Company insight

The new reality for military training

Between augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and data analysis, technology is transforming the old ways of conducting military training. Jan Uebersax, senior manager of marketing and products at RUAG Simulation & Training, talks about the future of AR and VR in military training, the challenges around training large numbers of troops with the new technology – and how AI analytics can offer deep insights into recruits’ physical and mental states.


or most of human history, military training was conducted totally in the field, with soldiers drilling in a barracks yard or trudging over mountains. Yet, as with so many other areas of human activity, new developments are demolishing old certainties. That’s especially true in the realm of virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR). Though there are still hitches to contend with, the technology is speeding ahead – with serious consequences for grunts and officers alike.

Going digital

Few people are as well placed to explore the vast potential of VR and AR in military training as Jan Uebersax. A 25-year veteran of the Swiss Armed Forces, since 2016 he’s worked as a senior marketing and products manager at RUAG Simulation & Training, one of the most distinguished companies in its field. And over his long career, Uebersax says, VR and AR have gradually been encroaching on more traditional forms of training. “Over the past ten or 15 years,” he explains, “the border between virtual and constructed simulation has blurred more and more.” This is easy to understand. So-called ‘live simulation’ – real soldiers driving real tanks on a mock battlefield – may in some ways still be the gold standard of military training. Yet armed forces around the world increasingly understand the strategic and financial benefits of going digital.

Uebersax, for his part, gives the example of the helicopter. Awkward and expensive to deploy in the real world, he describes how imports from the gaming industry will soon make it “possible for every soldier to have a little display, allowing them to see

certain elements – like a helicopter – that only exist virtually”.

Future warfare Certainly, RUAG Simulation & Training is going down a similar route. Providing visually and physically accurate immersive trainer solutions for military vehicles, small arms and artillery, the company’s specialists design and manufacture a range of cutting-edge training solutions. More to the point, these systems mimic their real-life counterparts remarkably closely. From realistic ballistics and accurate recoil to indoor shooting ranges that actually feel like war-torn villages, these are places where recruits can really hone their operational skills.

Though Uebersax is confident that by “horizon 2030” recruits will be defending themselves against virtual helicopters, the technology isn’t quite there yet. Not that companies like RUAG aren’t working hard to develop new solutions in the meantime. Beyond VR and AR platforms, indeed, one of the most promising moves is human performance optimisation (HPO). Though military trainers already have a number of tools to monitor recruits’ performance – notably after action reviews – HPO goes further. Exploiting the mountains of data modern simulations typically gather, and new AI that makes it easier to analyse, RUAG is helping customers

“Over the past ten or 15 years [...] the border between virtual and constructed simulation has blurred more and more.”

But the road to flawless AR training is not completely clear. As Uebersax emphasises, there are still a number of challenges to overcome before the dream of total AR training can become a reality. For one thing, a lack of “computing power” remains a problem.

As Uebersax puts it, projecting a virtual helicopter to one or two people is fairly simple. But what about when you have a battalion of 500 or 600? And what about if some of those soldiers are on the far side of a forest, so theoretically shouldn’t be able to even see that helicopter to begin with? Once you reach that level of complexity, it’s difficult to “have the right networks that can distribute to a large audience of trainees,” he says.

Defence & Security Systems International /

understand everything from troops’ psychological status to the weight of their packs. Once again, Uebersax adds, a holistic approach is vital here. “It’s something that’s going to have to be tailored to the culture of the particular armed forces you’re helping.” You get the sense that if anyone can manage that, it’s Uebersax and his colleagues at RUAG Simulation & Training. They’ve already shown their worth over decades, after all, and there’s no reason to think that they can’t continue down the same path – even as technology evolves and training gets sharper. ● 33

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