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The US Military is attempting to create a realistic deployment simulation system. The Synthetic Training Environment (STE), an immersive augmented reality system, is designed to place soldiers in diverse operational environments, stress them physically and mentally and bolster readiness.

The Army Research Laboratory, University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies, Combined Arms Center-Training and Program Executive Office for Simulation, Training, and Instrumentation are currently working on refining the project’s conceptual principles. “Due to the rapidly expanding industrial base in virtual and augmented reality, the Army is moving out to seize an opportunity to augment readiness,” Col. Harold Buhl, Army Research Lab Orlando and Information and Communications Technology program manager, told taskandpurpose.com. “With STE, the intent is to leverage commercial advances with military technologies to provide commanders with unit-specific training options to achieve readiness more rapidly and sustain readiness longer.”

Though researchers have yet to develop any sort of prototype just yet, Army officials hope that STE will eventually be used to train armor, infantry and combat aviation brigade combat teams. “As the Army evolves, STE will be flexible enough to train, rehearse missions and experiment with new organization and doctrine,” Buhl said.

But there are more benefits to using augmented or virtual reality than variable practice. They save money, are much less dangerous to trainees, and allow for the development of specific cognitive skills. The Army is just the latest branch looking to technology to fill the readiness gap. The Marine Corps is in the process of fielding its Marine Tactical Decision Kit, a wearable VR battlefield simulation developed by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) that allows warfighters to practice and compete in tactical decision-making on a routine basis.

The real question is whether or not virtual and augmented reality simulations, despite their increasing complexity and detail, will ever completely match field training. The answer may be yes, if you look at the research about video games. A growing body of ONR research suggests that simulations can better prepare soldiers’ and Marines’ cognitive abilities, making them faster and more efficient without sacrificing the quality of their work.