Marines test augmented reality with real-world explosions

Marines recently conducted the first live-fire training exercises involving augmented reality.

The U.S. Marine Corps' augmented reality training system was tested in a live-fire exercise for the first time last month.  And while that blend of actual ordnance and digitized overlays went well, USMC officials said the system's real value is the realistic training that can come without real-world explosions and air support. 

While a test of the Augmented Immersive Team Trainer in May took place on a golf course with AITT-supplied virtual tanks, mortar fire and smoke from explosions, the field portion of an Aug. 5-6  “call-for-fire” training included actual aircraft and munitions.  Those elements are "an important part of the training experience for the student officers," ONR said, but are costly and time-consuming to set up, staff and execute.  

The AITT system, on the other hand,  "makes the training easier and eliminates the maintenance issues or weather-related restrictions that can pare down or cancel training,” said Maj. George Flynn, director of the Infantry Officer Course. “For instance, this system can use virtual air support, so even if it’s raining, the students can still be training, getting confidence and learning the points of employing aviation assets.”

Developed by the Office of Naval Research, the AITT system consists of a laptop, software, battery pack  and a helmet-mounted display. It supports live, cutting-edge training scenarios by combining the physical domain with the virtual by superimposing images of ground vehicles, aircraft or munitions into a real environment.  

“This affordable lightweight system can be taken anywhere -- turning any environment into a training ground -- and could be used to prepare Marines for real-world situations and environments they will face,” said Brig. Gen. Julian Alford, vice chief of naval research and commanding general of the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory.  The use of virtual effects also makes it easier for student to picture the situation. “Rather than having the instructor paint a picture to the student without anything happening, now the student can get a visual of the aircraft they’ve been controlling in support of a maneuver on the deck,” said Flynn.   

Augmented reality also sidesteps problems associated with lengthy wait times for range time – in some cases, six to 12 months –as well as costly munitions and fuel spent for large weapons systems. 

The AITT program will wrap up in October with a large-scale demonstration at Quantico, Va.  Pending the results of a Marine Corps assessment, the program will transition to the Marine Corps Program Manager for Training Systems for further testing and development.

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