by Geoffrey Wong
Virtual Reality plays a major role in today's Military training exercises. These
efforts continue today and have become a key element in the advancement of
Virtaul Reality technology. In this article we shall explore some very interesting
military combat and training applications of VR.
Virtual Battlefield - Simulation of Reality
Tommorrow's wars are being fought on digital terrain, where computerised tanks
and helicopters do battle. Simulation is so realistic that trainee tank crew
and pilots stagger out of their fibre glass simulators, dripping sweat and
still pumped up on adrenaline.
The military have been training in a virtual world for years. And now it's
possible to link up hundreds of tank and aircraft simulators into a vast
network, all fighting in the same battle against the same computer-controlled
opposition. It's called SIMNET.
There is an establishment at Fort Knox, Kentucky -called the Combined Arms and
Tactical Training Centre (CATTC). The centre carefully maintains the illusion
of battle: briefing are given in a replica of the real mission briefing room (
known as Field Command Post ) and tank crews wear full combat gear. It's only
as they walk in their "tanks" that the virtualness of their reality becomes
SIMNET tanks are grey pods on the outside, inside they are the perfect replica
of a M1 Abrams Main Battle Tanks (above). Once the hatches are closed, the experience
is astonishingly accurate.
TV displays show the "outside world" through tiny vision blocks of the viewports.
Powerful speakers play the whine of the gas turbine engine and the squealing of
the rotating turret. There is even a heavy thud as the 120mm cannon fires, except
that ammunitions are not allowed in the simulators so the loader has to go through
the motion with fake twenty kilograms shells.
The Abrams tank has four crews - Commander, gunner and loader are in the crew
cabin, while the driver has a tiny separate compartment.
The enemy threat is controlled from a central computer by one man, whose job
is to use the tactics of the opposition as closely as possible. He controls his
units -symbolised in icons on his computer screen, using a mouse.
SIMNET's image generators turn these icons into indiviual tanks for trainee
tankers to spot through their viewports. Battles can be fought over terrain
anywhere in the world. Previously, the US Army uses map-makers and programmers
to translate their real-life training grounds in the California Mojave Desert
to the computer, but new high-quality satellite imagery and digital mapping
means tanks and helicopters crews can be training on any potential trouble
spot in the world without leaving Kentucky.
For more information on the M1 Abrams Main Battle Tank :
SIMNET is the 80's technology. The next generation of traning simulators is
DIS, or Distributed Interactive Simulation, will combine far more units into
one giant Virtual Reality battle. All big US defence contractors are creating
computer models of their equipement to integrate into the digital battle -
F-16 fighter, Apache Gunship, A-10 "Tank-buster" and even Patriot missile
batteries (left). It's big business. In America, more than $2.5 billion is spend on
simulation. However, it can also meant the savings of tens of billions spent
on real military exerises and damage to farms and countrysides.
Eventually, the US Army, Navy and Air Force will soon be able to battle on the
same Virtual terrain. They can not only train raw crews, but to re-run real
battles again and again, trying out "what-ifs". The Gulf war operation Desert
Storm has already been recreated. The Iraqi T-72 tanks can, for instance, be
given infra-red gun sights they didn't have, and the encounter refought.
Brave Warriors - Telepresence Missions
Two fairly obvious reasons have driven the military to explore and
employ telepresence in their operations; to reduce exposure to hazards
and to increase stealth. Many aspects of combat operations are very
hazardous, and they become even more dangerous if the combatant seeks
to improve his performance. Prime examples of this principle are
firing weapons and performing reconnaissance. To perform either of
these tasks takes time, and this is usually the time when the
combatant is exposed to hostile fire. Smart weapons and remotely-
piloted vehicles (RPVs) were developed to address this problem.
Some smart weapons are autonomous, while others are remotely
controlled after they are launched. This allows the shooter and
weapon controller to "Fire-and-Forget" and immediately seek cover,
thus decreasing his exposure to return fire. In the case of RPVs, the
person who controls the vehicle not only has the advantage of being in
a safer place, but the RPV can be made smaller than a vehicle that
would carry a man, thus making it more difficult for the enemy to
In the UK, a remote-controlled vehicle called Mardi (right) has been built.
The RPV is controlled by a fibre optic cable which reals out for up to six
kilometres behind the vehicle. It is fitted with reconnaissance sensors and
a laser to mark targets. There are many modifications to the Mardi to carry out
more specific tasks; for mine-clearing and as a rescue vehicle for wounded
soldiers or downed pilots in a hostile area.
A View to A Kill - Information Enhancement
In a combat environment, it is imperative to supply the pilot or tank commander
with as much of the necessary information as possible while at the same time
eliminate the amount of distracting information. This goal led the US Air Force
to develope the Head Up Display (HUD) (left) which optically combines critical information
(altitude, airspeed, direction) with an unobstructed view through the forward
windscreen. With the HUD, the pilot never has to look down at his instrument panel.
When the HUD is coupled with the aircraft's radar and other sensors, a synthetic
image of an enemy aircraft or tank can be generated on the HUD to show the pilot
where the enemy is, even though the pilot may not see the actual vehicle with
his unaided eyes.
This combination of real and virtual views of the outside world can be extended
to nighttime operations. Using the infrared camera mounted on the nose of the
aircraft, an enhanced view of the terrain ahead can be projected on the HUD. The
effect is for the pilot to have a daylight window through which he has both
a real and an enhanced view of the nighttime terrain and sky.
There is also a Head Mounted Display as used by the Apache Gunship Helicopter.(above)
HMD is similar to the HUD except that the display is mounted on the helmet
of the pilot. Sensors behind him pick up the direction and position of the
helmet and moves the infrared cameras and targeting systems on the nose of
the helicopter accordingly. The pilot's left eye sees the real world while
the right eye look directly into a display coupled to the infrared camera.
Therefore wherever he looks, he has both the real and enhanced image of the
outside world. For the gunner the HMD is coupled to the 30mm chain-gun underneath
him, so where he looks is where the bullets will hit!
There are now research on a Super Cockpit in which the pilot is completely immersed
in the virtual information and totally excluded from the actual view. The pilot
not only has a virtual view of the outside world but also the cockpit itself, where
the pilot would select and manipulate virtual controls using hand gestures. Low
intensity laser are projected directly into the pilot's retina to pick up reflectd
images. Weapons can then be lock on to enemy aircrafts with the pilot's glance.
Hyper Weapons - VR as a Weapons Design Tool
Ultimately, virtual wars may be fought with weapons that don't exist yet. It's
incredibly expensive to design military hardware -the average weapons' programme,
fully funded and free of technical hitches, takes 12 years from the first contract
bids to equipement on the field. Soon manufacturers will be able to design in
the computer, create simulator models and allow the military to test them
on the virtual battlefield. Success there may mean the right to built from
plastic and metal, and to enter service in the real world.
So how effective is VR technology on a real battlefield ?
As demonstrated in the Gulf War, the Allied were all equiped with the latest
VR weapons systems the Iraqi didn't have, the result was a substantial loss of
lives and armoured vehicles for the Iraqi and an almost insignificant loss to
the Allied with respect to a war of this scale.
The Allies were able to hit primary targets such as radar & communication centres
deep behind enemy defences with SMART or Telepresence weapons such as the cruise
missiles without the risk of soldiers' life. Bombers and Tank-Busting aircrafts
had sophisticated nightvision and targeting sensors which allowed them to carry
out their operations at nighttime. The Iraqi defences were less equiped with
this technology so the chance of a hit from their return fire is smaller. Most
of the Iraqi ground units were destroyed before the Allied ground offensive
even began. Here it can be justified to conclude that the use of VR technology
for the Military is crucial.
The physical abilities of tanks and aircrafts have already been pushed to their
limits. It is now the research of sophisticated weapons interfacing and remote-
piloted weapons which are of interest. The depth of these explorations are almost
by Geoffrey Wong
Military applications of virtual reality
by Jim Bauman
Many good examples of military applications of VR; including Telepresence
- Virtual Reality and the Exploration of Cyberspace
by Francis Hamit Publisher : SAMS Publishing
p. 223 A very informative account of the US Army SIMNET tank simulator.
The Application of VR Technology to Existing Battlefield Simulation
by Roger Smith - Principal Engineer at Mystech Associates
A very comprehensive article, many technical issues and some areas on military
applications, especially on simulation
Commercial Virtual Reality Applications
by Kristy Ann Pike - Owner of Pike & Associates Communications
Concentrates on the marketing of VR products to military application over
the years. Only little area on the actual applications.