The End Game
The Army’s Massive Multiplayer Environment will move simulation training into a wider domain of realism and soldier participation. By William Miller
At the very hour a terrorist bombing at the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad played across worldwide TV screens, Jim Grosse, principal investigator at the Army's Simulation Technology Center in Orlando, FL, was speaking to Military Training Technology about training soldiers for fighting the wider war.
Grosse was describing a Research, Development and Engineering Command (RDEC) project that is as timely as the nightly news. Known as the Massively Multiplayer Simulation for Asymmetric Warfare, or simply MMP, it's essentially a virtual world intended to train soldiers well beyond the goals of war gaming. It will help prepare warfighters for the worst real life scenarios during long term, asymmetric military missions. Grosse's new science and technology objective (STO) will ultimately help reduce the replay of terrorist events in the future, wherever they occur.
It is generally accepted that immersive simulations form the gateway to training the armies of the future. The MMP is a bold new thrust in that direction, and it's very similar to the massively multiplayer role-playing game concept common in the commercial world.
The Army version of this unique training system will have a server and PC-based distribution capability intended to change the way soldiers interact online. It is expected to widen soldiers' view of the mission by stressing a long term, asymmetrical scenario, Grosse noted.
Rolling Toward Future Force
"This program focuses on a new area of simulation training opportunity," Grosse said, "and goes well beyond the current learning environments that concentrate almost exclusively on conventional warfare and short term military operations."
The simulation will have the ability to develop any scenario, such as jungle environments; however, the prototype replicates the Middle East theater. Grosse said this flexibility will be especially important when Future Force (formerly Objective Force) comes online in 2010. Using available tools and the MMP platform, the Army can create needed training environments on the MMP framework.
"The MMP is the only developmental project of its type in existence within the services," Grosse emphasized. He envisions the day when a commander at one Army installation will run his unit through training on some aspect of military operations in urban operations without visiting a MOUT site or taking a sized-down version of his unit to a battle simulation center. In the MMP environment, a user might choose a geographic location, a cultural setting and other training parameters that meet specific needs.
To get the work started, RDEC in February 2003 awarded a prime contract to There Inc., a Menlo Park, CA-based company specializing in online multiplayer environments. Teams of engineers, modelers, animators and database specialists are at work developing a militarized version of their internally developed virtual world and simulation platform. The Army's $6 million development project is scheduled to take shape by the end of 2006.
The contractor's virtual world and simulation platform—also labeled There— is the result of a $32 million investment, according to the company, and is currently being used commercially on the Internet for communication and socializing. There was chosen as the basis for development because of what the company's platform promises to achieve within the Army's virtual distributed learning arena
A Life-Sized, Real-Time World Inside the Computer
The MMP will ultimately put a life-sized virtual world on thousands of computer monitors simultaneously. "It will allow users to interact with and against other players in a long duration operation, and it will let users train and plan for asymmetric and conventional operations around the world," Grosse explained.
The computer-generated environment will represent relative sizes of objects, distances and time movement as they are in the real world and will not compress them. "This life sized, real-time aspect is a unique feature," Grosse said, "because commercial war games do not follow these real-time requirements and add this level of realism."
Within this scaled-to-life computer environment, outfitted with personal computers, thousands—and perhaps tens of thousands—of soldiers will take simulation combat training to the next level of reality and immersion envisioned by MMP architects. They will fight battles when necessary, but their missions will go beyond the tactical realm. They will occupy land, control populations and keep the peace. They will also contend with the unexpected, such as terrorist elements in the streets and on the rooftops. In short, they will fight the wider war—the dangerous war of peacekeeping—in a computer environment where reality is key.
Flexibility will be a hallmark of the new system. Standard software tools will let users create new scenarios. Trainees will be able to construct, disseminate and modify their own content and to share information on best practices.
Bad Guy Actors as Live Enemies
One time it might be a suicide bombing. The next time through the MMP scenario, an aggressor might introduce a hostage situation. It's all part of the training. Carefully designated role-play aggressors, terrorists and other adversaries at keyboards worldwide will think like an enemy and provide opposition to user/players. They will be encouraged to get nasty, be treacherous and do their worst.
"These are real people—retired military, paramilitary or paid contractors. When necessary, the exercises will be password protected," Grosse continued, indicating its seriousness.
During gaming exercises, soldiers participating will portray themselves by name. Adding to the realism is aggressor roles that are not scripted. Using human rather than computer-generated enemies gives the MMP a great advantage. "We want aggressors to be spontaneous. We want the unpredictability of humans to come into play in these environments," Grosse added, "so that they do not do the same thing every time."
Although realism in people, places and things will be as high as possible, scenarios won't include exact weapon functionality and capability for security reasons, but the weapons will be modeled to their approximate capabilities to maintain realism.
Grosse said troops must be trained better for convoy duty, crowd control and the many other actions required in a postwar, terrorist threatened environment. He said training like this will help soldiers read the telltale signs of impending ambush or attack, take up the right positions and deal with the situation much more effectively.
A Resource from Fantasyland
Robert Gehorsam, vice president of strategic initiatives at There Inc., is encouraged by what he believes his company's premier computer environment can do for military training and planning.
"The Army is exploring commercial technologies that could be used for new types of virtual and constructive training," he said. "In recent years, massively multiplayer games have begun to emerge, where thousands of people interact, typically in the fantasy type world. They usually pay a monthly fee, connect on the Internet with a dial-up modem and do 20 to 30 hours a week of distributed game playing."
Gehorsam explains that his company's approach to online environments is more about social behavior, organizational behavior and communications than specific game play. "The work we're doing is focused on the virtual world more than the gaming world," he said.
The government noted the popularity of the company's virtual world approach and its similarity to ongoing military training simulation and synthetic environments. Gehorsam had been an independent member of a DARPA study directed at the same area and knew of the DoD interest. "The government saw the probability of modifying the current technology to meet specific training needs," he said.
"I felt There Inc. had a more advanced platform than the government had," he continued, "because we had done four years research on the basic technology. I also believed this would allow the Army to focus on the actual training benefits rather than the technology."
He believes his company occupies a leadership position in this growing area of simulation technology. "Our product is scaled to very large numbers of users that can all interact in one Earth-sized virtual world," he noted. Because of this, the Army's MMP avoids the need to conduct the environment in multiple worlds—i.e., creating another when one fills to player capacity.
Gehorsam said he is pleased with the program's unique ability to apply precise physics in representing actual object behavior in the real word, such as ballistics impact. In such a large, distributed space, this type of fidelity is important to successful training. For example, in this world, avatars, or computer-generated characters that represent the user in virtual space, are extremely realistic. Therefore, the physics must complement what is essentially an avatar-focused training experience.
The User Calls the Shots
Development depends on soldiers' feedback. To get this much needed feedback, the Army placed servers at the subcontractor's location in California, and a baseline environment is running. "User interface design is critical in these systems," Gehorsam said. "We've done almost two dozen iterations of the interface for our platform offering." The goal is to give the interface software the necessary flexibility to be rapidly modified in response to soldier feedback.
The development will have some demanding technical milestones. For example, the original There avatar behaviors must be expanded and modified to meet the Army's needs. In turn, the MMP must be integrated with the virtual elements of DISAF (Dismounted Semi-Automated Force), an immersive simulation for individual soldier, small unit and leader training.
Among many features, DISAF provides voice and gesture control of computer generated forces. Merging of MMP and DISAF simulation capabilities will produce a true
3-D virtual environment for thousands of live users. Another major capability is the after action review aspect of the program as it works in a very large, distributed environment. It will involve a 3-D replay of events that took place in the virtual space when the training scenario was originally run.
Army Research: a Changing Scene
The multiplayer environment being developed comes from an Army research community that has an abundance of science and technology avenues to explore and is, according to Grosse, largely tied to the Future Combat System and Future Force. "This involves an accelerated effort to better equip and instrument soldiers and train them more efficiently using the Internet," he said.
Grosse explained that the nature of research is changing, coming out of a decades-old vacuum of top-down decision making and embracing end users to a much greater degree. Today, for example, much of the emphasis in research is provided by input from the soldiers, and, according to Grosse, "that adds relevance because the actual users are contributing the ideas."
He also notes that there is a project fast track, of sorts, not commonly used a few years ago. An especially good idea can quickly be moved from a baseline STO, which typically requires three to four years to deploy, to an advanced technology demonstration (ATD), a faster-paced research program that gets prime emphasis. It also is positioned for extra funding to give it every chance to get the product into the field faster. An ATD cycle, from basic research to prototype fielding, can take as little as two years. Typical current RDEC research areas in both categories include imbedded training, medical simulation, distance learning, synthetic natural 3-D virtual environments and augmented reality.
Significant Advancement in Distributed Learning
The MMP work is highly visible and publicized. Even in a free society, it might seem risky in a world where terrorism can turn up anywhere, but product developer Gehorsam feels that provides strength rather than insecurity. "The openness of our society is an invitation to terrorists, but it is also a source of tremendous innovation, which is one way we stay ahead of our adversaries. There's a creative and intellectual excitement about this work," Gehorsam said. "It reflects the real world in a very important way."
Both Grosse and Gehorsam strongly believe the MMP work is significant in the area of distributed visualizations and large-scale user involvement. "This is something new for the Army—something that has never been done before," Grosse said. "It's far removed from the traditional virtual, constructive and live, instrumented training we're doing now."
TRADOC, the Army's Training and Doctrine Command, will likely be looking closely at the progress of the MMP. TRADOC can ultimately give the project operational requirements document status, making it available for fielding to the Army in general and perhaps to the DoD.
No Time Like the Present
Car bombings, sabotage, ambushes, insurgency and terrorist activity within the framework of a peacekeeping mission are among the threats the U.S. military faces as a postwar solution is being forged to the complex problem of Iraq. The terrorist threat will, unfortunately, extend itself beyond Baghdad and into the future—and it will invade any country where war is being fought or where stabilization efforts are ongoing. New training is clearly needed to strengthen the military force and also to fortify the wall of homeland defense, as recent DoD initiatives have proven.
Grosse is optimistic about the future of programs like this one, and he and his colleagues are looking toward a day when the MMP type of soldier training will be available almost anywhere, from head-mounted displays to palm pilots to imbedded systems. Today's research at RDEC to develop the 2006 version of the MMP is a significant step along that road.
"This is a new arena—training soldiers in such a massive way over the Internet," Grosse concluded, and hints that the era of such large environments has just begun. "We envision the MMP as being the forerunner of an entirely new type of combat training center." Get ready for some cool **** This is going t o be awesome... :micro:
umm can you summarize that cause i really dont want to read it