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VR, AR technologies enhancing Air Force Training and Maintenance

Virtual Reality (VR) creates a digital environment that replaces the user’s real-world environment. It is more about what users feel or experience in that world than how they connect with it. Augmented Reality (AR) overlays digitally-created content into the user’s real-world environment for instance, projecting sales and inventory data onto products on store shelves. Mixed reality (MR) is a blend of VR and AR creating an environment in which digital and physical objects can interact. For example, MR will allow marketers to put virtual products in consumers’ hands and gauge their responses.

 

Augmented / Mixed reality,  blends elements of a virtual world with the real world, so it is more about how the user interacts with those various elements and the components of the real world. In recent times, VR and AR are coming together to impact business and enterprise together. It is reported that 500 million VR headsets are expected to be sold by 2025.

 

AR has lately emerged as the most transformative technology for surveillance and security functions after AI and Video Analytics. There are also many possible use cases for virtual reality in the Defence and Security sector. One of the advantages of VR training in the military is that it offers the functionality to immerse users in a virtual yet safe world.

 

This feature is what makes it so relevant in the defence sector, as it offers militaries and defense contractors a way to gain invaluable experience of dealing with high-stress, life-threatening environments from the safety of a training room.

 

Exceeding the limits of an F-35 during a training exercise comes at a steep price: the loss of a pilot and an $80 million aircraft. But if that exercise takes place in a virtual environment, then there’s no harm in pushing the envelope. In fact, it can yield important data on the capabilities of the aircraft and the pilot.

 

It is also cost-effective compared to real training.  Air Force entrusts its pilots with flying multimillion-dollar planes, and the production cost of a new range of fighter planes runs into the tens of billions. VR simulators allow pilots to train without having to send aircraft into the air, saving significant costs without projecting capabilities to adversaries. Meanwhile, AR glasses for maintenance crews save time and make those workers more efficient.

 

AR is often used to solve challenges or for training purposes. AR is effective for warfare simulations, military sand tables, battlefield visualizations, and other applications that require a realistic representation of defense activities. Besides, augmented reality has three major applications namely Tactical Augmented Reality (TAR), helmet-mounted AR display, and Synthetic Training Environment (STE) in warfare.

 

The Air Force Agency for Modeling and Simulation (AFAMS), established in 1996, is tasked with enhancing and leveraging modeling and simulation “to support and facilitate integrated, realistic and efficient operational training across warfighter domains to enhance full-spectrum readiness,” the Air Force notes. Airforce has rapidly embraced both virtual reality and augmented reality solutions for its airmen and support crews. The technologies, which range from VR simulators to AR glasses, deliver a range of benefits for the Air Force. Besides, these platforms ensure consistency of training across thousands of personnel, while also allowing for effective monitoring and evaluation of individual performance.

 

In 2018, the service introduced a first-of-its-kind Pilot Training Next (PTN) experiment at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas, to test students’ abilities within an augmented reality space meant to resemble an in-flight experience. PTN has graduated 41 pilots to date with its three classes.

 

Meanwhile, the Air Force’s Air Education and Training Command is developing competency-based VR and AR training for aircraft maintenance. “Virtual training hangars are being built for the classroom and flightline with 3D environments for every airframe in AETC inventory, with AR capabilities and comprehensive instructor tools,” according to Aerospace Manufacturing and Design magazine.

 

“This effort is tied to our priority to transform the way airmen learn through the aggressive and cost-effective modernization of education and training,” says Masoud Rasti, AETCs chief of force development strategy and technical adviser. In a separate effort, the Air Force’s 7th Bomb Wing is testing the use of mixed reality glasses to make their jobs more efficient and safer.

 

The unit is piloting AR glasses and software, according to Defense Systems. The publication reports: The glasses replace the tablets or large manuals that crews typically carry with them. They can overlay instructions on the machines, show PDFs or images and allow for remote support from others who can tap into the glasses to see what the wearers see.

 

 

“Maintenance Operations and Training in Augmented Reality” (MOTAR),  program has evolved over the years. The MOTAR acronym now stands for “Member Operations Training Analytics and Reports.” It has become a one-stop shop for aumented and virtual reality training prgrams within the Air Education and Training Command.

 

The new technology, developed by Dynepic, Inc., collects user data into a single interface, creating digital training records for Airmen, and includes live learning dashboards so instructors can monitor students’ progress. During the pilot program, MOTAR powered a revamped Crew Chief Fundamentals Course at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, with a single login and consolidated dashboard for various augmented reality/virtual reality (AR/VR) applications. The web-based, device-agnostic platform also hosted 360-degree videos, documents, and assessments so participants in the crew chief course could learn the way that suited them best.

 

And, if you can monitor an Airman or Guardian’s training completion in real-time, commanders can quickly identify and fill capability gaps. This could not only vastly improve response time during a contingency, it can also be used to build multi-capable Airmen.

 

USAF

The Air Force today has some 2,400 virtual devices globally — used by the service and foreign partners — ranging from desktop trainers to full-motion simulators with 360-degree domes and aircraft cockpit hardware, said Col. Charles Ryan, senior materiel leader for the simulators division, agile combat support directorate, which is responsible for sustaining, modernizing and developing Air Force simulators and training devices.

 

Joint Simulation Environment brings Next-Gen Test and Evaluation

JSE is a scalable, expandable, high fidelity government-owned, non-proprietary modeling and simulation environment to conduct testing on fifth-plus generation aircraft and systems accreditable for test as a supplement to open-air testing. The overall goal of the JSE is to allow the testers and engineers the capability to test multiple platforms during the developmental and operational testing phases of a platform.

 

Simulator Common Architecture Requirements and Standards (SCARS)

The simulator common architecture requirements and standards initiative, or SCARS, is a sustainment effort designed to “incrementally establish open architecture for Air Force simulators,” which involves defined standards and common applications, software and hardware, he said.

Last year, the service was looking to create a consortium with industry to inform the development of a common synthetic training environment based on SCARS, he said.

“The idea there was to define the attributes and to do experimentation to understand the performance needs of a common environment, understand where those technical risks are, and develop capabilities to get after that environment,” he said.

 

L3 Technologies Inc., Arlington, Texas, has been awarded a $900,000,000 ceiling, indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract for simulator common architecture requirements and standards (SCARS). This contract provides for the definition, design, delivery, deployment and sustainment of a simulator common architecture across the Air Force’s training portfolio, along with the creation of a security operations center and library and the execution of SCARS management services. The SCARS initiative will also incrementally implement a modular open systems approach, as well as a set of common standards for Air Force simulators. The primary location of performance is Orlando, Florida. SCARS has a 10-year ordering period through June 2030. This award is the result of a competitive acquisition and six offers were received. Fiscal 2020 other procurement funds in the amount of $1,216,598; and fiscal 2020 operations and maintenance funds in the amount of $14,278,992 are being obligated under the first task order. The Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, is the contracting activity (FA8621-20-D-0013).

 

 

Red 6 Receives Air Force Contract for  AR Tech Integration Into Talon Aircraft

In Feb 2022, Red 6  received a Tactical Funding Increase contract from the U.S. Air Force to continue integrating its augmented reality pilot training technology into the service branch’s T-38 Talon trainer jets.

 

The Advanced Tactical Augmented Reality System is designed to generate synthetic flying units that pilots can train against and interact with while in the sky, the Miami, Florida-headquartered tech company said Wednesday. Some training scenarios ATARS can support are air-to-air refueling, formation flying and air combat maneuvering.

 

Maj. Gen. Craig Willis, commander of the 19th Air Force, has underscored the importance of continuously modernizing its pilot training system, saying “[It is vital to the Air Force’s future.” Following integration into T-38, the company plans to install its AR technology on the T-45 fleet and the service’s fourth-generation aircraft.

 

 

References and resources also include:

https://fedtechmagazine.com/article/2020/04/air-force-turns-vr-ar-training-and-maintenance

https://www.airforcemag.com/article/augmented-reality-goes-mainstream/

 

 

 

 

About Rajesh Uppal

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