US Army’s virtual world becoming high-demand war planning tool

Soldier training simulation

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army’s One World Terrain, a virtual world that the service has been building for roughly five years to give a real-life feel to training, is becoming much more than that.

When the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division deployed to aid the evacuation operations from Kabul, Afghanistan, One World Terrain came along with it. The system helped the division assess terrain and conduct mission planning while extracting service members from the Hamid Karzai International Airport in August when the Taliban took over the city, Brig. Gen. William Glaser, who leads development of the Army’s Synthetic Training Environment, told Defense News in an interview this month.

“We continue to get requests from across the United States Army and the intel communities for that capability all over the world,” he said, including from Maj. Gen. John Kolasheski, V Corps commander in Poland.

V Corps stood up late last year in Poland to bolster Eastern European allies in a deterrence effort against Russia.

Kolasheski wants the system for an automated war gaming capability in his tactical operations center, where he develops plans as part of the military decision-making process, Glaser said. But the V Corps leader plans to take it even further, Glaser added, by ensuring the system can be used during operations.

“He’d like to war game decision points in the middle of the fight,” Glaser said. “If there is a situation coming up, they don’t know exactly what the right answers might be, and it would be interesting to have a little bit of science behind some of these decisions that they are making.”

This means One World Terrain must be easy to use and able to quickly replicate an environment, Glaser said.

Kolasheski is acutely aware of the benefit of One World Terrain, Glaser noted, because he holds a master’s degree in modeling and simulations from the University of Central Florida. “He understands the impact of how we can use some of our tools in the operational world.”

Developing such a virtual world “is so incredibly important. It’s not just the three-dimensional terrain that it provides to commanders and leaders out there so that they can do their visualization, their planning, their rehearsing,” Glaser said.

OWT was originally meant to be a training tool, designed to replace 57 different terrain data formats in the simulation world. It’s clear, however, that the system is gravitating and bridging toward the operational Army, according to Glaser.

While using simulation tools isn’t new — the Army used a program to make more effective decisions during the Gulf War, for example — OWT brings a higher-fidelity visualization and mapping tool to the force, Glaser said.

OWT was used on a small scale during Project Convergence 2020, but the virtual world has since been used in 15 different systems at Project Convergence 2021, according to Glaser. That annual event is the Army’s campaign of learning that examines how the service will fight in the future against high-end adversaries using capabilities it plans to begin fielding in the 2030s. The exercise is heading into its third year, during which OWT will expand to 36 different systems, Glaser said.

OWT wasn’t just used as a visualization and planning tool in PC21; it was integrated into autonomous vehicles, for example.

“Autonomous vehicles need to have a data terrain format in order to get it from point A to point B,” Glaser explained, so the Artificial Intelligence Task Force out of Carnegie Mellon used OWT for this purpose during the event.

Glaser’s outfit also used it in different mission command systems, including the Maneuver Mission Command System, and integrated it into the Command Post Computing Environment as well as the Command Post of the Future.

Since PC21, OWT was validated by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency for precision targeting, so now the system can help with fires mission command systems in PC22.

Just prior to this year’s Project Convergence, the Synthetic Training Environment’s Information System, OWT and the Reconfigurable Virtual Collective Trainer for a variety of air and ground platforms will go through an operational assessment around September. PC22 will take place mostly in October and November.

In PC23, the Army plans to use OWT not just as a training capability, but for rehearsals.

“We will essentially be using it as a rehearsal tool for the lower tactical level for platoon leaders and company commanders,” Glaser said. This will be demonstrated at the operational assessment, but because it takes place just before PC22, the service will wait a year to try it out in a Project Convergence environment, he added.

Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts from Kenyon College.



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About the Author

Tony Beasley
Tony Beasley writes for the Local News, US and the World Section of ANH.