Progress in Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, Immersive Mixed Reality and related fields are challenging the old dictum of the man behind the machine being the most important constituent of military capability. We are transgressing into an era where the man retains his primacy only if he is fully equipped with technical aids that provide him situational awareness response capabilities that only technology can provide. These sciences are also revolutionizing training. Training can not only be made more comprehensive and realistic but also more cost- effective. The author leads the readers into a world of make-believe.
“It would be very nice if there were a God who created the world
and was a benevolent providence,
if there were a moral order in the universe and an after-life;
it is a very striking fact that all this is exactly
as we are bound to wish it to be.”
– Sigmund Freud, The Future of an Illusion
In Mahabharata, Sanjaya, the charioteer of the blind King Dhritarashtra, and the first to narrate the Bhagavad Gita other than Sri Krishna himself, is said to have got his power of divine vision from Veda Vyasa. As per the e-book, ‘The Mahabharata of Krishna-Dwaipayana Vyasa,’ Volume 2, he states, “I have obtained excellent and celestial comprehension, sight beyond the range of the visual sense, and hearing; O King, from great distance, knowledge of other people’s hearts and also of the past and the future,” he is known to have recited about his power. It was through this great power that he transcended to the place of battle and narrated the engagements to the blind King without him being physically there in the battlefield.
Cut to the real world; Albert Einstein in his Theory of Special Relativity states, ‘Time is relative depending on how fast you are moving. This is the basis of real-world concepts and research.’ The Modeling and Simulation industry is steering society towards a world of make-believe, transcending the dimension of time and space to spin a web that Militaries around the world are quickly adapting to their advantage. The impact of digitization, technological advancement, use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and data analytics has enhanced the scope of simulation from Virtual Reality (VR) to Augmented Reality (AR) and is now moving towards immersive Mixed Reality (MR).
Sigmund Freud’s Illusion has almost negated the gap between reality and simulation. Adoption of 3D imageries and immersive VR by motion pictures is providing real-life experiences to the viewers in the movie halls. Haven’t we experienced ducking our heads to avoid a stone being thrown towards the audience on screen; Immersive technologies, used by application gamers are so real that they are isolating the users from their surroundings, and subjecting them to suffer motion sickness using latest headsets!
World of Altered Realities
VR by explanation blocks the present environment and transcends experience to being present elsewhere into a totally artificial digital environment using blocked visors, goggles or headsets. The transposing from the present existing world to an alternate sense rendering experience could have an individual standing atop the Mount Everest without actually summiting.
AR, on the other hand, augments the real-world environment, by computer-generated perceptual information or virtual object overlays using clear visors, optical projection systems and goggles, without removing him from the present environment, providing more freedom to the user by multiple sensory means like visual, auditory, haptic, somatosensory and olfactory. Although less immersive in experience than VR, Tim Cook, CEO, Apple stated, “I’m excited about AR because unlike VR which closes the world out, AR allows individuals to be present in the world but hopefully allows an improvement on what’s happening presently…that has resonance.”
Tactical Augmented Reality will revolutionize how militaries access information and conduct operations. It has already found its way into soldier’s helmets, looking glasses and vehicles.
Both VR and AR technologies are expanding in scope by introducing smell and touch to enhance the sensory experience. Militarily, a tank gunner who has fired his main armament feels the shock of discharge by motion platforms catering to freedom of motion and experiences obscuration and smell of burning propellant to institute realism in training. The aspect of cost savings, safer environment and developing cognitive skills are only a matter of fact. VR is fast-changing lanes from individual training to tactical manoeuvres.
The shift from the yesteryears co-efficient driven algorithm-based systems to head-mounted displays giving a superior simulation of depth perception reflects the shift to ‘high fidelity’ systems that could facilitate both trainees and the instructors alike. It would assist in pinpointing the exact shortfalls, raise the tempo and create scenarios peculiar to the operating environment. Simulation has thus become synchronous with the operating realities.
The US has christened these systems as Synthetic Training Environment (STE), bringing the Virtual, Constructive and Gaming-training environment on the same page. It helps in adopting the Live, Virtual and Constructive (LVC) training solutions with ease. STE would train the US soldier for where he is to fight yet being conscious of the fact that the existing technology must be capitalised rather than wait for emerging technologies on the horizon. There is unfounded hype around AI and how it could leverage training. Without the enhanced derivatives of AI in industry, finance, advertising and robotics, in military training AI could assist instructors in assessing trainee performance and render personalised learning needs.
The Military Domain Conundrum
Simulation training in the military domain is moving from rudimentary requirements to complex and sophisticated details in the cognitive domain. Critical thinking, situational awareness for the higher echelons to real-time processing of these details for execution at the cutting edge reflect adaptive training solutions across the spectrum.
Post the VR/AR endorsement, with the advent of higher processing power, computer vision, graphics, the operating environmental capture, spatial mapping, sounds, object recognition, lighting and location has introduced the concept of ‘Virtual Continuum,’ where, the interaction between human, machine and the environment unleashes options hither-to-fore only in the realm of imagination. The concept is referred to as Mixed Reality (MR) or ‘Polyplexity’. It allows the user to interact with the combined virtual/real objects.
Now imagine for a moment that the physical world is on the left side of a hypothetical spectrum and the digital world on the right with the human interfaced in between. When we place a digital object to replicate humans anywhere in between the spectrum through a hologram, infinite possibilities spin out of the matrix.
Technologically, the phenomenon is referred to as, ‘experiences that represent asynchronous collaboration at different points in time.’ Now juxtapose this concept to what the technology world carried in the news a couple of months back. Your pets long since having crossed the rainbow bridge, can, through holographic imaging be present in your house in the present time-immortalizing them. Likewise, commanders located in different parts of the globe, separated by time and space, could be physically rendering an operational brief in your operations room and interacting real-time with the staff officers.
Please revisit what Sigmund Freud stated in the ‘Future of an Illusion,’ cited at the start of this article, “….it is a very striking fact that all this is exactly as we are bound to wish it to be.”
This leaf was taken to exhibit to the readers, the possibilities that adorn the simulation world and what training in the next generation would look like. For the moment though, back to the virtual world of VR and AR!
For all its glib trappings, the training potential of VR is superior to AR. This is because VR is more suitable for training, simulation and therapy and can simulate any situation, surroundings and conditions, jump seasons, create conditions for a surgical strike or ambush, replicate a Para drop of combatants and logistics load alike. VR’s immersive module could take trainees through claustrophobic environments like being in a closed down tank or in submarines and cockpits of fighter jets.
The situational awareness module could train units for impending moves to high altitudes, CI environment or the deserts where navigation and small team operations are crucial. The other axiomatic advantages of VR include realistic scenario replication in a controlled environment, reduced wear and tear on operational equipment leading to its cost-effectiveness, instant feedback on trainee performance and a higher level of engagement and understanding.
The Simulation technology for the military is a derivative from the Gaming world of Pokemon-Go, Brickscape, Ghostbusters World, Tamagotchi-Forever and the like. The Defence industry has always harnessed the emerging technologies unleashed by private industry. In this case, the gaming industry has been adopted with the same high powered game engines making combat training more challenging and realistic. A Cooked Research Report on Simulation and Virtual Training market has pegged the growth at CAGR of about 8.5% up to 2023, reflecting its potential.
Amongst the instructor teaching styles for learning, one amongst either visual, auditory, tactical or kinesthetic is usually adopted. With VR having spelt out the learning objectives, simultaneous learning of all styles can be adopted. The customized sessions facilitate trainees’ enhanced retention and provide myriad immersive learning opportunities. The after-action report can help individuals and units to understand the wider impact of their responses.
As per technology projection, AR is two years behind VR. Although, the smartphone users were exposed to AR when ‘Snapchat’ application released its filters. The Indian Air Force has been using AR for some time now with the Head-Up Display (HUD) helmets giving enhanced target/ IFF information. It is expected that the eyeglasses and helmets with AR-enabled software will be part of the Infantry soldier in years to come. Information feeds to the transparent eyeglasses (which helps a soldier retain situational and environmental orientation) from overhead drones would feed own and enemy dynamic information and have the soldier execute mission tasks with alacrity.
If the aim is to keep training paradigms ahead of the technology curve, then due to data and graphics processing, AR use in the military is set to rise exponentially. The gamers have started aligning their programs to match real combat situations. With the ‘HoloLens,’ soldiers and military equipment can be beamed into and out of a particular war zone setting. Strategizing to train commanders would then imply realistic commission of operational resources to leverage operational advantage.
Military simulation and modelling training allow soldiers to dive deep into the equipment characteristics and derive the requisite technical benefits. The equipment could range from a tank, aircraft or ship/submarine to complex electronic and missile equipment. The military advantages of AR in training are as follows:-
(a) AR can accurately translate the précis that come with the training equipment in real-time for use by the soldiers.
(b) AR caters to individual learning aspirations and style, providing requisite autonomy in functioning.
(c) AR facilitates the equipment characteristics, wherein a trainee can see the technical details and formulate the capability for himself prior utilizing in a particular terrain, e.g. Medium fording through a water obstacle.
(d) Due advancement in Big Data Analytics, AI and terrain representation, better monitoring of operational space, time and resources.
(e) All types of training modulations possible with flexible articulation and tempering.
(f) Enhanced spatial awareness as compared to VR.
Comparisons abound on the infusion of technology in the military; man- machine interface has spun various combinations in the synthetic domain for operations and training. Programming to bring out the best in a trainee, altering the conventional reality by introducing perception has altered the development scape for simulations. In our case, it is the man behind the weapon who has converted many adversities to save the day. So technology becomes secondary to the technique. The exploitation of gaming technology to expose the trainee to the techniques will make training more sophisticated and would cater to thought out contingencies in operational scenarios.
Simulators today are also designed to bring out effective learning, prompting appropriate cognitive and behavioural responses in the domain of ‘psychological fidelity.’ As per Kevin Kelly, a digital evangelist, “Screen culture is a world of constant flux, of endless sound-bites, quick cuts and half baked ideas.” The very thought of the rapidity of change and the inertia for adaption, is, for the moment both numbing and stimulating!
BY Brig Yogesh Kapoor, VSM
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of BharatShakti.in)