When the Patriot missile system was introduced to the world in 1981, most video games were played in arcades or on Atari 2600 consoles.
According to defense giant Raytheon, which builds the surface-to-air missile system, the idea is to train a new generation of soldiers who grew up with video-game controllers in their hands.
“Virtual training helps orient new trainees in ways familiar to them, in that most younger trainees have experience with video games,” Scott Fazekas, a Raytheon spokesman, told The Post. “Learning to perform complex tasks in an intuitive environment — taking into account how trainees acquire skills — helps speed the learning process.”
The Patriot system is used by 12 countries, according to Reuters, which notes that Raytheon has invested $400 million in improving the Patriot system in recent years. The result has been a faster and tougher machine that uses smaller components, including computer chips that are an eighth of the size that they were as recently as 2006, Reuters reported.
With improved technology comes a need for improved training, Fazekas said, and Raytheon has been training U.S. service members on video games for about a year, using the same sort of consoles and software as video-game makers.
It all starts, Raytheon says, in a dimly lit warehouse in El Paso, where soldiers clad in black unitards and sensors are paraded in front of infrared cameras for the purpose of creating avatars — or digital versions of themselves that will be used in training sessions for the missile system.
Using motion capture technology, Fazekas said, avatars are created in about a day. Traditional animation techniques, he added, take as long as a week and an actor’s movements appear much less organic on the screen.
In the multi-player games, soldiers move their avatars through a virtual landscape and “manipulate digital versions of real-life equipment” for the purpose of training, according to Raytheon.
Why not train on a real missile system, as soldiers have done for decades? Fazekas said that in addition to saving time and money, virtual training is safer for soldiers who require a thorough understanding of complex and expensive military hardware before they can train with it in real life.
“Motion capture makes it so realistic, which, in turn, makes our training that much more immersive,” said Luis Ruiz, 3D Team Lead for Raytheon Intelligence, Information and Services. “We learn better by seeing.”
Soldiers are also able to train using real-world scenarios in a virtual, multi-player setting, according to Raytheon. They also have the option of experiencing the game solo.
“What makes it cool is the equipment,” Ruiz told Fox News. “For example, the crane that is used to reload a Patriot missile is programmed the exact same way as its real-life counterpart.”
According to Fox, “the simulation technology has also been used to train troops on the Javelin missile system and to teach sailors how to respond to onboard emergencies.”
Judging from this video, you can see why it might be worthwhile to train in a virtual environment with the Javelin before handling the real thing:
There is no chance, Ruiz told Fox, that hackers will tap into the training games and pose a national security threat. “We still deliver the disk [to the military] to avoid cloud-based vulnerabilities,” he said.
In the future, Raytheon officials said, the company may incorporate augmented reality into its training.