On the Virtual Frontier: The Infantry Immersion Trainer

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In October 2007 at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Richard Schaffer and a team of Lockheed Martin engineers were preparing Infantry Immersion Trainer (IIT) software for final installation. The IIT, a virtual training ground designed to simulate the sounds, smells, and experience of urban combat, re-created a highly realistic environment where soldiers could experience what lay ahead of them in Iraq.

While testing the new mixed-reality software, the Lockheed Martin team was surprised when Marines approached and told them they would have to evacuate. “The range safety tower’s burned down,” they said. This was no simulation. Nearby, the 2007 California wildfires were raging, filling the air with smoke and ash. Previously, the fire had crossed Interstate 5, preventing Schaffer and his team from getting to work that morning. Now it was endangering Camp Pendleton itself. In spite of this natural disaster, in which seven counties were declared disaster areas, firefighters contained the blaze and Schaffer and his team returned to work. Once the software integrations were complete, the IIT was up and running.

Building a Better Virtual World
The IIT was housed in an old tomato packing plant, its concrete floors and sparse walls transformed into a re-creation of a modern urban combat environment, including a marketplace and several homes. Based partially on the experiences of Marines in Fallujah and Basra, this virtual frontier is no video game. It offers not only hands-on combat tactics training, but an immersive experience that readies trainees for the emotional pressures of experiencing combat.

Schaffer’s team previously lent their expertise to VIRtual Technologies and Environments (VIRTE), a six-year Office of Naval Research (ONR) program. When the I Marine Expeditionary Force wanted a new type of infantry simulator to prepare Marines deploying to Iraq, they reached out to ONR for assistance.  ONR brought in Lockheed Martin to build on the advances of VIRTE. IIT creates a “mixed reality” scenario that includes auditory signals, computer generated enemy avatars, live role players, and physical props. Trainees can react to an environment of sights, sounds, and smells, as well as work together in a way that was consistent with their training, and with how they would be asked to work on the ground in a combat situation.

The IIT received wide acclaim and was required as part of all West Coast Marines pre-deployment training. More than 30,000 Marines have been trained at the original IIT to date.

Superior Training That’s Cost Effective
IIT continues to improve. Digital avatars are being updated to respond to trainees’ actions and voice commands, and similar training facilities have been built in Hawaii and North Carolina. By automating avatar responses, the IIT can be more easily re-created at other training areas. These virtual frontiers lower costs and increase effectiveness of training, resulting in soldiers being better equipped to react well in combat situations.

In 2010, the National Training & Simulation Association both awarded Richard Schaffer the Lifetime Achievement Award for Outstanding Achievement in Modeling and Simulation and unanimously selected him for the overall Governor’s Award for Excellence in Modeling and Simulation.

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Sources and Additional Reading

highlights
  • The IIT, a virtual training ground designed to simulate the sounds, smells, and experience of urban combat, re-created a highly realistic environment where soldiers could experience what lay ahead of them in Iraq.
  • The IIT received wide acclaim and was required as part of all West Coast Marines pre-deployment training. More than 30,000 Marines have been trained at the original IIT to date.
  • IIT continues to improve. Digital avatars are being updated to respond to trainees’ actions and voice commands, and similar training facilities have been built in Hawaii and North Carolina.

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