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This smart tech can tell instantly whether or not a US Army soldier is ready for war


A soldier stands in a virtual reality lab wearing a headset to measure his cognitive responses under stress

  • The Army is modernizing to ensure that it is ready to fight wars in an age of competition with adversarial powers like China and Russia.
  • Training is changing as the Army pursues dynamic live, virtual, and mixed-reality training that offers data analysis supported by artificial intelligence and other smart systems.
  • AI and machine learning are very important, Maj. Gen. Maria Gervais, the director of the Army's Synthetic Training Environment team, told reporters Wednesday, "Being able to take the data from your training to be analyzed for trend analysis and predictive analysis is going to be a game changer."

The Army is changing the way it prepares for war, and one of the ways the service is doing this is by turning to augmented reality and artificial intelligence for advanced training, putting combat readiness not only in the hands of experienced officers but also smart machines.

Let's say there's a four-man team preparing to clear a building in a training exercise. As the first man busts through the door, a biometric feedback sensor indicates that his adrenaline spiked off the charts while muzzle and eye tracking sensors showed the soldier looking one way while his gun pointed another. When the third man enters, a motion sensor indicates that he froze momentarily.

And all this data is being run through machine learning systems for trend and predictive analysis, producing a readiness score for essential tasks.

Imagine soldiers training to fight augmented reality adversaries in virtual battle spaces, showdowns that like Mortal Kombat can take place in cities around the world.  

"We have these abilities, and I have seen it from our industry partners. Instantaneous feedback," Maj. Gen. Maria Gervais, director of the Synthetic Training Environment team, told Business Insider Wednesday at the Association of the United States Army conference in Washington, DC. She revealed that while the Army is not there yet, the service is quickly moving in that direction.

Soldier lethality is one of the priorities of the newly-established Army Futures Command, a new four-star command focused on rapid research and development for future weapons and warfighting capabilities, as well as enhanced training options.

"There are systems that we're looking at that can allow the soldiers to train as they will fight, train where they will fight and train against who they will fight while back in the home-station training environment," Sgt. Maj. Jason Wilson, a representative for the Pentagon's Close Combat Lethality Task Force, told journalists at a combat lethality series presentation last month.

One option for the Army is next-level synthetic training environments, where troops can train individually or in groups in both fixed or mobile live, virtual, or mixed-reality battle spaces of all sizes. 

This is a big deal given the inadequacies of some of the existing training platforms.

The current training systems are limited in their capabilities. For example, the technology for the existing virtual trainers does not allow the Army to bring in all of the enablers, such as logistics, medical, engineering, and transportation teams.

"I can only bring air, ground platforms, and a few other capabilities," Gervais explained. "We need to train combined arms to prepare for large-scale combat against a peer or near-peer threat," such as China or Russia.

Terrain is also a huge challenge. "We are trying to get to one-world training," the general introduced. "Terrain is our Achilles heel. We are trying to get after that quickly."

User assessment testing for re-configurable virtual trainers began earlier this year. Within the next two years, the Army wants AI-driven trend and predictive analysis based on biometric and sensor data collected during training exercises. "Right now, we are only as good as someone's experience and their eye and what they catch or what we see in video," Gervais told Business Insider. "We want to be able to assess training, and we have some of that capability right now, but not to the degree we need."

"If you ask any soldier if he is combat ready, he will undoubtedly say, 'Yes, yes,'" Amul Asthana, a spokesman for Zen Technologies and a retired Indian army brigadier general, told BI while introducing his company's simulated training capabilities. "I can say I do not have high blood pressure, but without testing it, it is impossible to know for certain."

The aim of the new Synthetic Training Environment program is to ensure that the US Army knows American troops are ready for battle, especially when the next conflict could be one against a top adversary.

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