In the last few decades, the consistent development of online and computer games has skyrocketed. These games have replaced typical board games like Monopoly and Yahtzee. With that comes a change in the way the Defense Department’s military departments train their new recruits. A team from the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division Dam Neck Activity (NSWCDD DNA) developed a prototype to use this increasing background in the gaming world to improve training solutions for the US Marines.
The Gaming Environment for Air Readiness (GEAR) prototype was developed over a 12-month period thanks to funding from the Office of Naval Research (ONR) Global Tech Solutions. GEAR provides scenario generation and a realistic synthetic environment for the Marine Air Support Squadron One (MASS-1) team. The MASS-1 Defense Air Support Center (DASC) is the primary Marine Air Command and Control System agency responsible for directing air operations directly supporting ground forces.
“If you’ve heard the phrase ‘crawl, walk, run,’ this prototype fills in that ‘walk’ part,” said Sean Sheridan, technical director of the GEAR project. “GEAR gives MASS 1 junior staff a more hands-on experience. Right now they are walking through a school house with presentations and brochures. They practice spoken communication with flashcards, but there’s no good way to practice and train new students.”
The MASS-1 DASC uses a collection of mobile equipment such as tents, trucks, generators, and communications equipment that are deployed each time the team needs to conduct a training event. Running a training event for DASC requires about 60 people working 12-hour shifts for about two weeks, according to Sheridan.
Sheridan is part of the Integrated Training Systems Division at NSWCDD DNA and works alongside the innovation team. The team focuses on the research and development aspect for “startup projects” and creates proof of concepts for various organizations.
The GEAR prototype uses a simulated display and procedural artificial intelligence (AI) to immerse crew members in a 3D environment.
“The easiest way to explain it is that GEAR is a complicated, high-fidelity video game,” said modeling and simulation engineer Kyle Tanyag. Tanyag was the software lead for the project. “We basically took the DASC environment and modeled it with 3D graphics and assets and built in various behaviors that we wanted to occur in the virtual environment to create a training simulation for the Marines.”
The conversational AI within the simulation plays various roles in DASC operations. The AI fills in various text and speech simulations, giving students the opportunity to familiarize themselves with their respective roles before a live training event.
The simulation has both chat and voice interactions. “When a student is asked to shout and report something through a headset, the AI picks up what the person is saying and turns it into text. This text is then read and analyzed by the AI,” Sheridan explained. From there, the AI sends back a text response, which is then converted into a verbal response. “These things already existed in the commercial community, but we had never put them together like this before.”
In July 2022, NSWCDD DNA’s GEAR team delivered a prototype to the Marines at Cherry Point, NC.
“The Marines were so excited when they received this training application,” Tanyag recalls. “This prototype offers students more flexibility than a typical linear computer-based training program.”
What comes next for the prototype depends on funding opportunities, Sheridan said.
“Now that we have a viable proof of concept, it can be adopted by someone else for use. In this case we had a tent environment, but that can change. It’s all about creating a new virtual environment and matching the AI system with new material.”