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From the MetaVR website: "When the system operators are not flying the actual UAV, they can fly a simulated UAV using the same hardware they use to operate the real system - using the JTC/SIL MUSE, which replicates the air vehicle and datalink simulation software and MetaVR's PC-based technology. Thus, an operator does not necessarily know whether the video feed is coming from a simulator or a real camera video feed."
Meaning, it's possible to pump simulated video into the same terminal used in real flight operations, almost exactly replicating the experience of real operational flight. This, of course, creates a near-perfect training environment, but it also raises the question of whether the pilot can tell the difference, and if the Army cares.
"We want to make sure that we use the simulations in a way that helps the soldiers," says SRI's John Shockley. "We're very concerned about making sure that they don't get any negative training value from what we're doing."
In other words, simulating bullets and battlefields saves money and, obviously, lives, but it also creates the possibility that the soldiers using the virtual training systems may not be as prepared for the real thing should it ever come. Naturally, the only real solution to this problem is to not use simulators at all, but barring that, making them as real and as engaging as possible will have to serve. This is easy for training 96 Uniforms. When the live feed and the training video both show on the same screen, through the same equipment, it's a lot harder to tell the difference between what's live and what's Memorex. But what about tank and infantry training? How do you fool a man on the ground that can see the target with his own eyes?
"There are two ... live instrumentation systems ... that we use to do the engagement simulation," says SRI's John Shockley. "The first one is called DFIRST, Deployable Force-On-Force Instrumented Range System. What that system does is it provides GPS-based tracking for the vehicles, and then it also uses GPS pointing angle information to measure where a tank's turret is pointing. ... When somebody shoots a round, a tank round, we know where he's pointing, and we simulate the engagement of him firing against another vehicle, and then do a statistical kill assessment of those results."
In other words, a virtual bullet. But the rabbit hole goes even deeper than that.
"[In May of 2003] we used a constructive simulation called JCATS, a Joint Conflict and Tactical Simulation," says Shockley, "and the issue that we had ... was how do you visually stimulate the live guys in the tank?"
The solution? Smart targets.
"Tankers are used to dealing with what they call pop-up targets," he says. "They're plywood silhouettes of an enemy vehicle [that] pop up out of the ground and provide a signature that they can fire against. So [in May of 2003] we used those, [and] we used the JCATS to mimic their locations, and then we restricted the scenario so that the [dummy] vehicles would be in the defensive position - basically coming up over a hill, firing, then going back. That way we had visual stimulation that live guys ... could engage both ways. Now, in addition to the vehicle and environment and engagements being simulated, [we're] also simulating some of the participants so that the person operating a constructive simulation could be controlling an entire tank platoon, for example."
"[We] scored the first kill of a virtual target firing back."