The United States military has relied on virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) as training aids for years, but new advances in the technology could further spur new opportunities for the developers of military simulations. This could allow for interoperable training modules, web-based platforms, and cloud computing that would enable U.S. military personnel to train with NATO allies without having to leave their home bases.

According to the new Research and Markets report, “Military Simulation and Virtual Training – Market and Technology Forecast to 2030,” the technology has become so advanced that warfighters from different geographic locations can simultaneously practice a single training session.

NATO member countries have increasingly been the biggest current users of virtual training and simulators, while India, Israel, China, Russia, South Korea, and Japan are also developing similar technology.

Cost-effectiveness had been one of the key drivers, but the ability to generate multiple feedbacks from a single data has become possible, which is helping trainers to analyze individual and team performance and decide on improvements in real-time. Moreover, virtual training has helped in mission readiness with high performance based on multiple mission needs.

Full Steam Ahead

The United States Navy had gone full steam ahead with VR in June 2021, when it unveiled its virtual combat training facilities in San Diego and Pearl Harbor. It duplicated the shipboard undersea warfare (USW) combat system used in its DDG 51 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers and CG 47 Ticonderoga-class cruisers. Integrated with the AEGIS combat system, the simulation provides a full range of undersea warfare functions.

In addition, the cloud-based trainers have helped expand the Navy’s ability to train officers and surface sonar technicians to develop and maintain critical combat skills.

Navy officials said that the technology solution has been to increase the amount of “reps and sets” that sailors perform on tactical AN/SQQ-89A(V)15 software, which significantly improves the quality of training the sailors and officers receive and retain. In addition, the simulation is designed to provide operators the opportunity to train in realistic underwater environments against high-fidelity peer and near-peer threats.

The U.S. Navy first began its move to VR training in 2015 with the introduction of the Surface Training Advanced Virtual Environment Combat System (STAVE-CS). It provided an improved training experience and a higher level of qualification for naval officers and sailors heading to the fleet.

Fighter Pilot Training Flying High With VR

This month, aerospace giant Boeing announced that it is collaborating with Red 6, the developer of the Airborne Tactical Augmented Reality System (ATARS), to develop leading-edge aerial “dogfighting” technology and training in advanced tactical aircraft. Boeing has become the first company to team with Red 6 on this type of advanced training technology.

According to the companies, this joint agreement will set the stage for future integration of ATARS along with its Augmented Reality Command and Analytic Data Environment (ARCADE) into Boeing-manufactured next-generation aircraft. The Boeing-Saab T-7 Red Hawk jet trainer and Boeing F-15EX fighter could be among the first aircraft to receive ATARS and ARCADE.

With this new software installed, pilots will be able to “see” and interact with augmented reality aircraft, targets, and threats on the ground or in the air while flying and training in their actual aircraft. This could reduce the cost of and need for multiple platforms and “real world training exercises,” and even make for safer aerial combat training.

“We continue to revolutionize the way we train and fight. Red 6’s Augmented Reality system with the pathfinding T-7 and the F-15EX represents another transformational leap in capability,” said Dan Gillian, vice president and general manager of U.S. Government Services for Boeing Global Services, via a statement.

“This agreement is the latest example of Boeing’s commitment to investing in technology and our drive to lead innovation in the aerospace and defense sectors,” Gillian added.

According to Red 6, its ATARS platform can enable a multitude of tactical training scenarios delivered through the use of AR. This includes air combat maneuvers, refueling, tactical formation, and surface-to-air weapon engagements; while its ARCADE can further increase the efficiency of mission planning, briefing, and debriefing through real-time 3D visualizations to construct and re-construct sorties.

“Readiness and lethality are critical if our warfighters are to prevail against peer adversaries. Boeing’s next-generation platforms will be the first aircraft in the world that are capable of entering our augmented reality training environment. Together, we will deliver a paradigm shift in the quality, quantity, and cost of training future pilots,” added Daniel Robinson, founder and CEO of Red 6.

Army Gets HoloLens

This month also saw Microsoft deliver the first batch of Wide Field of Vision (FoV) HoloLens Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS) to the United States Army. The delivery is the first in the IVAS program, which aims to equip infantry with AR helmets for situational awareness while also providing a convenient display of integrated sensor data.

The contract with Microsoft is worth up to $21.88 billion over five to 10 years with a maximum eventual order of 120,000 units.

In 2018, the tech giant had been awarded a $480 million evaluation contract for just over 2500 prototype units, which were based on its HoloLens 2 with some modifications and an extra sensor. During the subsequent evaluation, however, it was found that the hardware was not rugged enough for military use. In addition, field tests identified problems with the sensors at night.

Since that time, the hardware has been significantly upgraded, and is far more ruggedized, while it also houses additional sensors. Additionally, the field of view was significantly increased from roughly 40×30 degrees to 80×40 degrees, which is actually significantly wider than any other known see-through AR headset on the market. The Army has also sought to test the integration of the AR technology with vehicles, which could provide greater situation awareness by allowing warfighters to essentially “see” through the sides of armored vehicles,

The final test report of the device’s performance is expected to be concluded by the end of October, and it will allow lawmakers to determine whether to continue to fund the program. Army officials have indicated that they are “confident that the program will succeed,” yet some lawmakers in the respective House and Senate appropriations committees have called for deep cuts to the Army’s request “pending the test results.”

Moreover, there were some Microsoft employees who protested the company’s decision to develop technology, but CEO Satya Nadella responded, “We made a principled decision that we’re not going to withhold technology from institutions that we have elected in democracies to protect the freedoms we enjoy.”


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Peter Suciu is a freelance writer who covers business technology and cyber security. He currently lives in Michigan and can be reached at You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.