How the Military Prepares Airmen for Battle

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Over the last 30 years, Hollywood has shown moviegoers the potential of augmented reality in military operations. From 1986’s “Top Gun” to 2009’s “Avatar” to today’s role-playing games like Call of Duty, a new generation has grown up with a fictionalized understanding of this technology.

However, fiction has become (augmented) reality, as the U.S. military is using these same technological tools seen on the big and small screen to train airmen and other personnel for complex battle conditions, injecting virtual threats into a live environment and teaching troops to operate equipment in all capacities.

“Simulation and training innovations are being used to accelerate mission readiness,” said Darin Bolthouse, a manager at Lockheed Martin’s Collaborative Human Immersive Laboratory. “Effective training is important in today’s complex operational environment.”

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Augmented reality, 3D modeling and motion simulation help military operators visualize and experience all of a vehicle or equipment’s capabilities under various conditions. These tools also help military personnel prepare to respond more directly in battle, rather than solely rely on gathered intelligence to anticipate a situation.

With ultra-wide field of view lenses and unique algorithms that build virtual worlds, wearable devices and simulators provide more realistic training and better operational value in the field to military units while reducing costs and increasing effectiveness, according to experts like Dr. Peter Smith, an assistant professor in the School of Visual Art and Design at the University of Central Florida.

“In the operational environment, soldiers will be using augmented reality headsets in the field and getting real-time updates on battlefield conditions, expected asset locations and anything that will help make real-time decisions in the field,” he said. “The kind of information consumers see now, when they play games like Call of Duty, will be available to soldiers in the field.”

In flight, ground and maritime operations, augmented and virtual reality enable live training that incorporates potential threat situations and encourages operators to use all available data.

For instance, the Office of Naval Research and Lockheed Martin are working together on a program called the Augmented Immersive Team Trainer to transform any location into a dynamic training ground. The system works by injecting virtual images – of indirect-fire effects, aircraft, vehicles, or simulated people – onto a real-world view of a student’s surroundings.

“By blending physical and virtual assets, augmented reality-based training exploits the advantages of both,” said James Oliver, director of the Virtual Reality Applications Center at Iowa State University. “This mixed-reality environment provides training with the flexibility and speed of the virtual world and the physical familiarity and tactile sensations of the physical world.”

Constructive training environments like the F-35 training system merge elements of the physical real world with virtual computer-generated imagery for greater situational awareness.

Today’s improved flight simulators are more crucial than ever to train pilots and help keep their skills fresh. F-35 pilots complete 45-55 percent of their training flights in a full mission simulator, compared to a past figure of 40 percent in F-16 simulators. Not all fighter pilots will experience combat during their careers, but these airborne warriors still must be trained and ready to anticipate any battle scenario.

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According to Billie Flynn, a Lockheed Martin F-35 test pilot, pilots spend about as much time in these simulators as in the actual aircraft.

The F-35 simulator duplicates the jet’s cockpit and handling qualities, allowing pilots to practice techniques like aerial refueling and missile employment. The F-35 simulator is key to helping pilots “quickly transition into the jet and begin their flying operations,” said Mike Luntz, F-35 training system director.

In fact, simulation is more effective than flying the aircraft in some training scenarios since the F-35’s capabilities are so powerful. Some combat scenarios would be difficult and expensive to set up for live flying, given the range space available and the numerous aircraft needed to act like ‘bad guys.’

“In the simulator, we turn on all of the bells and whistles to provide pilots with the range of experience they need to maximize the advanced capabilities of the F-35,” Luntz said.

Augmented reality technology is also being used across the spectrum of military operations. Lockheed Martin’s Human Immersive Lab helped train maintainers who will work on the F-35 – avoiding over $100 million in additional costs by using immersive engineering and digital mockups in the early design and development stages of the F-35 program. And Skunk Works’ virtual prototyping group has created a “deployable” large format display on wheels designed specifically for military virtual reality applications.

Mark Pasquale, vice president of engineering and technology at Lockheed Martin Space Systems, said augmented reality also accelerates timelines and reduces cost through streamlined design, efficient testing and integrated production. The company’s space division develops simulations and quality testing in the virtual state so engineers can make improvements before a part is produced.

“Design engineers and assemblers from the manufacturing line test out manufacturing work instructions in virtual worlds, working through an entire process without the physical components,” Pasquale said.

This article is the first of six stories in the “F-35: How it Works” series produced by The Washington Post BrandConnect. Stayed tuned for the rest of the series in the coming weeks. (Credit WP BrandStudio)