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I/ITSEC 2023: US Army’s training transformation drive reports mixed results

23rd November 2023 - 14:44 GMT | by Giles Ebbutt


Teething troubles with the IVAS headset have hampered the Squad Immersive Virtual Trainer project, but soldier feedback has been helpful in identifying the issues. (Photo: US Army)

How the US Army’s development of a new training environment has been utilising virtual reality technologies, what contracts have been awarded to different companies for its components and how has the industry been facing up to the challenges it faces.

The US Army is continuing a drive to transform its training capability, both individual and collective, through the development of the Synthetic Training Environment (STE), with the award of further development and production contracts for systems that will either replace existing equipment or provide new capabilities.

This process, however, is not going entirely smoothly.

The STE vision is for ‘a single, interconnected training system that provides a training environment in which units…conduct individual and collective training’. The aim is to deliver training at the point of need, with common data, common standards, a common terrain database and an open architecture.

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This is a bold vision which includes several systems addressing different elements, all related to a common core, the STE Information System (STE-IS). This itself consists of Training Simulation Software (TSS), the Training Management Tool (TMT) and One World Terrain (OWT).

Falling under the Program Executive Office Simulation, Training and Instrumentation (PEO STRI) and the STE Cross-Functional Team (CFT), one notable characteristic of the STE effort has been its agile acquisition and rapid prototyping approach through use of the Other Transactional Authority (OTA) contract vehicle.

This has enabled prototype solutions to be developed rapidly and given to soldiers for testing, allowing an iterative process which is centred on the potential user rather than the developer or acquisition authority.

This delivers early tangible results, and although the resulting prototypes may not provide a solution, they are valuable steps on the journey to developing a final product.

The latest example is an OTA contract award to a partnership led by CAE USA for Phase II of the Soldier Virtual Trainer (SVT) programme, announced by the company in July.

The partnership, aside from CAE, includes 4C Strategies, FAAC, Haptech, Odyssey Arm and Serious Simulations. The same group produced a Phase I SVT solution following a US$2.9 million OTA award in June 2022. Phase II will finalise this prototype over 20 months.

The SVT, one of the individual systems integrated with the common core, is an immersive trainer using virtual, mixed and augmented reality (VR/MR/AR) that will provide individual training in three areas: weapons skills development (WSD), use of force (UoF) and a joint fires trainer (JFT).

It is described in the 2021 RfI as a ‘soldier-enabled training capability that develops… the skills necessary to employ individual and squad organic weapons, certification/qualification of Joint Fires Observers and non-lethal equipment’.

It will replace, respectively, the existing Engagement Skills Trainer (EST), various COTS UoF systems, and the Call for Fire Trainer (CFFT), and provide these capabilities in a single solution that can be used at the point of need.

Although CAE’s prototype is still under wraps, its partners offer a range of expertise. Serious Simulations specialises in VR/AR/MR weapon training systems; Haptech provides drop-in kits and surrogate weapons; FAAC offers UoF simulators; Odyssey Arm has produced devices that integrate weapons with VR; and 4C Strategies is a developer of training management systems. CAE itself obviously has huge experience in training and simulation.

Another system that will be integrated with STE-IS is the Reconfigurable Virtual Collective Trainer (RVCT), which will replace the Close Combat Tactical Trainer and Aviation Combined Arms Tactical Trainer. A $500 million OTA production contract was awarded to Cole Engineering Services in May 2023. RVCT platforms will be deployed at 14 sites by 2028.

The tank commander’s seat of an M1A2 Abrams tank simulated by a Reconfigurable Virtual Collective Trainer during a demonstration at the Pentagon. (Photo: US Army)

Although SVT and RVCT are on track, other elements of the STE programme have not had such a smooth progression.

The Squad Immersive Virtual Trainer (SIVT), which will allow for rapid conduct and repetition of squad-level training in an MR-based synthetic environment, relies heavily on the Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS). This is a head-mounted display that can provide AR for both training and operations, procurement of which is the responsibility of PEO Soldier.

The IVAS programme has faced some setbacks related to the technology and is now nearly two years late in fielding, although recent tests of a new version were promising and some limited deployment for training is expected to commence soon.

The project has demonstrated the value of the iterative development process, however, as the faults with the initial versions were exposed through user trials by soldiers.

Equally, the initial sweeping vision for the STE Live Training System (STE LTS) of replacing current laser-based tactical engagement simulation systems (TESS) with an entirely new laser-less system has had to be modified after it collided with reality.

Although there has been a series of OTA contracts awarded to develop prototypes for a new system, a hybrid ‘bridge’ solution that will extend to 2032 and incorporates existing equipment is now being sought. But as the technology to support non-laser systems such as geo-pairing and photographic solutions develops, so they will be incorporated into the eventual STE-LTS.

This article originally featured in Shephard’s Decisive Edge Newsletter – Training in August 2023. 

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Giles Ebbutt


Giles Ebbutt

Giles Ebbut is a Shephard Media correspondent based in the UK who specialises in C4ISR …

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