Blending Physical & Simulated Environments for Training

The Challenge: Limited Opportunities to Train with Service Weapons

U.S. military organizations must incorporate realistic and robust combat training into their readiness programs to ensure battlefield success. But they confront many constraints in doing so. Military personnel often have little time for training amid busy travel and duty schedules. In addition, ammunition supplies are limited. And there are safety risks and high costs associated with live-fire exercises.

The client in this case was an Army organization that provides combat support training to new logistics personnel so they can protect supply convoys in hostile environments. The organization sought to drill supply crews—prior to their forward deployment—on the Browning M2 .50 caliber heavy machine gun, a weapon system that many logistics units rely on for protection while executing the mission-essential task of conducting Logistics Civil Augmentation Program (LOGCAP) support.

One challenge is that many logistics recruits do not get opportunities to train with the M2 until they are placed in their operational unit. Moreover, the training they do get is limited by ammunition constraints and an inability to tailor training scenarios with multiple risk factors for specific battlefield circumstances.

To improve its training program and make training more cost effective, the Army organization was looking for a way to provide soldiers with simulated training on their actual M2 weapon systems that feels “hands-on.” They wanted to provide soldiers with a realistic tactile and kinesthetic feel of the weapon as they practiced standard crew drills in simulated environments.

The Solution: Connecting Real Weapons to a Simulated Environment

In response to this need, in 2022 Booz Allen developed a rapid prototype of a sophisticated electronics package that enables logistics crews to train on their organic weapon system in a simulated environment. And because it is highly portable, the package—called the Modular Adaptive Synthetic Controller, or MASC—can be used anywhere, including in austere environments.

To develop the MASC, the Booz Allen team combined deep expertise in systems engineering, 3D modeling, virtual platforms, M2 gunnery requirements, and rapid prototyping. The MASC electronics package includes a microprocessor and an inertial measurement unit, or gyroscope, that acts as a motion sensor. The gyroscope is like a computer mouse—it tracks all weapon movements while the trigger, safety, and other moveable parts of the weapon are connected to sensors that register digital inputs into the microprocessor. The sensors relay those digital inputs to the MASC microprocessor either wirelessly, such as via Bluetooth, or through a wired harness, depending on the client’s requirements. The MASC then processes and analyzes the inputs from the sensors and depicts the soldier’s actions and performance on a screen, such as a TV, or through a virtual reality or augmented reality headset, depending on the client’s requirements.

Training simulations can be modified with various risk factors in an infinite variety of ways to cater to specific battlefield needs. MASC training can also incorporate infrared capabilities to accommodate nighttime training scenarios, if needed.

The Results: Faster Weapons Training and Increased Readiness

The MASC capabilities enable soldiers to get the tactile feedback of using their real weapons while training in a simulated environment that is as realistic as possible. Soldiers can train while using their actual crew service weapons so they can develop the necessary muscle memory when responding to enemy engagement scenarios.

Soldiers who employed MASC in their training were able to gain added exposure to performing the LOGCAP support mission-essential task, which translates into improved readiness. Trainees can now use simulations to practice drills, exercises, and scenario-based responses to improve proficiency. This means that crews can more quickly qualify on advanced gunnery requirements for their organic weapon systems. With the M2, for example, crews can use MASC to sharpen their gunnery skills up to Table VI (Qualification) of the Integrated Weapons Training Strategy (IWTS). The IWTS outlines the Army’s weapons proficiency requirements that soldiers must meet. 

In addition, simulations can put soldiers in difficult situations, such as facing an enemy that fires back, or deciding what to do when there are friendlies or civilians at risk in areas of engagement. 

Booz Allen demonstrated the MASC to the Army organization to prove its effectiveness, after which the Army organization incorporated it into its program of instruction and ordered multiple kits.

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