Bohemia Interactive Simulations (BISim), a global developer of game-based military simulation and training software, was awarded £768k through the £800m Defence Innovation Fund with the British Army to build a massive photorealistic virtual reality (VR) training world called Virtual Reality in Land Training (VRLT). VRLT uses out-of-the-box terrains with the BISim’s proprietary game engine to enable hundreds of soldiers to participate in massive multi-role free-roaming, mounted and unmounted simulations.
Bohemia Interactive is a Prague based video game developer and publisher founded by Marek Španěl in 1999. The studio released its first game in 2001, a military shooter titled Operation Flashpoint: Cold War Crisis. When the United States Marine Corps asked them to develop realistic simulations to train soldiers in the early 2000s, a new division called Bohemia Interactive Simulations (BISim) was created. BISim was later spun off and became a standalone business entity based in Orlando, Florida. BI still owns a small piece of the company, which is backed by private equity.
There are now over 60 militaries and over 250 integrators who use BISim products to train personnel in what the company calls Virtual Battlespace 3 (VBS3). In these realistic environments, based on real-world maps, hundreds of simultaneous participants can interact with dozens of weapons and vehicles, all networked into a single battlespace. But it’s laptop-based, like a PC game. Pete Morrison, BSim’s Chief Commercial Officer, told us “VBS is the Call of Duty for the real military, made for a joystick generation.” It’s been used to train Navy pilots, paratroopers, and artillerymen.
Soon-to-be-released VBS4 includes enhanced realism and more vehicles, such as Russian tanks, civilian vehicles, “technicals” (converted Toyota pickups), armored limousines, and even pushcarts. It will soon have over 18,000 working photorealistic 3D models in its asset store. Most customers use the BISim VBS game engine to create their own missions, which are often classified.
Whether operating a PC or in free-roam VR, participants are operating in a mirror-world, an exact 1:1 copy made from satellite images, augmented by Artificial Intelligence.
The British Army is using the simulations for flight training, calling in artillery, and allowing soldiers to control tanks or armored vehicles with mounted weapons like 50 cal. machine guns. “The aim is to enhance future Army training by exploiting the benefits of this technology,” said Lt. Col. Jes Giles SO1 Training Capability of the British Army. These training simulations allow the Army to virtually train soldiers for warfare, which would alternatively be done on location in a field.
VRLT allows BISim to optimize for VR. Morrison said by 2021 the system will be able to handle hundreds, and eventually, thousands, of simultaneous users in the same battlespace. “VRLT will allow soldiers to train in a wide-range of high-resolution complex and hostile simulated scenarios that are not easy to recreate on a training ground. The system will be able to place troops in the middle of an urban firefight, intense crowd control situation or within a building filled with enemy soldiers,” says Giles.
Using mixed reality (MR), soldiers can see and interact with physical objects to create environmental immersion. The high-fidelity avatar customization replicates realistic facial features so players can identify their fellow soldiers. BISim now allows the addition of real-world variables like snipers, disguises, and asynchronous warfare (mines, IEDs).
Using gaming type simulations harnesses the digital natives within the Army. “Video games are their gateway drug, but this is as close to real as the game can get,” said Morrison. Gen Z soldiers rely on technology to aid their problem-solving, though this understanding is being translated to opportunities to train other staff. Like a videogame post-match leaderboard, players can view data captures of their performances to better understand mistakes to improve their own performances. “Innovations such as Virtual Reality offer immersive and flexible training, and this pilot [VRLT] is pushing the boundaries to explore how we might make best use of it,” said Giles.