The U.S. military is grappling with two related trends affecting its approach to training new generations of combat pilots. First, a chronic pilot shortage is affecting all military services, increasing the imperative for training that is fast and highly effective.
In addition, advancing technology is enabling the military services to pivot to virtual reality (VR) aviation training. This enables them to decrease their reliance on large, expensive flight simulators and embrace greater use of small-footprint, individualized simulators to move more student pilots through their training curricula. Known as immersive training devices (ITD)—or “sleds”—the flight simulators consist of a chair, flight controls, a monitor, computer hardware and software, and network connectivity.
While there is much promise for the immersive devices to deliver more effective training, the military services have struggled to realize that potential. One reason is that—unlike larger, more expensive flight simulators—the immersive devices are not single, integrated systems that come from an original equipment manufacturer. Rather, they consist of a dozen or more components from multiple vendors that must be integrated onsite. This integration tends to be viewed narrowly, as simply connecting components. This approach leads to limited utility—the immersive devices may work, but not in the way that flight instructors originally envisioned.
Another problem is that, too often, little attention is given to how the immersive devices will be managed to reach the desired training objectives. The process of synching up ITD hardware and software with training objectives is a dynamic one: Training objectives can and do shift. Moreover, an agile approach is often required to determine which device configuration works best to facilitate the curriculum.
In short, military services investing in the immersive training devices often get tripped up by the so-called “last mile” problem: it is not enough simply to have these devices onsite and available to students—they also need to be integrated thoughtfully into the training program so that they advance specific objectives and remain effective as training priorities and curriculums shift over time.