Military organizations have been early adopters in the use of technology for training and education, especially the US Military, starting with wargames played on maps. The idea of improving fighting readiness in a way that does not put any soldiers in danger has long been an important goal. Years ago, I wrote an article about virtual training in the US military for E3d News and About.com. With virtual training changing and expanding every year, I thought it would be a good time to take another look at how VR and edtech are now being used in the US military. 

Medic Training 

The COVID-19 pandemic brought significant disruption to all medical training.The use of hospitals and other medical facilities for training purposes became limited just as the vital need to train and replace medical personnel during the pandemic became crucial. Virtual medical training quickly stepped up to fill that need and has become more widely used over the last two years. 

This is also vital for Military Medics since there isn’t always a dangerous firefight that can be used for training purposes.The goal of the Department of Defense (DoD) is to have trained medics ready at all times in the event of a conflict, but because these medics have no sort of civilian training (and only 16 weeks of military training), they are not allowed to practice in any hospitals, even military ones. Most medics never see or treat shrapnel, landmine, or bullet wounds until they are actually in a war zone, so instead the US military is relying more on virtual training for these kinds of injuries. They are expanding their virtual training and a number of companies are moving into the industry (because the military, like healthcare and education, is a bit of a cash cow).

Since the military has become fairly focused on continuous improvement, they run one of the largest research arms focused on the efficacy of this kind of training. It is a division of the US Army’s Telemedicine & Advanced Technology Research Center (TATRC) called Medical Modeling, Simulation, Informatics and Visualization (MMSIV) Division, and it is dedicated to studying the impact of virtual training, whether it leads to medics who produce better outcomes than medics trained in other ways, and what kinds of simulations are the most effective at training these medics for optimal casualty care.

Serious games

Serious games are a type of games designed for a purpose besides pure entertainment. One of the most popular versions of these is the Microsoft Flight Simulator, but they can include all sorts of training, simulation, and educational games. The IITSEC military conference has been running the Serious Games Showcase and Challenge competition since 2006 and the SGS&C finalists come from organizations representing industries that range from established companies to startups, tackling topics from healthcare to defense, and the 2019 winner was a helicopter and medic simulation named Talon.

Flight training

Flight Simulators have been extensively used by both commercial aviation and the military for decades. Presently, most flight training up to and including licensing is done virtually on flight simulators. They are used world wide, especially for larger aircraft. 

Flight simulation is so popular that you can buy professional grade simulators for home use.

Helicopter flight training on simulators is much more recent. For years training simulators were available only for the aircraft but that is changing rapidly.  Most military grade simulators are huge and unwieldy but recently Collins Aircraft has made a Transportable-Black Hawk Operations Simulator

But possibly the most interesting space for simulators right now is in UAV and drone simulation. There are ones designed specifically for military drones and ones designed for specific civilian drones. Because so much of the “real” interaction with these vehicles is already at a distance and mediated by computers and software, simulators can do an even better job creating an experience of being the real thing. Instead of making a perfect simulation of our world, like the Star Trek holodeck, we have made part of our world more simulatable.

In fact, the utility of these drones is pretty widely recognized. A “small number” of Ukrainian soldiers are getting drone training in the US. And while that is specifically for the military drones, there is not much reason to imagine that the Ukrainians could be using the DJI flight simulator since they have been using those drones rather creatively against the Russian forces, in spite of DJI’s attempt to stop them.

If you know about recent eastern European military history, you know that Ukraine was pretty soundly defeated around 2014 and had to work to come back from that. Training has had to be bootstrapped for a lot of this and the virtualization of that training has made for a unique test case in the modern world. 

Military organizations continue to push the envelope with regard to EdTech with plans already in place to expand the use of VR training as well as virtual simulation. Anyone interested in the future of virtual training should keep an eye on where the military is going in EdTech.

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