to strengthen the combat readiness‭, ‬their military leaderships try to‭ ‬change the training model from the Russian to the American model to address the lack of real combat experience‭.‬

A Chinese brigade commander was quoted saying that all new recruits underwent a Parachute training‭, ‬using virtual reality for the first time‭, ‬and we are satisfied with the results‭. ‬He noted that the airborne virtual reality training is too flexible in the‭ ‬simulations for taking off and landing‭, ‬as well as some emergency cases‭. ‬It provides very real experiences‭, ‬that allow trainee to learn the skills and basic theories of skydiving operations‭ ‬‭[‬11‭]‬‭ .‬

In conclusion‭, ‬it can be said that many countries have begun to benefit from virtual training to raise the skills of their armed‭ ‬forces‭, ‬given the many advantages it provides‭, ‬the most prominent of which is reducing spending and enhancing the efficiency of‭ ‬the armed forces‭. ‬The repercussions of the Corona pandemic accelerate the tempo of adopting‭ ‬“Virtual Training”‭  ‬in many countries‭. ‬

Dr‭. ‬Shadi Mohamed‭ ‬
Researcher in military affairs

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