New military simulations for shooting, trench war, drones unveiled
As each of the military services seek to use simulations for more realistic training, some new technology and updates to existing programs will be on display at the simulation industry’s largest event in late November.
A new shooting simulation system to replace decades-old tech now in use and tactical training simulation that brings drone, counter-drone and Ukrainian-based trench warfare into its digital world are two such items that will be on display at the annual Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference, held in Orlando, Florida, Nov. 27 to Dec.1.
Early versions of the multiple integrated laser engagement system were in testing in the 1970s, and have been the shooting simulation system used by the Army and Marine Corps since the 1980s. The system works on individual weapons such as the M4 and crewed vehicles such as the Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle and Abrams tank.
As its name suggests, the system uses small lasers fired from the modules installed on the weapon’s system. The laser strikes a sensor on the opposing force, triggering a beep and registering in the system to track hits.
While an improvement over blank rounds, and estimates of targets hit and damage that predated the sensor system, lasers don’t perform the way that bullets and other projectiles do.
With a laser, the trajectory essentially is flat, with no drop that’s associated with actual projectiles. The system can’t effectively simulate indirect fire such as mortars or grenades.
And, being a laser, anything in its path will disrupt it. So, a soldier need only hide behind brush or a leafy bush to defeat the laser system. Hardly a realistic training scenario.
The system is reaching the end of its life and has been scheduled to become obsolete beginning in 2026, Karen Saunders, then-head of Program Executive Office–Simulation, Training and Instrumentation told Military.com in 2021.
Through a combination of GPS, sensing, software and light detection and ranging ― or Lidar ― technologies, their system creates a kind of virtual space in live training, SIMRES Chief Engineer Dan Hyatt told Military Times.
By using decades of weapon ballistics data, Hyatt’s team has created what they call an “e-bullet,” which allows them to model the real-world physics of a projectile and how it would perform when fired at certain distances, angles and even through barriers, such as concrete walls.
So, no more soldiers hiding behind bushes.
Hyatt’s teams conduct a digital scan of the training area and then use sensors about the size of a deck of cards strapped on individual users to track participants’ movements, weapon orientation, hits and misses.
That technology also allows for indirect fire. Early development has included the M4 and the M320 grenade launcher, both widely distributed small arms systems used by thousands of soldiers and Marines.
Hyatt said some of the systems already have been tested by soldiers at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, and at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, California.
The system also gives trainers and observers a bird’s eye view of exercises unfolding in real time.
“When you are watching our engagement it’s like a first-person shooter or flying around with 3D view or snap to any soldier and see their view, hover above at a 20-foot altitude,” Hyatt said.
The system is being further developed via an Army other transaction agreement still under development and is not yet competing for a current Army program of record, but it is expected to display features the Army has shown interest in during recently launched efforts to improve the service’s simulation capabilities.
The Army’s Cross-Functional Team-Synthetic Training Environment and Program Executive Office–Simulation, Training and Instrumentation have ramped up efforts in recent years to overhaul simulation technology across the force. In 2021, then CFT-STE director Maj. Gen. Maria Gervais said the service was seeking to replace MILES.
That same year, the Marine Corps announced it was replacing MILES with Saab Inc.’s Force-on-Force-Next program, after beginning its search in 2017.
Nearly half of the organic weapons systems in an Army brigade combat team cannot be used with MILES, retired Sergeant Major of the Army Raymond Chandler, who currently serves as Lockheed Martin’s STE campaign manager, told Military Times.
That tech limitation “limits home station and combat training center training,” Chandler said.
The legacy system also requires hours of setup that eats up training time.
Chandler said something as simple as not being able to “lead” a target when firing with a laser, can introduce negative training to soldiers. Essentially a soldier will adapt to the system and then must unlearn the bad habits introduced by the system.
“One of the things I dreaded was going out to the field and having to use MILES gear, because it didn’t work half the time, it was difficult to learn how to use and employ,” Chandler said.
The Marine Corps’ FoFTS-Next system, a contract worth potentially $248 million according to a Saab announcement, is expected to field in 2024, Marine officials told Marine Corps Times in November. The system has since been renamed the Marine Corps Tactical Instrumentation System, or MCTIS
Between 2024–2026, the Corps expects to field 16 MCTIS systems in total. Those will be delivered to Camp Pendleton, California; Camp Lejeune, North Carolina; Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia; Japan and Guam.
For more screen-based, tactical training, Bohemia Interactive Simulations will unveil new updates and features to its long-running Virtual Battlespace program ― used by both the Army and Marine Corps for more than a decade.
The company is releasing VBS4, the fourth iteration of an interactive, 3D, computer-based operational environment at the upcoming show, Bohemia Interactive Simulations co-founder and Chief Operating Officer Peter Morrison told Military Times that.
New features include both drone operator and counter-drone views and capabilities. Following the re-emergence of trench-style warfare in the Russia-Ukraine War, the company also added tactical trench warfare training for users.
“From an offensive perspective we can literally train the drone operator,” Morrison said. “Simulate dropping a payload from a drone or running a drone into a tank. Defensively, we can simulate drone weapons.”
The Bohemia Interactive Simulations team has built out simulations that allow an artificial intelligence application to analyze how effective counter-drone measures used by players have been. The application can decide if the user has concealed their position effectively and other steps, and whether the other side’s drone operator would spot their location, Morrison said.
The application also holds key training features on effective trench-clearing steps that a user would have to take to be successful, based on an analysis of current Ukraine trench engagements.