Fighting Bombs in Cyberspace Gives Army an ‘EDGE

WASHINGTON, May 12, 2011 — Afghan peo­ple and places are being repli­cat­ed in cyber­space, giv­ing warfight­ers a way to train for one of the most com­plex, dead­ly sit­u­a­tions they will face on the ground.
The fight against impro­vised explo­sive devices or home­made bombs — weapons of choice for ter­ror­ists every­where — has lots of mov­ing parts. That’s why the Joint IED Defeat Orga­ni­za­tion here is fund­ing a research project pro­to­type that com­bines tech­nol­o­gy from vir­tu­al worlds, Army sim­u­la­tions and com­put­er gam­ing.

EDGE, for Enhanced Dynamic Geosocial Environment
EDGE, for Enhanced Dynam­ic Geoso­cial Envi­ron­ment, is a research project pro­to­type fund­ed by the Joint IED Defeat Orga­ni­za­tion in Wash­ing­ton that com­bines the vir­tu­al world, Army sim­u­la­tion and com­put­er gam­ing tech­nol­o­gy “to make the first fire­fight no worse than the last sim­u­la­tion.”
U.S. Army graph­ic
Click to enlarge

“We’re down here today work­ing on a prod­uct called EDGE — Enhanced Dynam­ic Geoso­cial Envi­ron­ment,” Matt Kauf­man, chief of tech­nol­o­gy and inte­gra­tion at the Army’s Train­ing and Doc­trine Com­mand, told Amer­i­can Forces Press Ser­vice. The com­mand spon­sors the JIED­DO-fund­ed pro­to­type, which has been in devel­op­ment for about six months.

Kauf­man and oth­er experts at the Army Sim­u­la­tion and Train­ing Tech­nol­o­gy Cen­ter in Orlan­do, Fla., talked about the effort to inte­grate “mas­sive­ly mul­ti­play­er” online gam­ing tech­nol­o­gy like that used in the wild­ly pop­u­lar World of War­craft game, with a vir­tu­al world envi­ron­ment and an accu­rate Army sim­u­la­tion called One­SAF, short for One Semi Auto­mat­ed Forces.

“Our goal,” Kauf­man said, “is to be able to recre­ate the devices, peo­ple and activ­i­ties [that make up the counter-IED effort] in the oper­a­tional envi­ron­ment as accu­rate­ly as pos­si­ble to forces in train­ing.”

When the EDGE pro­to­type is com­plete, warfight­ers head­ed for the war zone will be able to enter, as dig­i­tal repli­cas of them­selves called “avatars,” a near-exact vir­tu­al Afghan vil­lage. There, they will be able to prac­tice the work they will do on the ground to search out and destroy road­side bombs, and to track down and dis­rupt the bomb-mak­ing net­works whose mem­bers fund and sup­ply explo­sive mate­ri­als to those they can con­vince to build and plant the bombs. Train­ing isn’t the only ben­e­fit. In a vir­tu­al Afghanistan, if some­thing goes wrong, no one dies.

“That’s where we’re hop­ing to take EDGE,” said Doug Maxwell, sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy man­ag­er for vir­tu­al world and strate­gic appli­ca­tions at the train­ing and tech­nol­o­gy cen­ter. EDGE will com­bine the dig­i­tal tech­nolo­gies, he added, “so we can lever­age the best of both to deliv­er very quick­ly to a large audi­ence what we know is going on in the the­aters.” In a coun­terin­sur­gency or in irreg­u­lar war­fare, the com­plex­i­ty of the oper­a­tional envi­ron­ment isn’t just the kinet­ic piece, said Ben Jor­dan, direc­tor of the oper­a­tional envi­ron­ment lab mod­els and sim­u­la­tions direc­torate in TRADOC’s Intel­li­gence Sup­port Activ­i­ty.

“There is also the non­com­bat­ant bat­tle space, the whole notion of how to com­mu­ni­cate with elders and cler­gy and com­mu­ni­ty lead­ers, build rap­port, spot bad guys in a crowd and dis­cern atti­tudes and how they change,” Jor­dan said. “These are the kinds of things you can get at.” Sec­ond- and third-order effects a warfight­er can’t get in a five-day lin­ear exer­cise that starts on a Tues­day and ends on a Fri­day come into play over time, Jor­dan not­ed, cit­ing a ben­e­fit of the tech­nol­o­gy.

The com­bi­na­tion of tech­nolo­gies that pro­duce EDGE could cre­ate a sys­tem that’s more sophis­ti­cat­ed than any one tech­nol­o­gy alone. “What we’re try­ing to do that’s dif­fer­ent from every­one else is com­bine the capa­bil­i­ties of mod­ern gam­ing tech­nolo­gies with the accu­ra­cy and approved mod­els of the Army through One­SAF,” Kauf­man said. “As you look at any of the oth­er games today, what’s miss­ing is the accu­ra­cy of the valid physics or mod­els that make them good enough to begin to make behav­ior changes based on [the gam­ing sce­nar­ios].”

For exam­ple, Kauf­man said, “when you shoot a bul­let, it flies accu­rate­ly, not just in a straight line.” Most games short­cut the physics, he said, because it takes a lot of com­put­ing pow­er to make a vir­tu­al world act like the real world, and games focus more on the enter­tain­ment and art­work. “In a train­ing envi­ron­ment where you’ve got to make sure the out­comes are pre­cise, if you don’t under­stand where the short­cuts have been tak­en, you can make false assump­tions because of what you see in front of you, not because of what real­ly hap­pens,” Kauf­man said.

Gam­ing tech­nol­o­gy becomes much more per­sua­sive to a user when it is laid on top of a vir­tu­al world envi­ron­ment, STTC lead engi­neer Tami Grif­fith said.

“Let’s say you and I are stand­ing togeth­er in a vir­tu­al envi­ron­ment and we decide to build a car,” she said. “I can in sec­onds throw togeth­er the frame­work of a car. You could say, ‘That’s nice, but I don’t like the lights.’ So you could in real time move the lights and change the wheels or their size, things like that. With­in 15 min­utes after we’ve designed the car, we could hop in and dri­ve away. How many oth­er envi­ron­ments allow that? That’s pret­ty pow­er­ful.”

“We want to make EDGE as capa­ble and as vivid­ly stim­u­lat­ing as the cur­rent game tech­nolo­gies,” Kauf­man said, “but bring in the real­ism nec­es­sary to sup­port Army train­ing. That, to date, has nev­er been done.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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