The warfare landscape is changing faster than ever before. Wars are now being fought and won, not only on the physical battlefield but also across complex digital landscape spanning information manoeuvre and electronic, cyber and space warfare. In this context, digitization of defence forces and the usage of futuristic technologies in the defence space is a must for Winnability. Top nations in the world, now need to look beyond being battlefield supreme and they need to be ready for the new milieu of warfare.
This is spurring a wave of defence digitization across the world. Globally, nations are leveraging numerous opportunities arising out of digital technology-led transformation, which will give them the competitive edge over other nations not only now, but also in the future. Indian defence forces are built on the back of passion and patriotism and are now incorporating digital excellence to achieve a state of digital supremacy.
This journey starts with a highly resilient and sophisticated defence network. Strategic capabilities like Joint-ness, Interoperability and ability to support modern military applications.
Modern military applications can change the face of defence operations and tactics. Technologies like robotics, artificial intelligence, IoT and even quantum computing are being incubated to achieve digital supremacy. But AR (Augmented reality) and VR (Virtual reality) are the two technologies that can revolutionise warfare like no other. Let us see how.
Digital reality is no more a futuristic concept
Digital reality has moved beyond video games and science fiction movies to engaging, immersive and multisensory technologies. It started with the VR video game headsets, but is now becoming entrenched in each aspect of human life.
The huge potential of Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) is being tapped to create large volume simulation environments for military and paramilitary domains. AR and VR has been reshaping almost all the major military operations – right from assisting Defence forces to train their soldiers to develop new warfighting strategies for evaluating ever-growing complexities of the battlefield.
AR is effectively being used for enabling concepts like warfare simulations, battlefield visualisations, tactical augmented reality, digital twins, spatial orientation, situational awareness, weapons targeting, digital terrain, and many more. This is reflected in the robust outlook for this industry. According to Goldman Sachs, the AR/VR industry is expected to generate US $1.4 billion in revenues exclusively from the military, by the year 2025.
AR and VR for modernising tactical military training
Military training is a time-consuming and costly affair. Also, on-ground military training is incomparable to real combat where gunfire is all around and soldiers need to operate in a high-pressure environment, have high situational awareness and quick response to the enemy moves. Boot camps use artificial weapons to offer training which is far from a real-life experience. There is a huge difference between training with 2D models, spending time in barracks and and facing the enemy at the battlefield. Many soldiers have to suffer major injuries and sometimes loss of life at the battlefield.
Now imagine a military base training camp where soldiers are able to use the latest AR/VR-based applications at any time and train with virtual enemies that mimic the exact battlefield environment. Like this, wouldn’t they be better trained to handle any situational complexity at the battlefield with higher readiness level?
AR and VR can enhance the soldiers’ cognitive abilities and put virtual training inline with on-field practice. With highly detailed and customized simulations, VR offers an array of immersive scenarios for military training – from real-time mission, rehearsals to live shooting exercises.
Here are some use cases of AR and VR applications for military training:
For situational awareness and experience – A Synthetic Training Environment (STE) is created in an AR system that assists military training in a more immersive way, putting them into near-real physically and mentally stressing operational environments.AR simulators can create diverse scenarios that could be tailored to various service requirements, along with program supporting skill drills, physical fitness and other key boot camp experiences, thus reducing the need for manpower as instructors.
Using AR, boot camp experience can be enhanced to include caves, motion trackers, vests, and weapons to provide better training to the soldiers. In extreme environments like deep forests, snow-capped mountains and deserts, navigation and teamwork are crucial. Using multi-sensory experiences, VR lets soldiers get trained in such harsh environments. Multi-user war planning systems involve real-time collaboration between soldiers in a virtual environment and allow commanders to develop strategies for tactical missions even in extreme circumstances.
For vehicle and flight simulations–VR can assist soldiers to get trained in handling fighter planes, submarines, and ground vehicles without even getting into actual vehicles. The VR-based simulators mimic the real motions of a vehicle, thus helping to prepare troops for actual field experience. They can also be used to provide data related to soldiers in different scenarios. This data can then be utilised for providing customised training to soldiers.
For medical training – Medical personnel should be trained enough to handle war-like situations and provide aids to the soldiers but no amount of conventional training can prepare them for the situation at ground zero. , But now that is achievable through VR, wherein medical personnel can be trained to operate under warzone-like environment characterised by constant fighting, high caseload and extreme pressure. This lets medical personnel get trained and strategize their skills under actual stressful conditions.
Use cases beyond military training
Nations continue to add on modern and latest military assets in order to strengthen the combat capabilities of their Defence forces. This, while equipping the armed forces with the latest technology equipment, also increases complexity in the form of significant maintenance challenges. Having the right engineers for the equipment O&M and maximising military readiness is not an easy task. Armed forces have limited options while deploying maintenance personnel; strategically positioning them into likely areas of conflict or adopting a “fix when required” approach. Although military personnel are trained to perform specific repairs but think about a situation wherein an equipment failure happens in the midst of a war, particularly for aerospace assets.
AR plays a much bigger role in military operations by equipping military personnel with computer vision technology for supporting equipment and vehicular repair and in maintaining data. AR could be used over a 2D printed manual or schematics. The instructions flow in as an overlay onto the actual object in 3D, indicating which part to repair. Using smartglasses, mobile devices, or tablets, personnel can see a real-time, interactive demonstration of the repair job. This will not only save time but also reduce the cost of repair. Integrating AR technology with a configuration-controlled solution adds the required precision to remote maintenance tasks.
AR for data scheduling–AR/VR technologies enable sharing of digital data by superimposing it over an end user’s field of view or real-world environment. The ability to deliver data instantly to remote end-users can significantly to improve situational awareness, task comprehension, and knowledge retention. Additionally, mission coordinators, subject matter experts, and strategists can better support end users while remaining at a safe, remote location. One of the use cases could be using VR to capture landscape related data at the time of war or bombing and sharing that data information in the form of virtual environments with military personnel at remote locations so that a better planning for personnel deployment could be done and robust crisis management strategies could be made.
AR and VR technologies define a new generation of soldiers weaned on electronics experiences, with an intuitive appreciation for digital information. As the defence forces delve deeper into newer technologies for training and equipping soldiers, AR and VR offer a robust digital platform for creating scenarios similar to real-life including on-field medical assistance, live combat, boot camp exercises and other relevant military training. The next logical step would be developing these solutions to be used on the frontline without compromising on soldier safety and mission success.
(The author is CTO, Network Services and Software, STL. Views expressed are personal.)