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Virtual Reality Helps Air Commandos Modernize Training

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Jason Barkey
  • 1st Special Operations Wing

The 492nd Special Operations Training Group recently hosted Air Education and Training Command’s Integrated Technology Platform team.

The ITP personnel visited Hurlburt Field to learn more about the unique training requirements and capabilities within the 492nd SOW and Air Force Special Operations Command while also demonstrating the platform’s capabilities to members of the wing, from potential end-users to the command team.

As the Air Force and AFSOC continue to pivot and refocus towards Great Power Competition, the enterprise, as a whole, must embrace innovation and challenge the status quo. In his initial Action Orders, Chief of Staff of the Air Force Charles “CQ” Brown, Jr., called on the service to “Accelerate Change or Lose.” The Integrated Training Platform addresses current Air Force-wide shortfalls while retaining the ability to quickly leverage technology to address future concerns as well.

“There are a lot of innovation projects at various levels; everyone is trying to get after change and make things better,” said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Robyn Pryor, program liaison with ITP-AETC. “Essentially, we are streamlining the process, giving people information and reducing redundancies so people don’t have to reinvent the wheel at every location.”

The “I” in ITP stands for integrated and the new platform seamlessly integrates multiple forms of technology, such as virtual reality, augmented reality, mixed reality and machine learning and connects it all under artificial intelligence.

The program’s end goal isn’t just to offer a new way of doing business; it is a concerted effort to flip the concept of effective training. What worked 20, 10, or even five years ago won’t work as effectively today, or in the future. The world has changed, technology has changed, the way Airmen and Air Commandos learn has changed. The Air Force must be capable of leveraging current and future technologies to maintain its dominance as the world's foremost air power. 

“In a nutshell, what we have done is flipped the whole concept of learning,” said Mr. Masoud Rasti, program manager with AETC ITP. “Our new Airmen are Airmen of technology. This really challenges them to give them that knowledge and excitement and increase their competency and proficiency.”

Another major benefit of the ITP program is the speed at which end-users can identify requirements and receive solutions. Brown, in his 2022 Action Orders, called out the need to address bureaucracy as a Force. The acquisition process, historically, has slowed innovation. That is not the case with ITP. By incorporating this technology across all major commands, the initial contract costs have already been accounted for and acquired.

“You can identify a requirement and within four months see the end result,” said Rasti. “That is truly acquisition reform.”

Being able to conduct high-fidelity training in a virtual environment maximizes resources in the current resource-constrained environment. Reducing flying hours reduces strain on physical and financial resources. Even when conducting training missions on the range, every mission is a no-fail mission. Maximizing training in a realistic and virtual environment protects AFSOC’s most important resource-it’s people.

“We have to evolve with the resources we have,” said U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Mark Moore, senior enlisted leader with the 492nd Special Operations Training Group. “Hopefully we can take this capability and reform how we train Air Commandos, give them some time back, give them the opportunity to learn on their own time and sharpen their skills as an Air Commando.”

Traditional weapons systems simulators require a physical, often large, footprint and students must physically travel to the site. With emerging capabilities and technologies, there is a very real scenario in which personnel from across AFSOC can put on their headsets and virtually join an instructor at the formal training unit, saving the Air Force and Air Commandos time, both in travel and in lost training, as well as money.

“We look at our training enterprise—how we train aircrew members and Irregular Warfare team members,” said Mr. Ricardo Morales, training branch chief with AFSOC. “Starting in [fiscal year] 23, we’ll have funding to purchase the technology for our wings.”