Tuesday, December 9, 2008

US Air Force Uses Gaming Technology for Interactive Training

This screenshot shows flight simulation software created by Air Force researchers who leveraged existing commercial gaming software to demonstrate an alternative way to quickly deliver a low-cost, realistic simulation program with genuine training effectiveness. Researchers integrated the graphics-rich commercial package with high-fidelity real-world aircraft models. (U.S. Air Force image.)

Focus on Defense:

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio, Dec. 9, 2008 -- Air Force Research Laboratory's researchers at Mesa, Ariz., unveiled the technological potential of its gaming research and development project publicly Dec. 1 during the 2008 Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference in Orlando, Fla.

Members of the 711th Human Performance Wing's Warfighter Readiness Research Division blended commercial gaming technology with military-specific databases that demonstrated quicker, less expensive ways to develop the next generation of tools for interactive military training.

The fast-track technology demonstration project began in June when two Thurgood Marshall College Fund interns joined RHA for a summer of hands-on programming experience. Their initial success formed the foundation for a project that clearly depicts how modern gaming technology can help cut development time and costs for critical military distributed mission simulations, said 2nd Lt. Luke Lisa, an aerospace engineer who leads the project.

In six months, researchers integrated high-fidelity real-world aircraft models with existing commercial-off-the-shelf, or COTS, X-Plane gaming software to create a realistic flight simulation program with rich COTS graphics.

"That's a testimony to how fast we can develop a product with this method," Lieutenant Lisa said.

Under a pending technology transfer agreement, RHA's technology will also help improve the fidelity of the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency's PC-based "RealWorld" Air Combat Environment program, said Craig Eidman, the RHA immersive environment engineering lead.

Building on the gaming industry's competitive advancements is an approach that makes sense, said 1st Lt. Clinton Kam, an aeronautical engineer also assigned to the project.

"You have this billion-dollar gaming industry and they're advancing the technology constantly, pushing forward the video cards, the physics cards, the processors," Lieutenant Kam said. "So our challenge is, how can we leverage their efforts?"

Researchers are interested in how best to get military training value in a fun, aesthetically pleasing game environment that would provide genuine training effectiveness at the low cost of a computer game.

X-Plane software is known for its fluid graphics, realistic depiction of weather including volumetric (3-D) clouds, and attention to detail such as night-time ground lights and highway traffic. But its military aircraft performance is "low fidelity" relative to real aircraft characteristics and that's where the Air Force tailoring begins.

"Fidelity is how close the flight model of an aircraft fits the real world," Lieutenant Lisa said. "So if you are flying an F-16 (Fighting Falcon) and you're pulling a 6G turn, how much energy do you lose in that turn? The bottom line is, the better fidelity, the more realistic the simulation."

"You don't want the aircraft to do things it wouldn't actually do in real life, such as climbing faster than it's capable of doing," Lieutenant Kam said, otherwise the result could be "negative training" for the warfighter.

Because Air Force researchers can access validated military data not available to commercial developers, they can ensure that computer-generated military models match real-world profiles, not only for aircraft but also for attributes such as missile trajectory and radar detection. The value of this integration -- in terms of fidelity and training relevance -- is a new near-term opportunity to examine how games might fit into the continuum of military training methods.

Behavioral scientists already are working on methods and criteria to determine and quantify the fidelity levels required for various training scenarios and how fidelity levels correlate to training effectiveness, said Dr. Winston Bennett, a RHA training and assessment research technical adviser.

Early efforts focused on pilots, but the gaming-integration concept can apply to any scenario, including joint terminal attack controllers who rely on video feeds from an unmanned aircraft system to call in airstrikes.

The Air Force is pushing Department of Defense modeling and simulation systems toward commercial industry's modular plug-in philosophy that offers more flexibility and user transparency, said 1st Lt. Adam Pohl, a systems engineer.

"Our first objective was an integration proof of concept, showing that tying these packages together can work," Lieutenant Lisa said. "Now when someone approaches us with a need, they know that gaming has the potential to be leveraged as an alternative approach that saves money and helps meet the warfighters' need faster."

(Report by John Schutte, 711th Human Performance Wing.)

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