Warfighters Delve Into Training

March 2011
By Maryann Lawlor, SIGNAL Magazine
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"Not only are the Infantry Immersion Trainers our newest training capabilities, they are also our knowledge base for creating mixed reality, immersive training environments."

—Col. David A. Smith, USMC, program manager, training systems, Marine Corps Systems Command

Combining real with virtual enables more Marines to experience warfare before deploying to Afghanistan.

The U.S. Marine Corps is shifting its immersive training to reflect the massive relocation of its troops from Iraq to Afghanistan. Although the Corps continues preparing Marines for an urban battlefield, now it also is coaching them in additional tasks critical to fighting and preserving the peace in a country that is as different from Iraq as Idaho is from southern Arizona. Actors and avatars bring so much realism to the training that troops returning from operations say it is enough to make them believe they are back in Afghanistan.

The groundwork for the advanced training capabilities was laid at Camp Pendleton, California, in 2006 by a universal need statement the U.S. Marine Corps Training and Education Command issued. An abandoned tomato processing plant was chosen as the site for the Infantry Immersion Trainer (IIT). Phase one of the IIT, which included the fabrication and installation of an Iraqi village setting, was complete by fall 2007. The phase one training space took up 21,600 square feet of the 33,200 square foot building. The IIT features a total of six two-story and 18 one-story structures comprising 42 rooms. Ten of the rooms are set up to support eight avatars, one call-for-fire and Smart Warrior IMAX, which is a one-story room that is designed to give the illusion of being in a two-story room.

By November 2009, more than 12,400 Marines, sailors and soldiers had trained in the IIT phase one facility, and the training environment also was used to conduct two spirals of a U.S. Joint Forces Command Joint Concept Technology Demonstration called the Future Immersive Training Environment (SIGNAL Magazine, May 2010).

In response to the mission change, the IIT phase one was refurbished in March 2010, changing it from an Iraqi to an Afghan setting. According to Col. David A. Smith, USMC, program manager, training systems, Marine Corps Systems Command, Orlando, Florida, overwhelming positive reactions from the Marines were the compelling issue that drove the decision to expand immersive training capabilities. This resulted in the creation of the outdoor phase two at Camp Pendleton, an indoor setting at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and an outdoor facility in Hawaii.

The increased use and lethality of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) prompted the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) to provide $24.1 million to the Project Manager, Training Systems, to fund new immersive capabilities based on gaps identified in training scenarios within the IIT phase one facility. These gaps included the inability to provide small units with counter-IED (C-IED) and the enhanced realism training capability that creates and reinforces the complex decision-making skills needed for joint close combat and irregular warfare. Col. Smith points out that in a small village, a warfighter may have to choose quickly whether or not to use lethal force, and the phase one facility was not equipped to train them to handle these situations.

In the phase two planning stage of the IIT, the goal was to add 32,000 square feet of urban area to the existing trainer. The urban area was designed to be modular and reconfigurable and use role players who provide flexibility to adapt for operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Col. Smith explains that the second-phase work addresses 61 additional predeployment training tasks, which fulfills squad home-station training prior to battalion assessment such as Mojave Viper, a combined arms exercise.

A typical training session includes 40 to 60 actors who play different roles, including varying levels of knowledge of English. Phase two also includes the capability to project 20 avatars in 29 rooms. Behind-the-scenes trainers change the locations and reactions of these avatars so that the training remains fresh; the Marines going into what appears to be the same situation cannot anticipate what to expect, the colonel relates. Work is underway to bring this capability up a notch and enable Marines to have an actual conversation with the avatars, he explains.

By improving training for the troops in phase two, the IIT is now a facility that is sufficient to transition JIEDDO-sponsored C-IED cognitive skills research into immersive small unit training scenarios. The improvised explosive device disposal (IEDD) operational concept incorporated into the second phase includes training events embedded in every squad training cycle to teach locate, recognize and defeat skills. Training employs numerous atmospherics—such as smoke, heat and odors—providing a realistic environment for training IEDD. Training in C-IED also is increasing and includes the Marines portraying insurgents who plant the devices to hone their intuition about likely danger zones, the colonel says. “Because they’ve learned the tricks of the trade to plant IEDs, they know the tricks of the trade [to locate them],” he explains.

According to Col. Smith, warfighter ideas and input were considered from concept development through design of phase two. “Special emphasis was placed on continuously incorporating lessons learned from operational challenges faced by returning units. One of the critiques from the Marines using the IIT at the time was the need for multiple-story buildings from which to establish their own over-watch and sniper positions. When project scope evolved to an outdoor training environment, we ensured that the multistory requirement was maintained while also adding institutional Range Modernization and Transformation objectives of relevant scenarios, realistic opposing forces and ground truth feedback via an after action review system,” he says.

The IIT phase two was integrated as part of the Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton Range complex master plan so modifications and extensions would be accomplished as range improvements. “Importantly, this synchronized the capability into long-term land-use planning and operational sustainment strategies,” Col. Smith states.

Realism is a key aspect of the IIT. To create immersive training that replicates the effects and conditions of the operational environment Marine Corps small units currently experience, the facility required a realistic urban environment—a living, working village—complete with high-fidelity visual, structural, auditory and olfactory characteristics.

The Marine Corps partnered with industry to create these experiences. Parsons Corporation, Pasadena, California, provided the overarching design of the training range meeting Marine Corps small-unit training objectives and then matured that design into integrated engineering plans of structures, walls and a data and electrical infrastructure that houses or supports the other elements of the IIT training system of systems. Their subcontractors fabricate, deliver and install the T-barrier precast concrete sections, which make the training system able to be relocated. When erected, the complete IIT urban skeleton looks like a generic Third World village of residences, schools, government offices and compounds.


The IIT’s second phase expanded the look, feel, sound and smell of combat to outside areas that feature markets, schools and other buildings that Marines are likely to encounter in Afghanistan.

The subsystems are installed upon this village, inserting the technologies that enhance training performance and physical and virtual simulations that create a realistic immersive environment. The three elements—the range, the after-action review system and the mixed-reality simulations—must work harmoniously. Elements must be either purposefully in plain sight or invisible to the Marines immersed in the environment. This is critical to achieving the believable immersive quality of an IIT, Col. Smith explains.

After-action reviews are incredibly important, the colonel emphasizes. It is by studying how an individual or unit reacted in a specific situation that imprints the learning experience into the trainees. “When you can see how a Marine reacted to an IED blowing up or sniper fire, then you can say ‘Hey, the sniper shot from the left, but all of you looked to the right.’ That’s when they can learn what they did right and wrong,” he states.

L-3 Services Incorporated, Chantilly, Virginia, provides the advanced video recording for after action review with its Tactical Video Capture System. Multiple cameras record in both real-time and on 3-D digital video that is stitched onto an exact model of the IIT. This capability enables a stealth-view perspective and navigation through the IIT. It allows small units of Marines or those observing those units to follow activity from different vantage points. This improves situational awareness of training controllers and ground-truth video and audio play-back of individual and unit performance.

Lockheed Martin Corporation’s Global Training and Logistics business unit, Orlando, Florida, supplies the immersive avatar virtual simulations that create virtual people to populate the village for IIT. Through virtual reality augmented by physical props, smells, sounds and even real people, the trainees experience the avatars as culturally realistic, reactive, dynamic, synthetic persons who interact with the trainees and the environment. The use of avatars enables efficient addition of people who are culturally correct and able to be changed in ethnic, age or gender makeup on the fly.

“The diversity made possible by projection of virtual persons allows Marines to experience a greater variety of stimuli to exercise complex, fast-paced legal, moral and ethical decisions they must make across the spectrum of kinetic and non-kinetic operations,” the colonel says. In addition, the ability to bring in avatars enables the introduction of both the elderly and children, which are roles that cannot be played by humans in the IIT, he adds.

Strategic Operations, San Diego, provides the physical sets that give a bare IIT training range its lived-in look and feel. The company adds cultural realism by furnishing appropriate props such as furniture, billboards, faux foods, supplies, crops and even realistic coloring and aging of buildings.

The First Marine Expeditionary Force (I MEF) predeployment training program (PTP) policy directs that Marines who are deploying to operation Enduring Freedom in combat, combat support and combat service support who directly are involved with combat units to conduct PTP training at the IIT. The duration and frequency of the training is at the discretion of the unit commander. Generally, units of platoon size spend one to two days at the IIT phase one complex, averaging three runs for each squad. Scenarios can include a variety of unit-prescribed events to increase or reduce the amount of time, complexity and difficulty of the training challenge. The set-ups also can accommodate different types of units with varying degrees of competence.

“Not only are the IITs our newest training capabilities, they are also our knowledge base for creating mixed reality, immersive training environments. Marines today are educated and trained to meet mental, physical, moral and ethical challenges and to be culturally and cognitively adept to understand the second- and third-order consequences of their decisions and actions. Our approach is to integrate modeling, simulation and systems together in new ways to produce new hybrid training arenas which are immersive and realistic,” Col. Smith says.

When the second phase of the IIT officially opened, the IIT team provided early orientation tours to the I MEF battalion commanders. Col. Smith says they immediately recognized the value of the training facility and could not wait for training to begin. “During the ribbon cutting ceremony on November 16, 2010, Marines were waiting to enter the range to begin their training. The ceremony began at 10 a.m. We had to be out of there by 1 p.m. because we had Marines scheduled to start training. Squads and platoons of Marines were coming in waiting to start. This is a training system that Marines really want and the demand and throughput has been excellent,” he says.

Although industry has been involved throughout the development of both phase one and phase two, additional opportunities for the commercial sector exist. Col. Smith particularly is interested in the research of human perception in mixed reality environments. “The understanding of immersive environments is mature in virtual worlds and the real world; however, the continuum of mixed reality presents new challenges that are still being unlocked. These are important to the future of IIT capabilities in this context is the development of avatars in both projected virtual scenes and see-through head-mounted displays,” the colonel emphasizes.

Infantry Immersion Trainer: www.onr.navy.mil/Media-Center/Fact-Sheets/infantry-immersion-trainer.aspx
U.S. Marine Corps Training and Education Command: www.tecom.usmc.mil/
Marine Corps Systems Command, Team Orlando: www.teamorlando.org
Parsons Corporation: www.parsons.com
L-3 Services Incorporated: www.l-3com.com/divisions/overview.aspx?id=82
Lockheed Martin Global Training and Logistics: www.lockheedmartin.com/gtl/
Strategic Operations: www.strategic-operations.com

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