The history of VR has often been influenced by the defense industry. One of the first VR projects was developed in the 1960s for a US military combat system. Virtual reality has always played a significant role in the military field and was adopted by all services: army, navy, and air force. It is mostly used for army training purposes, but there are other use cases where VR is a powerful tool.
Virtual reality is a computer-generated environment that enables the viewer to immerse themselves in their 3D data. Military and defense are one of the industries where virtual and augmented reality technologies are most widely used. VR is even one of the key technologies listed by the US Department of Defense in the 21st century. In this article, let’s discover the current uses of Virtual Reality in the defense industry and the military industry.
How is VR used in the military and defense industry?
1. Specialized military training in virtual reality
Virtual reality training is a common use case for VR technology. It helps for training exercises that are too rare, too expensive, or too dangerous to be done in real life. Training simulation in the military field fosters the combat skills of small-scale units or single soldiers by simulating actual vehicles, soldiers, and combat environment.
Depending on the virtual reality experience, it might deal with sensitive data or only concern a few people. “Classic” VR solutions will have troubles dealing with a restricted audience and/or particular use cases. A versatile solution like TechViz software will probably suit you better if you are looking for specialized VR training solutions.
Virtual boot camp and combat training
Some military bases in the US are using immersive rooms to train their soldiers. Virtual Squad Training System (VSTS) located at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii uses HMD with motion trackers, full-body tracking system and wireless weapon controllers that matches the size, weight, and shape of real military weapons. Such virtual reality systems teach participants how to work interdependently and the impact they can have on their colleagues on a battlefield.
Virtual training for medical personnel
Military medics regularly encounter extreme situations that are difficult or impossible to duplicate in traditional simulations. With VR, trainees get the chance to experience a real-like environment and scenario and work through the most effective response. Covered skills can include battlefield triage, specific trauma treatment, helicopter rescue and tactical rescue procedures.
Maintenance and assembly technicians training
In this sector there are very few experienced support personnel, and their knowledge must be transferred somehow. The use of virtual and mixed-reality technologies is a solution for this challenge. As an example, in the marine corps, each boat can have specific engineering constraints, leading to a different maintenance scenario from a boat to another. To be immediately operational, technicians can view the CAD model in VR and get an army specialized training program “on the boat” before their operation.
2. Advanced Virtual simulations for the military and defense
Advanced flight simulation
Military flight simulators are critical for training pilots. High-fidelity simulations help to safely expose and prepare pilots-in-training for challenging real-world scenarios. For instance, you can have a flight simulator overlaid with a virtual world rendering an actual battlefield for a complete pilot training (this type of virtual reality simulation can be done using TechViz Fusion). All the user’s senses can be stimulated to fully recreate the pilot training.
Advanced ground vehicle simulation
Ground vehicle simulators provide a safe environment for drivers, by immersing them in a replica of a military vehicle. Virtual training can help you simulate different events like vehicle collisions or hostile armed forces. But it can also help you check the ergonomics of the cockpit you’re simulating, by seeing in a real situation (almost), if the instrument panel is comfortable to use, and if all the buttons and commands can be reached out.
Equipment familiarization training
A lot of heavy equipment and military vehicles are intensive and complex electromechanical systems. Knowing how they function and how to operate them safely is an essential training for participants who need to familiarize themselves on a particular piece of equipment, to help refresh and develop their existing skill set.
3. Design, optimization, and maintenance of defense equipment
Maintaining and optimizing military equipment with virtual reality
A lot of defense equipment are intensive complex electromechanical systems, such as aircrafts, spacecrafts, ships… And, of course, not all equipment is used in the conditions the engineers had in mind when they conceived it. Virtual reality is the perfect tool to conceive and optimize military equipment. For example, some vehicles can end up being used in other climatic or environmental conditions. In any cases, if the end users notice what parts are showing excessive wear, the information can travel back to the design teams, so that the next designed model (or just the fixing parts) will be better.
Manufacturing new weapons in VR
Virtual reality has changed the way we design products, whether from a conception or a testing standpoint. It is a powerful tool for industries embracing Industry 4.0, like the defense industry. During weapon development, immersive virtual reality helps engineers:
- Test the design in virtual worlds and/or with a motion-tracking
- Operate weapons “for real” with haptics
- Add tactical and technical performance data
VR speeds up product development for the new weapons or military installations and betters their overall effectiveness and quality. This is particularly effective when developing large-scale products such as an aircraft or a ship. Virtual reality technology helps you visualize your designs at 1:1 scale and make changes in real time.
Besides, with cloud technologies and 5G becoming more and more common, military research labs will also need to collaborate seamlessly with one another, even when they are distant from thousands of kilometers. This particular use case happened with TechViz VR remote collaboration software, which helped two labs designing nuclear submarines with VR remote collaboration. One research facility was located in France and the other in New Zealand. By using our software they were able to do virtual reality design reviews, interact simultaneously with large-scale CAD models in VR with military-grade data-security.
4. Remote collaboration on sensitive defense projects or military missions
Collaboration in VR between distant sites is important today, especially when anticipating the future of work. However, videoconference tools offer a limited immersion when it comes to complex tasks. With a virtual reality system, several users can work on the same 3D models, at real scale and in real time. Remote work in VR is crucial when countries are sharing military assets and/or research to create a virtual prototype.
On a military mission, this feature can serve for another use case. It can allow an operator to get data from a location, without being physically present. It opens new possibilities for information gathering operations in hostile territory, as the operator will be able to move the sensors, while being in a realistic rendering. It makes the operation safer and increases the stealth of the agent, as the reconnaissance vehicle does not need to transport real passengers.
What key benefits VR offers to the military and defense industry
Natural actions and movements with most of AR/VR hardware
When you are immersed in your 3D data, VR hardware allows for natural actions in a virtual environment. Ease of movements happens regardless if you use a standalone head mounted display (HMD), or a projection-based VR hardware. The only difference will be the level of immersion: all-in-one or tethered virtual reality headsets will provide your recruits with a fully immersive experience, compared to a PowerWall or a CAVE system. Being able to train in real-like conditions greatly reduces the potential for training gaps.
Train anytime anywhere for any situation with all-in-one VR headsets
The use of an all-in-one VR headset such as the meta quest 2, the HTC VIVE Focus or the Microsoft Hololens 2 enables trainees to roam freely in a fully configurable area. It revolutionizes the way you prepare your men by transforming any location into a dynamic training ground.
Real-like training without the risks
Virtual reality allows soldiers to train for real situation without risks, with feel-real weapons and vehicles. In a simulation, any equipment can be created in the virtual platform. You can even add tracking devices with haptic feedbacks to give the trainees a more natural training experience. High-risk scenarios can be simulated without danger, allowing soldiers to learn how to act in specific scenarios that could be too dangerous or too expensive in real life, such as parachute training.
Scalable and adaptable VR simulations
Depending on your needs, you can create a fully-adaptable virtual reality simulation depending on how the trainees are reacting. The same VR scenario can have different outcomes, helping participants to adapt to any situation. Trainees can focus on the learning outcomes, as they will need less time to adapt to the real situation in the real world.
Detailed 3D reviews in different viewpoints
Depending on your hardware and 3D model, you will be able to record your VR sessions from different viewpoints. This is important for example if you want to collect information on how to improve the model of a three-dimensional vehicle with real users, or get personalized inputs for your trainees.
Reduced costs for training and engineering
Virtual reality reduces the need for physical prototypes. It’s a key benefit for design and engineering, as the team won’t have to send as many physical models back and forth, and instead work simultaneously in the same VR environment. For training purposes, virtual and augmented reality sessions can open the possibilities for group and individual training, even for scenarios that could be too expensive or too dangerous to do in a real training.