Open, Integrated, Flexible: The Virtual Training Solutions of the Future

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Virtual Training

It’s May 2021, and a deployed warfighter is training for her mission. In a virtual reality (VR) simulator, she’s practicing the tactics, techniques, and procedures for a test jump before taking to an airplane, where the stakes are considerably higher. In another part of the base, her colleague is using augmented reality (AR) instrumentation to acclimate himself to infantry patrol amid electronic warfare, malicious cyber activity, and both kinetic and non-kinetic attacks.  

Fast forward to May 2022. This training technology is still in use, but much has changed in a year: threat scenarios, available support, and resources, even the physical landscape. It’s time for an upgrade. Yet with traditional software development, just writing a set of requirements can take up to a year, but it doesn’t have to. Currently by the time new software is deployed, its training programs—and the troops they support—will be dangerously far behind. 

The U.S. military has already recognized the value of virtual training with the ArmyAir Force, and Marine Corps all openly touting the impact it can have on our service members. But developing these digital solutions is only one part of the equation. The pace of technological change is moving faster and faster, accelerating the types of threats, tools, resources, and environmental factors involved in multi-domain warfare and decision-making.  

The military needs solutions that can be updated and enhanced at the speed of operations. Fortunately, much of this groundwork has already been done in the commercial sector—and can be put to use in the military quickly and efficiently right now. 

Opening high-tech simulations up to faster innovation  

At any given moment, you can find millions of people around the world playing online multiplayer games such as Fortnite. Particularly during the stay-at-home environment of the COVID-19 pandemic, gaming companies had to keep their offerings fresh and engaging as well as current by pushing out the latest security patches and updates. 

In the world of defense, however, high-tech simulations operate with far less agility: 

  • Siloed data makes it difficult to collect, analyze, process, and deliver insights across services. 
  • Closed, proprietary data platforms and vendor lock-in inhibit the ability to keep pace with rapidly changing missions and technologies. 

A solution that addresses these challenges is open architectures, frameworks for an approach to development defined by modularity, open application programming interfaces (APIs), and a horizontal, enterprise view.  

Open architectures enable: 

  • “Plug and play” deployment of services and components 
  • Reusable services, data, infrastructure, and user experiences across the enterprise 
  • The ability to expand and strengthen applications—and create new ones—as the mission requires 

APIs and modularity enable IT teams to push new features, applications, and updates quickly and easily into a simulation without “breaking” old software that resists new data or alterations. As artificial intelligence (AI) increasingly powers innovation, it’s important to remember that algorithms can be brittle, too. Once developed, trained, and deployed, they also need to keep learning, evolving, and adapting to the mission.  

Of course, in today’s multi-domain warfare environment, security is more important than ever. Open architectures make it easier to monitor systems in use and embed security approaches throughout the hardware, network, and the application layers. With open architectures, security is all tied together in the infrastructure to enable continuous updates and continual monitoring.  

In short, a virtual training solution designed on open architectures is open to new technologies, aware of threats, and connected across the enterprise. 

What do open architectures mean for warfighters today? 

Readiness, lethality, and survivability are paramount for today’s warfighters. Open architectures support all three. 

For warfighters to be ready, they must be trained—and training boils down to measuring effectiveness. This continual evaluation and learning enables individual warfighters and their trainers to track the progress of their skills and where they need to improve to avoid injury and increase performance. It also informs leaders if the training is or isn’t working, as well as how it impacts the mission.   

You can’t learn without data. Open architectures facilitate more nimble, powerful data collection and analysis, plus the ability to bring these learnings together quickly. Furthermore, when coupled with AI, open-architecture solutions are better at measuring changes in behavior and changes in data from multiple systems and streams throughout the duration of the training allowing for real time evolution and updates to the training regimen. These capabilities can help our military develop asymmetric leaders who are able to think and adapt mid-mission and in a multidomain environment. 

For improved lethality and survivability in combat, open architectures allow for the rapid dispersion of training scenarios across different networks and devices. This is vital as our troops increasingly train collaboratively across locations, missions, and coalitions and better prepares them for real combat scenarios. 

Open architectures also mean more resilient systems. DevSecOps software updates are pushed out to the field quickly and without friction—they can also shut down parts of the system that have been attacked so threats like malicious software don’t impact other operations. This both increases security, but it also drives down cost on keeping current outdated and vulnerable fielded training systems secure. 

Bringing real-time simulation and collaboration to the battlefield: Next steps 

Many of the innovations that will bring virtual training to the next level already exist in the commercial marketplace. One example is the NVIDIA Omniverse,™ a Pixar-inspired multi-GPU real-time simulation and collaboration platform for 3D production pipelines. The powerful Unity and Unreal gaming engines are other examples.  

The DoD has neither the budget nor the time to build their own solutions from scratch. With open architectures, however, defense agencies can leverage what’s already created, pulling in new technologies from different vendors as needed to meet the mission, even as the mission changes.  

Success making this ecosystem work will require: 

  • Open APIs and a modular approach, so new technologies can be slipped in and out without silos or vendor lock-in  
  • Open standards, like those used in the gaming industry 
  • Collaboration across departments and organizations for a horizontal, enterprise-wide view 
  • Government ownership and control of the data and underlying infrastructure, to keep the power in agencies’ hands over what technology is best for the mission 

Most importantly, success will require an understanding of both the commercial and defense worlds. Teams must be in touch with new innovations from commercial sectors like gaming, as well as the new threats and challenges warfighters must train for in an increasingly complex multidomain battlespace. 

We’ve met the mission of creating virtual training and making it realistic. Now we’re ready for the next milestone: strengthening virtual training for greater warfighter readiness, lethality, and survivability. Open architectures and commercial innovation have the power to get us there quickly and cost-effectively. 

 

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David Roberts is a Principal at Booz Allen Hamilton and leads digital development projects for Booz Allen’s Army clients. As part of his support for the Army’s chief translation office, he helms the digital simulation and training solutions team.