Soldier Insights Drive Army's Development of Mixed-Reality Training System

A U.S. Army Soldier adjusts his virtual reality headset during an evaluation of the Synthetic Training Environment’s Reconfigurable Virtual Collective Trainer at Fort Hood, Texas. (U.S. Army photo by Anthony Sualog, Army Futures Command)

On a mid-August afternoon in central Texas, soldiers in combat uniform gather together, preparing to engage in realistic battlefield training. With temperatures outside approaching the high 90s, one might expect the upcoming drill, situated amid a flat and dusty expanse at Fort Hood, to verge on the sweltering. Instead, this particular group of soldiers is training inside the walls of the post’s Close Combat Tactical Training Center, surrounded by the steady hum of computers and a reliable flow of cool air conditioning.

The center, which facilitates state-of-the-art virtual collective training for warfighters, was hosting approximately 150 soldiers from Fort Bliss, Texas, and Fort Carson, Colorado as part of an operational assessment led by the U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Command. The purpose of the assessment was to understand how soldiers interact with the newest software and hardware iterations of the Army’s Synthetic Training Environment (STE) a capability that blends virtual, live, and collective training elements to produce an immersive experience that is location-agile and minimizes use of real firepower and other typically costly, one-time-use training resources.

Undergoing analysis at the event were two elements of the broader STE, the Information System, shortened STE-IS, and the Reconfigurable Virtual Collective Trainer (RVCT). The STE-IS is an intelligent suite of training simulation and management software that supports intuitive access and simultaneous training at multiple locations. The STE-IS also encompasses One World Terrain, a 3D mapping dataset that allows training coordinators to integrate actual terrain imagery from around the globe.

The RVCT is a highly adaptable hardware system that connects to the STE-IS to activate collective, mixed-reality training scenarios. The RVCT consists of high-tech, interactive equipment — including a heads-up display, high-resolution monitor and representational controllers — that enables soldiers, squads, platoons and companies to navigate exercises using actual and computer-generated movements. The STE-IS-powered family of RVCT systems is capable of replicating key aviation and ground platforms; the Fort Hood event is focused on RVCT ground models that can replicate Abrams, Bradley and Stryker fighting vehicles, as well as dismounted infantry.

Beyond testing out the new equipment, soldiers are providing critical feedback and data to STE development teams on the utility of the existing software and hardware and how it could be tweaked to portray in-person combat with greater realism. Soldiers participating in the assessment readily offer ideas on how to enhance current systems, such as by varying the volume of sound effects and making simulated movements smoother.

Initial insights emerging from the Soldier feedback process were shared with Army leaders, including Lt. Gen. Maria R. Gervais, Deputy Commanding General and Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, during a distinguished visitor day held at the Close Combat Training Center on Aug. 17.