Military Applications of Virtual Reality

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    Syllabus: GS2/ Government Policies & Interventions, GS3/ Space, Defence

    In Context

    • The use of VR for Military applications can improve training standards and create a more culturally adaptable professional force.

    Virtual Reality

    • Virtual reality (VR) is a 3D, digital environment completely generated through computers.
    • In VR users can be fully immersed in simulated realities with the help of dedicated headsets capable of generating realistic  images and sounds just like in real life.
    • One of the most important criteria for a person inside VR is to interact with that ‘world’.
    • Some examples of VR include experiences generated by gadgets such as Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR.

    Use of VR in Military applications

    • The use of Virtual Reality (VR) for military applications has been widespread in the US and NATO countries.
    • The 2003 North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) Report on VR and Military Applications singles out man–machine interfacing as the most important aspect of VR and contends that safety and cost considerations are the reasons why VR is being used in militaries worldwide. 

    Combat Training and Simulation

    • Simulators: In the military, VR has long been associated with simulators.
      • Initially, this was used as part of a human–machine interface (HMI) for learning flying skills that required a comprehensive setup including VR software and a mockup of the aircraft’s cockpit. 
      • Known as ‘transfer of training’, the process refers to applying the knowledge and skills acquired during the training process to the targeted job or role.
      • The United States Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) created a simulation network (SIMNET) program that ran from 1983 till 1989.
        • Labelled the Tank Team Gunnery Trainer, the setup consisted of multiple networked ‘workstations’ modelled on the inside of tanks, where gunners could interact with each other and manoeuvre on a virtual battlefield in real-time. 
        • Later this setup was extended to simulating combined arms operations using mockups of armoured personnel carriers (APCs), helicopters and other platforms.
    • Innovation: Aspects of innovation may also be added since VR provides an avenue of experimenting with various permutations and combinations of doctrines and tactics with zero physical or financial cost to the individual or the exchequer.
      • VR’s unique use for studying the impact of nuclear weapons on individuals and equipment, modelled and depicted as a VE, has no real-world equivalent. 

    VR Tool for Defence Diplomacy 

    • VR’s importance, apart from training and therapeutic purposes, is important from a cultural point of view, especially for the Indian military which has increased its interactions with a number of friendly and partner countries.
    • This has emphasised the increasing role of defence diplomacy in the overall national security structure.
    • VR systems can be used for practising with foreign delegations on joint exercises, arms negotiations and other important policy issues.
      • The US military, due to a long-term culture of empiricism and technological solutionism, has devised multiple VR-based simulations for the same.

    VR for Stress Testing of Individuals

    • One of the most important uses of VR is for stress testing and adaptation of soldiers pre-deployment as well as dealing with issues of Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 
    • VR can also be used as a stress management tool for peacetime postings in the military. 

    Challenges

    • National Security: Challenges associated with the use of VR in the national security context include those relating to objective evaluation standards of training protocols, among others.
    • Connection with physical reality: Disagreements may arise on how much the VR corresponds with physical reality, but since the same setup is shared by everyone on the network, the rules and constraints are similar for everyone. 
    • Training personnels: Apart from the technical challenges of hardware and software, one of the major challenges of using VR in the military is that VR is not just the hardware-mediated world of synthetic environments. It is also how humans are set up to be connected.
    • Wartime constraints: One of the main limitations of using VR for the many purposes mentioned above is its seemingly constrained use during wartime. It is difficult to isolate VR and evaluate its effectiveness to the entire operations and training processes. 

    Suggestions

    • The 2003 North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) Report calls for the integration of computer models, simulated scenarios, behavioural models of flying platforms and weapon systems, simulators and other essential warfighting systems.
    • The use of VR and similar technologies for training, medical and combat, as well as cultural and other uses, however, requires a change in orientation from a purely intuitive to a mix of intuition and empirical and technologically oriented mindset. 
    • If done in a deliberate fashion, the use of VR can improve training standards for the organisation and usher in much more culturally adaptable professionals for a force which is deemed to play a bigger role on the world stage.
    Daily Mains Question
    [Q] The use of VR for Military applications can improve training standards and create a more culturally adaptable professional force. Discuss.