Injecting cause and effect in SimCentric's SAF-TAC for truly immersive training
In this blog series, we look at how specialists across industry are using Improbable’s synthetic environment development platform, Skyral, to collaborate in new ways and help defence transform how it trains.
Thomas Ball, Senior Product Manager (Training Simulations)
If someone cocked a weapon within metres of you, how would you react?
It’s rare to find such a simple movement filled with so much meaning and intent. When a soldier cocks a weapon, they’re either anticipating or inciting violence. When that same soldier cocks their weapon in front of a civilian, the intensity of the entire situation for both sides skyrockets.
That civilian’s emotional response may range from anger to confusion to sheer panic. They’ll likely tell their friends and family, who might in turn share the event online. If this reaches civilians in a neighbouring town, their attitude may change towards the soldiers in their vicinity.
But perhaps that original soldier knew exactly what they were doing. Perhaps they were aiming to send a message, posturing to a nearby adversary. At this point, open armed conflict is still yet to occur – but confrontation is clearly happening. It’s escalatory warfare and, from my experience, it’s typically very hard to measure effectively due to the complexity of human behavioural and psychological factors.
The good news is that, thanks to military simulation, we’re beginning to demystify the cognitive domain and its wider role in subthreshold warfare. Imagine now that we’re able to simulate this same situation, including the physical act of cocking a weapon and the sentiment change that would result, all as part of a first-person training environment. Soldiers can learn the effect – deliberate or otherwise – of even the smallest actions. We’d be able to glean data, turn this into useful information and then into actionable insight for use in real-world scenarios.
SimCentric, in partnership with Improbable Defence, aims to capture exactly this training environment by integrating its Unreal Engine based virtual reality trainer SAF-TAC with specialist technologies via Skyral.
SimCentric’s SAF-TAC: virtual reality defence training
A user dropped into SAF-TAC will experience a high-fidelity, highly immersive virtual world built using Unreal Engine. The environment will be customised to suit specific training needs, whether that’s close combat in a densely populated urban area, an arid desert location or deep jungle.
Back in the real world, they’ll be armed with advanced hand controllers, strapped with a haptic bodysuit and equipped with the latest VR head mounted display. But thanks to SAF-TAC’s ability to provide extremely nuanced training, that’s where the differences end.
Using SAF-TAC, personnel can train as they fight. Standard keyboard ‘hotkeys’ are replaced with realistic and intuitive movements mimicking the real-world actions that allow users to tilt their weapon system, inspect it, or mount it for a steadier shot. They can grab a magazine and load it in a way that helps build the necessary muscle memory for live operations. Should they get shot, haptic integration means their bodysuit will emit a sudden electric shock. To return fire, they can cock a weapon and aim down the scope in both the real and virtual worlds for a truly immersive training experience.
Capturing the casualty of cocking a weapon
Immersion is key here when it comes to subthreshold training. At this level of warfare, every action and reaction has consequences both big and small. The ‘three Ps’ spring to mind: Presence, Posture, Profile. Before any shots are fired, each plays a huge part in how events will unfold. Is an enemy force turning up in armoured or unarmoured vehicles? How are they holding their weapons – at their sides, or raised and cocked? From headwear to hand gestures, choice and consequence may dramatically alter the state of play. But as I mentioned before, the challenge is capturing and measuring the likely behavioural and psychological effects of the three Ps on abstract emotions and the actions that will result.
So we turn to simulation. Over the coming months, SimCentric will partner with Improbable Defence to enhance the fidelity and reach of its SAF-TAC technology. SAF-TAC will integrate with Skyral and other specialist technologies via Improbable Defence’s interoperability framework, which contains tooling and common schemas to make virtual environments work better together and provide value greater than the sum of the parts.
Through the collaboration, Skyral will detect a user’s movements using SAF-TAC’s mission-specific controls such as cocking a weapon. It’ll then feed this into its behavioural models to immediately update the state-of-play in the virtual training environment.
Our work with Daden’s Automated Social Media Synthetic Wrap (ASMSW) means we can simulate what happens if a nearby influencer were to send the following sentiment viral:
‘NATO is being aggressive in my neighbourhood.’
This message is then used to seed Montvieux’s Autonomous Social Agent-based Influence Range (ASAIR). Topics change and update, synthetic sentiment is formed and spreads over the population. It’ll physically manifest in the first person training environment as AI NPCs treat users with derision or wary caution. They might amass in protest in one part of the virtual world, causing panic or congestion in another. This adds a deeper level of noise and confusion that the user then has to navigate, much like they would in the real world.
Remember: this all resulted from a user cocking a weapon. It’s a feedback loop that shows the value of taking specialised technology and augmenting these with similarly specialised applications to extract every last drop of value for the user.
In an era of constant competition, collaboration is everything
Collective training should be exactly that: collective. It involves individuals working as a team in one holistic environment to ensure proficiency for operational deployment. But for too long the experience has lacked the richness and scale of a real-world operating environment. This has left a gap that can often only be filled by learning on the job, which has obvious risks.
Otherwise, a standard virtual training environment might provide a good middle ground by which the majority of users have access to the weapons they need – but they might not be able to use them beyond the limits of the simulation and in a way that they’re used to. The actions of one user may begin and end with that same user if there isn’t a feedback loop to cascade the consequences of these across the collective training unit. It’s a lack of nuance that has implications for the simulation’s ability to provide realistic and effective training.
Instead, the ideal is to have a virtual collective training environment that meets precisely the individual needs of each user. An aviator should be able to train in the same environment as a soldier, in a way that suits both. And when one takes action, the other should feel its cause and effect so that both can decide on how best to deal with the situation – together.
Industry collaboration puts us on a path towards achieving this ideal. Our partnership with SimCentric will harness its specialist technology SAF-TAC and integrate it with content, models and synthetic applications from across industry to realise its value as part of a much bigger picture.
It’s a novel prospect, and one I’m particularly excited by. By working together, industry has both an opportunity – and responsibility – to give defence what it needs to train effectively and flexibly at a time when threats to the West’s safety are more complex and fast-moving than ever.
The Skyral Partner Network consists of organisations that share our commitment to developing the best possible capabilities and getting them into the hands of end users fast.