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Saab Global

The full sensory experience: welcome to the future of military training

6 min read

From mixed reality to ultra-realistic virtual environments, tomorrow’s military training will be even better at preparing soldiers for battle. 

In the not too distant future, a ground combat troop is engaging the enemy on the battle field. As he aims his weapon to fire at the enemy, a mortar shell explodes to his right and a jet fighter screams overhead. 


But not everything is as it seems. This is a training simulation and while the soldier and landscape are real, the mortar shell and the jet are computer generated. They look and sound like the real thing thanks to a sophisticated headset the soldier and his teammates are wearing as they undergo combat training.


While such a scenario is not possible on a large scale just yet, it may not be too far off. The techniques used to prepare troops for the battlefield are evolving as  new technologies and equipment types become available. One likely outcome is that training will become even more realistic, so that soldiers face fewer surprises when they eventually find themselves facing real enemies.

Today’s advanced technologies

Already today, advanced military training, like that provided by Saab, relies on a diverse range of sophisticated technologies. Our virtual weapons trainers for indoor use, for example, create realistic depictions of battlefield scenarios. Soldiers undergoing such training are provided with accurately-weighted representations of real weapons. Compressed air is used to simulate any recoil during firing, and interactive video screens show computer-generated images of different combat settings and enemies. As users ‘fire’ at the screen, the training computer factors in variables such as flight time, temperature and wind, all of which help determine whether each shot is a hit or a miss.


Similarly, our advanced laser-based set-up for live training exercises brings together technologies that accurately replicate the ballistic properties of real rounds. Soldiers carry real weapons loaded with blanks and fitted with a device on the barrel that emits a coded laser. Pulling the trigger activates the laser. All participants in such exercises wear sensors on their helmets and vests that detect when a laser from the barrel of a fired weapon has hit them. Gyros and computers are used to factor in variables such as travel distance, gravity and the movement of the target in determining whether each shot fired would have met its target under real conditions.

In the case of weapons with electronic sights, such as tanks and anti-tank weapons, virtual elements can already be incorporated as part of training. A computer can be used to generate obstacles and opponents that are uploaded into the sight and to which the user must respond.

The choice of different technologies in live simulation is often debated and the opinions can be strong to support various viewpoints. The question does not need to be one or the other but rather best fit-for-purpose. The Saab live training solution, Gamer, is technology agnostic, meaning that laser as well as other technologies such as geo-pairing, GPS and other technologies can be used. This leads to the possibility to support different engagement types and include e g artillery and combat support. The technology in itself is not the most important, key is what needs to be simulated and what is the best way to implement this. The most important is that high-fidelity, realistic training and objective feedback is delivered at a pace of relevance with the aim to improve training outcomes and deliver confident soldiers.  

Mixed-reality training

Moving ahead this kind of experience is likely to be extended to soldiers on the ground. The development of augmented reality headsets, like Microsoft’s HoloLens, are now promising to deliver an even more complex and lifelike training experience.

The HoloLens consists of a pair of goggles with a transparent display screen connected to a cushioned headband and mini speakers. When the users looks through the goggles, 3D images can be generated that appear to blend in with their real surrounds. Matching sounds can be played through the mini speakers. In this way, a combination of real and virtual experiences can be achieved – a state that is sometimes called ‘mixed reality’.

While there are currently computing-power and weight-and-size limitations for using such technology for complex, multi-soldier exercises, these may eventually be resolved. Imagine a system where pilots in flight simulators ‘fly’ over a real battlefield and engage their enemy. While the pilots remain on the ground in real life, the ground troops on the battlefield wearing headsets ‘see’ the aircraft fly over and hear their roar. Or perhaps tanks, steered by drivers in remote simulators, appear on the battlefield and can be ‘destroyed’ using shoulder-fired weapons. Such systems could also be used to ‘alter’ the terrain in which training takes place, converting it from rural to urban, for example.

Harvesting more data

Another way in which training systems are likely to evolve is by harvesting and analysing more data. One example of how this might be useful relates to biometric data collected from individual soldiers. Sensors can currently be used to monitor vital signs such as heart rate, respiration rate, blood pressure and body temperature. Analysis of this data in the future is likely to provide insights into the kinds of situations in which individual soldiers become stressed and less clear thinking. This knowledge could help in ongoing training, improving each soldier’s response to stressors and ability to succeed in combat. Another use for data is to extensively analyse battle strategies, identifying weaknesses and strengths. Saab’s systems already allow for extensive post-battle analysis, but there is enormous potential for this to be expanded, yielding further insights.

More realistic VR environments

Meanwhile, increased computing power and the continued emergence of AI are likely to see further increases in the realism of virtual environments and the behaviour of virtual opponents. Just as computer games have grown exponentially in realism over recent years, the backdrops, terrains and enemies featured in virtual trainers are constantly evolving. In the years ahead, it may be hard to discern the computer generated world created by a virtual trainer from the real thing.

New generation mobile networks will also have an impact. For complex live-training exercises where no mobile network is available, Saab currently deploys a system known as the data acquisition network (DAN) for critical data and mixing it with commercial networks. This makes it possible to collect and analyse information on the position of each participant, the various weapons   that have been fired, and who has been hit. As civilian networks expand and become more widespread, it will become easier to conduct training in remote locations. Higher data speeds will allow for complex exercises and even more data gathering.

All these advances in technology mean that by the time the soldier of the future arrives at the battlefield, they will be ready for action and able to hit the ground running.