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DOD Explores Virtual Worlds For Military Training

The armed services aim to simulate real combat situations via virtual reality technology similar to Second Life and other computer games.

There's no completely realistic way to prepare a soldier for the experience of today's combat situations, in which they must battle hidden improvised explosive devices (IEDs), elusive terrorists, and other unfamiliar enemies in physical environments that are often new to them.

The Department of Defense is trying to come pretty close, however, by training soldiers with a variety of tools similar to computer games that create virtual worlds simulating environments and situations soldiers may encounter during warfare.

The American Forces Press Service, or AFPS--the press agency of the DOD--has posted a six-part series highlighting the department's virtual training technology on its website.

The Enhanced Dynamic Geosocial Environment, for example, prepares soldiers for encounters with IEDs and other types of explosive devices by simulating the type of physical environment in which they might find them, as well as the explosion and damage these devices create. A video demonstrating EDGE is available on the AFPS website.

The Joint IED Defeat Organization funded EDGE, which has been in development for six months and for which a prototype is available. Once EDGE is completed, soldiers in training can enter the world using their own avatars, according to AFPS.

The Navy, too, is leveraging virtual worlds for battle simulation, but under the sea rather than on land. At its Navy Undersea Warfare Center, the military arm is engaged in a series of virtual training programs for firing torpedoes and engaging in other battle exercises.

The Army is looking to expand these kinds of virtual training grounds on an even grander scale. Last year, the military arm detailed a complex architecture for a virtual world, similar to the virtual reality environment Second Life. It's seeking a system integrator to build for warfighter training.

The DOD is planning to have that expansive virtual world for soldier training up and running in the next five years, according to the AFPS. The world will provide various avatar-led combat training situations that will merge operations from various branches of the military and prepare warfighters for a variety of scenarios. In the meantime, numerous military and other government agencies already are testing training and simulations in Second Life itself, including the Air Force, which has created a base in Second Life as well as several fields called Huffman Prairie after the place where the Wright Brothers flew the first airplane.

Not only can Second Life provide training for personnel in different roles they may have within the military service--such as a pilot or even a chaplain--it also allows service members to connect with other players within that environment to foster innovation, an Air Force official said.

"What really drew us out to [the virtual world] was this wonderful opportunity to interact and connect with people on a global scale and with high levels of creativity," said Andrew Stricker of the Air Force's Air University at Maxwell Air Force Base's Gunter Annex, according to the AFPS.

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