Training military personnel with simulations lowers costs and increases flexibility

15 May 2017 • 4 min reading time

Soldiers do not only train for their missions in trenches in military training areas. The Ministry of Defence increasingly uses projected images of citizens, virtual drones and computer simulations to prepare its personnel for real-life situations. TNO is an important knowledge partner of the Ministry for simulated training. “We stand out because we extensively validate our simulation tool,” explains Wim Huiskamp, LVC (Live, Virtual and Constructive) programme manager at TNO. Simulation is also one of the themes of the ITEC Exhibition and Conference that will take place between 16 and 18 May.

Whether you are on a peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan or controlling a football riot in Rotterdam, as a commander you make sure your troops are always well prepared. Military and police personnel can train how to respond in the field using simulations of potential situations. TNO Defence’s LVC (Live, Virtual and Constructive) training research programme has been designed to find an optimum mix of simulations for every conceivable scenario. Live stimulations closely resemble real-life environments and materials, such as a shooting exercise in a forest environment with real weapons and with or without live ammunition. In virtual simulations, real people respond to computer systems, for example by shooting at virtual targets on a screen. Finally, in constructive training a complete scenario is generated by a computer to provide military personnel with experience and knowledge, for example by simulating a mission plan.

Mix of simulations

But the differences between the three simulations are not that black and white, explains Wim Huiskamp, LVC programme manager at TNO. “Often the best solution is to combine various simulations. For example, you could have personnel drive in a mock-up vehicle through a crowd of pedestrians that is simulated by a computer. The actions of the projected pedestrians are controlled from the sidelines.”

“By projecting images of children in a mock-up village, you have the opportunity to prepare soldiers for real-life situations where children are involved”

Projected images of children

Why train personnel how to shoot at virtual targets, drive in mock-up vehicles and respond to projected images of pedestrians? Huiskamp believes there may be valid reasons for doing so. Virtual and constructive simulations can save a lot of money and make it possible to train in situations that are impossible to replicate in real life. “In some cases, real-life simulations are much too risky,” Huiskamp explains. “No one would consider using real children for a military exercise. By projecting images of children in a mock-up village, you have the opportunity to prepare soldiers for real-life situations where children are involved.”

Learning objectives more easily achievable

In the mock-up training village Marnehuizen in Groningen, military personnel are trained for missions with the help of actors who play the role of local residents and opponents. Thanks to TNO, the human actors are now supported by virtual colleagues; light projections on the walls. Cameras, motion sensors and microphones register the activities of the soldiers in the area and software ensures that the projections respond adequately. “We now have more control of the actors, which can make it easier to achieve certain learning objectives,” explains Huiskamp.

“Virtual drones are ideal in poor weather conditions”

Virtual drone

Images from unmanned aircraft (UAVs) are an increasingly important source of information for ground troops: where is the enemy and where is the rest of my unit? It is therefore important to use these during training as well. “The Netherlands has strict legislation controlling the use of UAVs and they cannot always be used in poor weather conditions,” says Huiskamp. So TNO developed a virtual drone. During the simulation, the information from the GPS trackers is combined with a computer-generated landscape. This results in images that appear to have been made by a UAV without actually needing to launch a drone.

Validation of the simulation tool

The main advantage of combining various simulations, alongside the cost savings, is flexibility. But how do you know whether the chosen mix of simulations will lead to the desired result? Will your personnel acquire the required skills? “One reason that TNO stands out is that we extensively validate the assimilation tool,” says Huiskamp. “We validate both the training objective and the technical requirements of the instrument used to achieve that objective.” TNO also analyses what the results of the simulations reveal about the skills of personnel in real-life situations. “You can teach people to recognize vehicles in a simulation and then assess whether they still have this skill in real life. If not, you can improve the simulation or the training method. But the greatest advantage is that you can carry out exercises in a virtual simulation that would be impossible in a live exercise.”

“You can carry out exercises in a virtual simulation that would be impossible in a live exercise”

Cooperating to save costs

TNO is an excellent research partner for LVC research, not only as the Ministry of Defence’s ‘preferred research supplier’, but also at the European level. “TNO has both in-depth and wide-ranging expertise in this field,” says Huiskamp. “TNO helped to establish the European Training and Simulation Association (ETSA) and is co-initiator of the ITEC conference. We also participate in the NATO Modelling and Simulation Group (NMSG) on behalf of the Ministry of Defence. Together with the Ministry and our knowledge partners, we are developing new guidelines and standards to link the systems of various countries together.” Cooperation between countries, and particularly between governments, businesses and knowledge institutes, is essential if the Ministry of Defence is to stay ahead in the field of simulation tools, thinks Huiskamp. “This cooperation saves money and makes it easier and faster to turn ideas into useful products. The Netherlands has plenty of experience in this field and so it can set an example for the rest.”

ITEC: sharing knowledge

TNO will also be at ITEC 2017, where representatives of the international scientific community and the industry meet every year to share knowledge in the area of military training, education and simulation. This year, ITEC is being held in Rotterdam from Tuesday 16 to Thursday 18 May. Wim Huiskamp will be chairing the conference. During the conference and exhibition in Rotterdam Ahoy, TNO will be providing workshops on serious gaming for military training purposes for example and a stand with demonstrations in the ‘Holland Simulation Pavilion’.

More information

Would you like to know more about LVC Research? Or do you want to find out what TNO can do for you? Contact Wim Huiskamp or visit TNO at ITEC 2017, stand number 9.

ITEC 2017
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