The Modern Battlespace recently had the opportunity to attend the Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference (I/ITSEC). This annual conference held at the end of November in Orlando is the preeminent training and simulation event – demonstrating how new technologies can revolutionize the way we train warfighters, medical personnel, and other tactical operators in a variety of industries and professions.
One trend that was a major focus of discussion at this year’s I/ITSEC because of its potential to fundamentally transform how the military conducts training was the use of the Metaverse and Extended Reality (XR). This trend was seen everywhere, from the numerous sessions that covered Metaverse and XR technologies to the many Virtual Reality (VR) devices that flooded the exhibitor floor – giving attendees a glimpse of what it is like to skydive, fly an airplane, operate weapons systems, and more.
While XR is primarily considered a consumer technology by the average American, the emphasis on XR at I/ITSEC shows how this intuitive technology is making its way to enterprises and the military. And the discussion at I/ITSEC made it clear that innovation from military industry partners will help to further solidify the role of XR technologies in military training in the future.
“It is important to put meaningful capabilities in the hands of the warfighter as soon as possible.” — Maj Gen Shawn Bratton
Jack Bergman, Congressional Modeling and Simulation Caucus Co-Chair and Congressman of Michigan’s First District, spoke to this notion, “A good government body creates a field for innovation to flourish, but industry drives innovation.”
The innovation in XR and virtual training couldn’t come at a more important time. Attendees and speakers at I/ITSEC made it abundantly clear of a new challenge facing America’s military – the reemergence of near-peer adversaries as pacing threats to our defense and national security.
With the emergence of more capable and sophisticated threats, it is imperative to best prepare new military personnel as quickly and efficiently as possible. Maj Gen Shawn Bratton, Commander of Space Training and Readiness Command with the U.S. Space Force, spoke of this importance, “It is important to put meaningful capabilities in the hands of the warfighter as soon as possible.” And XR could play an essential role in that moving forward.
What are the Metaverse and XR?
The Metaverse is a virtual-reality space in which users can interact with a computer-generated environment and other users.
“XR makes the invisible visible, and the intangible tangible.” — Joann archer
There is a common misconception that XR is the Metaverse; however, XR is actually the means of accessing the Metaverse. XR is all real and virtual combined environments and human systems interactions generated by computer technology and wearables. XR encompasses a number of technologies, including Augmented Reality (AR), VR, and Mixed Reality (MR).
JoAnn Archer, Senior Research Associate at Design Interactive, summarized XR by stating, “XR makes the invisible visible, and the intangible tangible.”
AR is virtual components overlayed on a real-world experience to provide information and guidance. This helps seamlessly blend the real and virtual worlds while keeping people engaged in the moment. VR is the computer-generated simulation of a three-dimensional image or environment that can be interacted with in a seemingly real or physical way by a person using special electronic equipment, such as headgear or gloves fitted with sensors. Lastly, MR is the link between real and augmented worlds.
By leveraging these technologies individually or in concert, the military can provide immersive training and simulation experiences that can better prepare the warfighter for what they’ll experience on the battlefield. And this is why the military is catching on to the power of the Metaverse and XR technologies. But there is more to these technologies than providing a realistic, immersive training experience.
Training Gen Z and beyond
As noted by Military Times, there is an issue with recruitment rates of military personnel due to the training crisis, especially among the younger generations. “The Army missed its recruiting goal by about 15,000 new soldiers in 2022, coming up 25% short of its goal at a time when each of the services were struggling to meet their benchmarks.”
“There is an issue retaining military personnel due to the training crisis. The Metaverse and AR will help us out of the hole.” — Peter Squire, ph.d.
Typical generations for recruitment are Generation Z, but the military will need to consider Generation Alpha for the future.
What worked in the 20th century, which was classroom training, will not work in the 21st century. PowerPoint slides simply don’t work for this new generation, and the military’s training needs to reflect this fact. It is important to keep recruits engaged in the training materials not only to improve learning but also to help keep them interested in the military. The question here is how do we meet new recruits where they are? The answer – leverage gaming via XR technologies.
Peter Squire, Ph.D., Program Officer of Human Performance, Training, and Education, elaborated on this issue when he said, “There is an issue retaining military personnel due to the training crisis. The Metaverse and AR will help us out of the hole.”
These newer generations grew up playing video games, so using XR helps them learn the best way they know how while providing an immersive experience and helping them feel more prepared on the battlefield. Lisa Costa, CTIO of the U.S. Space Force, spoke about how gaming is important to the new generation of military recruits. “86 percent of airmen and guardians under the age of 34 are gamers.”
Better. Faster. More Capable.
Not only do the Metaverse and XR keep military recruits engaged, but they also help train them quicker and better prepare them for the future battlefield. This is something that is already being witnessed in the private sector, which has seen its workforce improve tremendously by embracing XR in training programs.
“Combining numerous instructional modalities fosters resilient training transfer and leads to achieving highly contextually relevant, cognitive, psychomotor, and affective skills training.” — Joann archer
Kay Stanney, CEO of Design Interactive, used Boeing as an example, citing that, “Boeing cut training time by 75 percent by implementing VR technology.”
The use of XR technologies allows the training process to be adaptive to the user and create a more customized experience based on an individual’s progress. If a recruit is falling behind on a particular task and needs extra training, the portability of XR allows them to practice anywhere at any time. This convenience helps ensure readiness on the battlefield for every team member.
Using the Metaverse also helps develop cognitive muscle memory, which is important for military personnel in mission rehearsal. As a matter of fact, according to Costa, “You are 22 times more likely to remember something taught in a story format.”
Even using a combination of real-world and XR training can have significant impacts. Archer reinforced this concept by saying, “Combining numerous instructional modalities fosters resilient training transfer and leads to achieving highly contextually relevant, cognitive, psychomotor, and affective skills training.”
Train continuously in high-stress situations
Imagine having to train in high-stress and even dangerous scenarios, such as having to learn how to properly throw a grenade or disarm a bomb. Though it is essential to keep military personnel safe, it is also imperative to simulate real-world, high-stress situations to ensure readiness. XR and the Metaverse may be the key to getting the best of both worlds, literally.
“Gamers are 25 times more likely to see an object that they have seen previously in a high-stress situation.” — Lisa Costa
Costa spoke of this importance by stating, “We need to train the way we fight and fight the way we train.”
Training in VR allows military personnel to train on and understand dangerous equipment without the fear of injury. XR gaming also helps trainees hone key decision-making skills in high-stress situations without putting lives in jeopardy. Costa stated the effectiveness of high-stress XR gaming by saying, “Gamers are 25 times more likely to see an object that they have seen previously in a high-stress situation.”
XR training is also being used in other high-stress scenarios, such as Tactical Combat Casualty Care (TCCC). TCCC involves helping wounded military personnel and casualties on the battlefield, which requires medical assistance in a high-stress situation. This training is so important and effective that every single member of the military, even those not in combat, is required to take it.
With the help of AR, military team members can learn how to provide medical assistance that can save lives while simulating the high-stress environment of the battlefield.
The Metaverse and XR in the future of military training
I/ITSEC demonstrated that there is value and benefit to the disparate military services leveraging the Metaverse and XR technologies for training. The Metaverse and XR technologies can, and already are, helping prepare current and future generations of military personnel to be ready for the battlefield, all while keeping learners engaged.
This notion is especially important today, with a large number of gamers currently in the military, and this amount is sure to increase in the upcoming years. It’s essential to embrace XR and the Metaverse to get this next generation of warfighters ready for the battlefield faster and to keep them engaged in their training.