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Army researchers are blasting past lasers to find a new way to do realistic combat training

NATICK, Massachusetts – Army researchers are developing a system that would replace the laser-shooting trainers that soldiers have used in the field since the 1980s to simulate firefights and instead find a way to replicate the effects of weapons from rifles to artillery to chemical and biological attack.

And it all starts with an “ebullet.”

If successful, research efforts by the Simulation and Training Technology Center, part of the Combat Capabilities Development Command, could see a more realistic alternative to laser-based shooters such as the Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System, or MILES, that’s been in use for decades.

It will rely on a massive database of models and algorithms to simulate the effects of small arms, larger weapons systems and give soldiers an actual virtual post-attack scene to assess in real time.

No more hiding behind bushes to defeat the laser shooter of the opposing force. Soldiers with this system would have faithful recreations of the actual ranges, trajectories and effects of their own weapons and the opponents’ weapons, said Matt Clark, director of the Simulation and Training Technology Center.

Early prototypes for some weapons systems are expected by fiscal year 2021, Clark said. A fuller suite of options is planned for fiscal year 2026.

Efforts under way now are focused on squad-level weapons like rifles, carbines, machine guns and grenade launchers. Though some crew served weapons will likely be in the near-term mix.

Once they’ve reached some successes at that level, they’ll push on up to weapons at the platoon, company and battalion level, Clark said.

The current way of doing force on force training can be effective for certain small arms in line-of-sight situations. But it can’t replicate indirect fire or get beyond the physics of lasers, which can be deflected or blocked by physical barriers.

And the solution can’t be some training tool that can only be used in certain settings.

“We want to get away from historically a training-only device,” said Frank Tucker, center researcher. “We want to literally instrument our weapons.”

To do that, they’ll have to find extremely small but accurate and low power sensors, at least for some of the units. The major hurdles are accurate sensors and smaller power sources.

Accurate gauges of simulated fire exist for some systems but require heavy power devices. A car battery-sized power device might work for a mounted crew served weapon, but it won’t for a rifle.

The Army isn’t the only service that sees a problem in conducting realistic training with decades-old laser shooters.

The Marine Corps put out a Request for Information in 2017, seeking industry options, to replace it’s the system it has been using instead of MILES for a few years now.

The Instrumented Tactical Engagement System is more sophisticated than MILES but still relies on lasers.

At the time of the request, Marine officials told Military Times they were looking at the Optically Based Small Arms Force-On-Force Training System.

The Marines had similar aims with their system that the Army has undertaken but more limited and focused almost solely on small arms and grenade launchers, not higher-echelon items such as artillery or mortars.

The Army “ebullet” system would track from each trigger pull or use of a weapon the location aim point of the weapon then calculate through its models where the round would likely have impacted and what damage it could have caused.

“We need to understand the moment and instant of every trigger pull for every bullet,” Tucker said.

That’s in part because much of the models they rely on involved years of ballistics data. Putting that into the mix allows for much more accurate representations of what a particular weapon or round would do in a given scenario.

Instead of a hit taking out a person and a referee deeming them “dead” for training, the proposed system could see that a shoulder wound from a certain weapon would cause lung damage.

That would then feed into decisions being made by leaders on the ground.

And with this system, soldiers would see a variety of options. They could fight alongside and against real-life soldiers on the battlefield or virtual avatars populating their night vision devices. When they called in an airstrike or artillery barrage they could see a virtual version of the “damage” their attack had inflicted.

“We can now introduce a level of realism that was never possible,” Tucker said.

An artillery round would not be simply a hit or a miss. The ballistics models would account for the type of round and likely shrapnel that would cause particular kinds of damage, Clark said.

In those scenarios, the soldiers would then be able to determine how accurate their firepower had been, conduct a Battle Damage Assessment and decide if more strikes were needed.

Farther down the pipeline of simulations sits more advanced options that would include simulated electronic warfare, cyber, chemical and biological attacks, researchers said.

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