VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. –
Over recent decades, the consistent development of online and computerized games has astronomically skyrocketed. These games have replaced typical board games like Monopoly and Yahtzee. With it, comes a change in how the Department of Defense’s military branches train their new recruits. A team at Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division Dam Neck Activity (NSWCDD DNA) developed a prototype to utilize this increasing background in the gaming world to improve training solutions for the U.S. 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 principal Marine air command and control system agency, responsible for the direction of air operations directly supporting ground forces.
“If you’ve heard of the ‘crawl, walk, run’ phrase, this prototype fills that ‘walk’ portion,” explained GEAR Project Technical Lead Sean Sheridan. “GEAR gives MASS-1 junior personnel a more hands-on experience. Right now, they go through a schoolhouse with presentations and pamphlets. They practice the spoken communication through flash cards, but there isn’t a great way to practice and train new students.”
The MASS-1 DASC uses a collection of mobile equipment, such as tents, trucks, generators and communication equipment, which is set up every time the team needs to perform a training event. Conducting a training event for the DASC takes about 60 people, working 12-hour shifts for approximately two weeks, according to Sheridan.
Sheridan is a part of the Integrated Training Systems Division at NSWCDD DNA, working with the Innovation Team. The team focuses on the research and development aspect for “startup-type projects,” creating proof of concepts for different organizations.
The GEAR prototype utilizes a simulated display and procedural artificial intelligence (AI) to immerse crew members in a 3D environment.
“The easiest way to explain it is 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 using 3D graphics and assets and built in different behaviors to occur within the virtual environment, creating a training simulation for the Marines.”
The conversational AI within the simulation plays various roles in DASC operations. The AI populates different text and voice simulations, which gives students an opportunity to get comfortable with their respective role before a live training event.
The simulation has both chat and voice interactions. “If a student is supposed to call out and report something via headset, the AI picks up what the person is saying and converts it into text. That text is then read and analyzed by the AI,” explained Sheridan. From there, the AI sends a response back via text, which is then converted into a verbal response. “These things already existed in the commercial community, but we’d never put them all together like this before.”
In July 2022, the GEAR team from NSWCDD DNA delivered a prototype to the Marines at Cherry Point, NC.
“The Marines had such an enthusiasm when they got this training application,” recalled Tanyag. “This prototype provides more flexibility for students than a typical linear computer-based training program.”
As for what comes next for the prototype, Sheridan says it depends on funding opportunities.
“Now that we have a viable proof of concept, it can get picked up by someone else to use. In this case, we had a tent environment, but that can change. It’s just a matter of creating a new virtual environment and tuning the AI system with new material.”