Sailors take part in a FIST2FAC virtual reality exercise.

Defense IT

Virtual reality is Navy's vision of future training

The Office of Naval Research has been behind a series of emerging technological advancements in utilizing varying forms of virtual reality for training purposes. The latest iteration of its efforts can be found in the Fleet Integrated Synthetic Training/Testing Facility, or FIST2FAC, designed to develop, test and demonstrate simulator training technology while blending live-action exercises with virtual assets. 

“This is the future of training for the Navy,” said Dr. Terry Allard, head of the Warfighter Performance Department at ONR. “With simulation, you can explore endless possibilities without the expense and logistical challenges of putting hundreds of ships at sea and aircraft in the sky.”

FIST2FAC uses reusable software and gaming technology that helps sailors develop strategies through interactive intelligence forces in various virtual settings. It can realistically replicate situations with aircraft carriers, helicopters, lethal and nonlethal weapons, among others, enabling training on several missions simultaneously.    

Forces gathered at Ford Island, Hawaii, to demonstrate FIST2FAC, with sailors manning a virtual ship facing off against a fast-attack craft occupied by merchant traffic. In another exercise, sailors faced a swarm of small, fast boats attacking a destroyer.

Virtual training environments are significantly less expensive than training in physical environments, which is an advantage particularly in time of constrained budgets. A live-training event can cost millions when factoring in close to $250,000 to get an aircraft carrier out and/or $6 million to fuel a strike group. 

“FIST2FAC was created in response to an urgent need for a more portable way for ships to train in any given operating area,” said Glenn White, ONR’s integration and transition manager for the project. “It allows sailors to ‘train like they fight’ by presenting realistic forces in a visual, tactical and operational environment.”

ONR has developed and tested other simulation tools for use on land and sea alike. The Battlespace Exploitation of Mixed Reality combines virtual reality and augmented reality – a system that superimposes virtual components against one’s real environment – allowing users to move back and forth between the two worlds and immerse themselves into environments prior to deployment.

Marines demonstrated an augmented reality technology for the first time last year in Quantico called the Augmented Immersive Team Trainer system.     

While FIST2FAC is shore-based currently, there is discussion to deploy it at sea. 

About the Author

Mark Pomerleau is a former editorial fellow with GCN and Defense Systems.

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