Marine Corps is demonstrating how to use the Tactical Decision Kits [TDK], a digital scenario based tool designed to train and challenge Marines on their tactical decision making abilities.
The Marine Corps is investing in a suite of virtual and constructive training systems, augmented reality goggles and other emerging technologies to give Marines more repetitions and, in some cases, more authentic experiences during training than the service could provide before.
Among the top priorities as the Marines invest in more technologies, though, is ensuring they can be networked together to allow for cross-community training events – fire support teams talking to artillery units, forward air controllers talking to pilots, ground combat units talking to the logistics teams that support them, and so on.
The Marine Corps have planned to conduct an analysis of alternatives AoA] for a Live, Virtual, and Constructive Training Environment [LVC-TE] architecture that would network the simulators together, but due to continuing resolutions and other factors the assessment just began last year.
The AoA looks at several back-end options for netting together the technologies that the Marine Corps and the Office of Naval Research [ONR] have been pursuing – including using the joint force’s network or creating a new one. The process defines the training requirements, based around a variety of scenarios at the company and battalion levels up to a Marine Expeditionary Force level, and then defines training effectiveness, cost and risk for each of the LVC-TE backbone options.
“We’ve kind of realized we just can’t train those pockets of Marines. … You really need to be able to connect those different training audiences to work their procedures and do those supporting and supported relationships and do those standardised procedures and get used to working with people, Marines in other communities – as you send your calls for fires, requests for support, and do battle handoffs with them and work all those different things. So that necessitates an integration between a bunch of different training systems that were originally not designed or procured to ever work with each other.”
Other benefits of LVC training are the ability to simulate large formations instead of trying to amass that many people in one place for a live exercise; the ability to practice high-end or sensitive tactics “behind the curtain” where an adversary can’t spy on them; the ability to do things the military couldn’t do in real life outside of a warzone, such as use a jammer on a civilian area; and the ability to practice certain tactics without risking friendly-fire casualties, such as suppressing an enemy with fires and then stopping as soon as friendly forces reach that location.
“We’ll never get away from live training because the natural realism of being out in the real world will never be completely replaced by simulations, because any simulation is something short of reality. So that will always be, at minimum, our graduation exercise. But we found that through the multiple repetitions you can get in simulations and the fact that you can focus those simulations on particular areas that might be your problem points – we look at simulation as a gateway to live.”
One package of LVC systems the Marines are now working with is the Tactical Decision Kit, which grew out of an ONR effort and was adopted by the 2nd Battalion, 6th Marines, who wanted to bring more simulation into their training events.
The kit includes a range of virtual and constructive training systems, as well as supporting systems like drones and GPS trackers that enhances the whole continuum of training.
The suite begins with an Interactive Tactical Decision Game, where a small unit leader could be presented with a situation, see the available resources, and start to map out a plan.
The Augmented Reality [AR] Sandtable then allows the small unit leader and up to three teammates to view three-dimensional terrain with AR goggles and begin to think through the positions of machine guns, for example. In the Virtual Battlespace, which is like a first-person shooter video game, each Marine is represented by an avatar, and the Marines can run through scenarios with as many repetitions as they want. Once the units are ready to move into live training, a force-on-force training system puts a GPS tracker on each Marine and a laser system on their weapons to track who was where during the training scenario, who hit their target, who was shot and more.
It is clear from the Tactical Decision Kits that simulation can be applied as training increases in unit size, in the complexity of the scenario and in fidelity – from tabletop games to real training in the field. A couple key technology areas the military and the gaming industry are pursuing are set to make that continuum of training even better.
Marine Corps is very interested in augmented reality goggles, especially if they can be reduced to the weight and size of the ballistic goggles the Marines already wear. Whereas some trainer systems exist in a dome room, where users would see a terrain around them and be able to carry out their mission, moving that training outside with AR goggles would provide an even better experience.
The Mobile Fire Support Trainer for fire support teams, for example: “without having to deploy artillery units out to the field or have tank hulls to shoot at, they can put on those goggles and they can send a call for fire. It will insert targets, potentially even moving targets – which we typically don’t get, we’re usually just shooting at old rusty tank hulls that are sitting on the ground. So we can have moving targets. We can integrate those fires with simulated friendly forces that are moving towards an objective – so you can validate that you can turn off your fires at the right time so that you don’t cause friendly casualties – all sorts of interesting things that you can do with this MFTS technology,”
Though the MFST uses goggles that are heavier than the Marines’ ballistic goggles, and therefore not quite the technology the service would want to invest in for all Marines’ training, Harder said the fire support teams tend to operate from a stationary position and therefore the technology is good enough to invest in for this one community.
“It’s a nice first step towards providing augmented reality training capability out there, and it’s one of the unique projects that the Marine Corps has that, no other services have,” Though the programme is still in the engineering and manufacturing development phase and trying to reduce the weight a bit more, a fielding plan is already in place to bring MFST to schoolhouses first and then to operational units.
Another tech development area the Marines are keeping a close eye on is what the gaming industry is doing to enhance cognitive behaviour representation – or ensuring that all the people and items in the background of the scenario make realistic decisions. As commanders have more tools in the field for situational awareness, that has to be reflected in simulators now too, which means the simulator must be more detailed to reflect this new way commanders can see the battlefield around them.
“Back just 10 or 20 years ago when we were just moving large formations across the battlefield, one icon could maybe represent 100 Marines. But now we’ve got unmanned platforms with video capability on them that could be anywhere on the battlefield, so at any moment the commander wants to be able to say, show me a live video feed of that spot right there; so now you have to be able to simulate not just, here’s an icon representing 100 Troops, you have to be able to zoom in and see what are those people doing and are they acting realistically, and you’re going to want to be making decisions in real-time based on what you see.”
“So that’s a much higher level of Troop behavior representation that we need to be able to provide. Both the sort of functional capability of do those individual entities make the right decisions within their communities or their units, but also just the distributed processing capability to run all those many decision-making engines without having the whole computer system come crashing down.”
Marine Corps Operating Concept highlights the importance of training, and LVC training in particular, that doesn’t always translate to sufficient funding. But several communities in the Marine Corps are taking it upon themselves to create integrated LVC training experiences, and their hunger for the capability and success in proving its benefits helps argue for more service support for the technologies and their integration.
At Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center 29 Palms in California, Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron-One [MAWTS-1], the Marine Air Ground Task Force [MAGTF] Training Command and I Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) decided to pool resources and create a temporary integrated training event. “If it wasn’t important, they wouldn’t be doing it. The challenge is, though, that there is not an institutional Marine Corps program to support those types of events. So that’s the shortfall Marines are trying to close with establishing that LVC-TE program, because we want to provide a funded, well-designed standing capability that a unit can easily tap into whenever they want to conduct that type of training.”
Videos show how augmented-reality tablets can allow Marines to “see through weapons systems blocks and overlay designs and other information onto a real space as technicians move around.
It’s part of a larger plan to make Marine Corps training paperless, tablets can also contain training videos and other instructions for Marines. In coming years, concept may expand even further.
“The vision for this whole thing is you can tell it who you are and it hands you an iPad with your work downloaded for the day.” At the end of the day, Marines can return their tablets to the central location, where they will be reset with the next day’s work and information.
“Our goal is to be drawing with this tablet technology soon. “It will be the first drawingless system, and we think the operational gains associated with that are tremendous. Today the when we look at how we go do this, how do we do this efficiently, what are the benefits associated with that.”
Marine Leaders have shined a spotlight on live, virtual and constructive [LVC] training. The Marine Corps should use simulators to the greatest extent possible. But they need to cover all the right warfighting areas. And the service needs to ensure Marines get enough hours in the simulator. And the simulators need to align with training and readiness goals.
With a new focus on LVC training, the Marine Corps Training and Education Command [TECOM] is in the midst of several efforts to ensure its LVC training capabilities are supporting the right skills and in the right quantities.
Operational planning teams have been ordered to take a comprehensive look at existing capabilities for LVC training, how they’re using the force today and where gaps exist between training needs and current capabilities.
The deep dive looks at all the simulators in use, what warfighting functions in the Marine Air-Ground Task Force [MAGTF] they support – maneoeuvre, fires, intelligence, logistics and more – and at what levels, from individual to battalion and staff levels. The subsequent chart this effort created pays particular attention to the areas highlighted by Marine Corps Leaders.
We have discussed how marines want to see greater incorporation of simulation into training and readiness standards, … greater use of immersive simulation such as the Infantry Immersion Trainers and simulators that would provide realistic scenarios for the individual Marines.”
We want emphasis on small unit leader decision-making in every way possible that we could incorporate simulation to where that’s the first scenario the Marines are exposed to before they see something live, and once they weigh in then TECOM can assess where the capability gaps are, not just LVC training incorporated into all warfighting functions, but that the training needs to support the Marines’ standards for full combat readiness.
“For a long while a lot of the simulators out there provided a great capability but weren’t necessarily linked to training and readiness standards, and that’s where a lot of this effort is currently underway to look at that.”
To that end, the Marines are launching a massive effort to assess several warfighting areas to ensure the simulators available match the requirements laid out in the training and readiness [T&R] manuals.
“The idea is that we needed to take a comprehensive look at all the T&R manuals – literally every single event in the T&R manuals – against the capabilities of all the simulators that are currently fielded.”
“So we have to match current requirements for the Marines to train against what the simulators currently can do and say, using the subject matter experts, yes or no for each one of those events. And then, if yes, how much time is required in that simulator to train that to standard. “And then we will roll that up at the end of the week – so we are able to give to the commander a report out of that training and readiness manual.”
“This is how much simulator time we’re going to require as the numerator, the denominator being how much simulator time we have available. So then we will be able to assess where are we, how good and how much more of that are we going to need.”
The first SAWG will tackle tanks. Fires will come next and combine several T&R manuals, including artillery, tactical air control party and air naval gun fire liaison companies [ANGLICO].
“Those will all be combined into one because many of those events in those units are the same. We don’t want them to independently assess and make different assessments of the sims. We want them all to come to consensus so that there’s a Marine standard on employing that sim.”
Notably missing from the lineup is aviation. The aviation community is far more advanced in its simulated training capability than other communities in the MAGTF, so this effort will hopefully help the ground, logistics and other sections of the Marine Corps catch up.
At the end of the trial period, the SAWGs will have made recommendations on each warfighting area regarding whether simulation training is adequate, more is needed or a better simulator is needed. The budget controlers in TECOM will ultimately have to decide how to allocate resources to fill in any gaps. In some cases, there may be enough simulators but the Marines will need more contractor support to run the simulators for more hours a day, he said. In other cases, the Marine Corps may need to invest in more simulators.
In TECOM’s capabilities division, an acquisition effort is underway to take the existing simulators – which will be verified as meeting training and readiness requirements – and tie them together to create a more holistic MAGTF training experience. The division is “federating existing simulators … so that we can have a distributed Live Virtual and Constructive Training Environment.”
The simulators themselves already exist, and standards divisions are ensuring the simulators teach the right lessons. But we wants to build an architecture to tie them all together.
So you’re able to do better collective training – for example, if you have a pilot in his aircraft simulator and then you have a Marine in the virtual battlespace too doing close air support or something, if you’re able to interconnect the two that makes collective training so much better.
“That just adds so many more realistic variables. … If you’re training in a system, that’s not as bad – the aircraft is going to show up on time. But when you’re training with a pilot in another station, it adds some more variables. You’ve got to get your communications up, he’s got to be on time.”
Another key benefit of collective training is that important relationships are formed between Marines training in different locations. Individual training in a simulator only lets a Marine interact with the computer and the officer or contractor running the training event. Collective training puts Marines in contact with other Marines who they might find themselves in a combat zone with down the road.
The next step in creating the LVC Training Environment is the analysis of alternatives, which will generate various packages for leadership to choose from, but not all the simulators will be connected but that those that should be interconnected will be.
“While we’re making systems interoperable and federating systems, another major goal is to make sure we continue to integrate the MAGTF.
There is real uncertainty whether such things as robotic tanks and high-speed scout helicopters are possible on the requried timeline. But if there's one area where a high-speed approach can work, it's training simulations, where Marines can piggyback on the rapid development in commercial gaming.
To train troops for future wars, we want to build the ultimate video game. To get that game ASAP, the Marines are blowing up the usual bureaucracy and borrowing high-speed development techniques from private sector companies.
The service has already held industry days on different aspects of the technology, and combat soldiers have already tried out some industry offerings, Some systems will be ready to when it enters service. A full augmented reality training system will soon be ready complete with interior maps of buildings around the world and simulated Troops
It’s not the typical process Instead, she said, her Cross Functional Team — so-called because it pulls together experts from across the services — is working closely with industry in a tight cycle: “let me see the products you have, let’s give you feedback, let’s continue to develop this thing, over and over.”
The top priority is an augmented reality system to train soldiers on foot, the Soldier-Squad Immersive Environment. Augmented Reality goggles would superimpose virtual obstacles and enemies over the Troops field of view so troops can simulate any scenario at their own home base. This is something the Marines never had before, and it could revolutionise infantry training.
Collective trainers are used to train a vehicle crew to operate as a team where each simulator replicates a single vehicle. But current simulators are mostly products of sever decades ago when each program — Humvees, tanks, helicopters, etc. — contracted for its own custom training systems. The result is a mess often outdated and incompatible systems. The Marines want a new family of vehicle simulators it can easily network together so tank crews, pilots, and more can all practice combined arms tactics in the same digital exercise.
The game engine runs all the specific simulations. Commercial gaming has made dramatic advances from the two-dimensional, cartoon Pac-Man 40 years ago to cinematic experiences like Call of Duty today, and Marines are operating on much of which is still in the Pac-Man era — so it wants to take advantage of what that industry has to offer.
All these playing pieces exist on top of the digital game board. Called One World Terrain, it is a global database of real-world terrain for use in training scenarios, replacing dozens of different and often incompatible databases used by current simulators. One World Terrain has been described as “a military-grade Google Earth,” but it’s actually more ambitious that that, because Marines are not satisfied with top-down satellite views.
Instead, to train for urban combat, the services want to include underground tunnels and the interiors of buildings. Some floor plans will be best-guess approximations generated based on typical building layouts — but there is also work going on to automatically upload the schematics for specific buildings.
The goal is to train pilots and other crew members on how to respond to threats by providing “real-time orientation and positioning status to support simulated engagements during live exercises at the Combat Training Centers and will essentially turn this form of combat training into a video game.
“The device will interface through a network, providing its location and orientation on the training battlefield. When the Marine engages the aircraft with it, it will transmit that information to the system, which will also be tracking the aircraft flying in the air. The device is expected to improve how pilots and associated personnel respond and react to threats, and will provide real-time performance metrics points.
Once the prototype device is delivered, Marines will review it and could choose to develop additional units and deploy them across the military branch. “This is a vital project and we are confident that our solution will boost training and improve the ability to combat enemy threats, and we are excited to be able to pioneer next-generation capabilities during this effort.”