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I/ITSEC 2016: NATO field HQs go virtual

30th November 2016 - 14:20 by Grant Turnbull in Orlando

I/ITSEC 2016: NATO field HQs go virtual

NATO’s Allied Command Transformation (NATO-ACT) is using this year’s I/ITSEC to demonstrate a new virtual operational headquarters (VOHQ) concept, designed to bring personnel from different nations together in a 3D virtual world.

VOHQ takes inspiration from so-called ‘Second Life’ computer generated environments, allowing participants to connect and share information in real-time using a standard desktop computer. The use of lifelike avatars adds additional realism and allows users to recognise different people they are working with.

One of the main purposes of the new software is rehearsing and preparing for operational deployments, ensuring that staff are well-trained in not just systems but also collaborating as a team.

The VOHQ will replicate the infrastructure and equipment found in a joint operational environment, particularly deployable command posts on operations. Supporting up to 50 people simultaneously, the software could even be used to replicate a building-based operations centre.

This virtual collaborative approach is important for NATO, which consists of 28 nations, as personnel are often in different locations and it consumes critical resources to bring everyone together for real-world training.

‘NATO gets its personnel and its formations from 28 different nations, so they are spread all over the globe and it’s always a challenge to get them together to train them collectively, and individually,’ said Lt Col Dennis Kalendruschat, a German Army officer within NATO-ACT and programme manager for VOHQ.

‘The idea [for VOHQ] is to provide a “one-stop-shop” which provides all the communications you need to talk, to collaborate and to train people,’ he added.

The software can replicate areas within a HQ including an operations room, which can include live feeds from a number of sources, such as unmanned aerial vehicles. Briefing areas can also be replicated with users able to share screens, upload files, and even carry out slide presentations – for instance, with Powerpoint – to a virtual classroom.

‘Sometimes the line between reality and what is virtual gets a little blurry,’ said Kalendruschat. ‘You can even make a phone call from the virtual world into the real world.’

The next stage is to roll out the system – which is still currently in a technology demonstration phase – for a specific nation or headquarters, with a ‘first use case’ likely to occur sometime in 2018. It is planned that the software would be used to prepare formations for NATO’s Trident Juncture 2018 exercise.

‘This would prepare the staff for that exercise,’ said Kalendruschat. ‘We would then conduct a study on the effectiveness of such a system and if it saves resources.’

The system has been developed by Florida-based Engineering & Computer Simulations, a company specialising in learning-technology solutions for both the military and commercial world. 

In the future, the training platform could be expanded further as both NATO and partner nations contribute to its development. Another iteration of the technology could see multiple virtual headquarters connected to perform even larger exercises.

For more from I/ITSEC 2016, see our dedicated news page.

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