The US Army’s Virtual World Becomes a High-Demand War Planning Tool

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

When the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division deployed to assist with evacuation operations from Kabul, Afghanistan, One World Terrain accompanied them. The system helped the division assess the terrain and plan the mission while extracting service members from Hamid Karzai International Airport in August, when the Taliban took control of the city, Brig. General William Glaser, who leads the development of the Army’s synthetic training environment, told Defense News in an interview this month.

“We continue to receive requests from across the U.S. military and intelligence communities for this capability around the world,” he said, including Major General John Kolasheski, commander of V Corps in Poland.

V Corps rose late last year in Poland to support Eastern European allies in a deterrence effort against Russia.

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

“He would like to wage war on the game’s decision points in the middle of combat,” Glaser said. “If there’s a situation that comes up, they don’t know exactly what the right answers might be, and it would be nice to have some science behind some of these decisions that they make.”

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

Kolasheski is acutely aware of the benefits of One World Terrain, Glaser noted, as he has 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 extremely important. It’s not just the three-dimensional terrain that it provides for commanders and leaders there to do their visualization, their planning, their rehearsal,” Glaser said.

OWT was originally intended to be a training tool, designed to replace 57 different terrain data formats in the simulation world. It is clear, however, that the system is gravitating towards and approaching the operational army, according to Glaser.

While the use of simulation tools isn’t new – the military used a program to make more effective decisions during the Gulf War, for example – OWT brings a visualization and mapping tool more faithful to the strength, Glaser said.

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

OWT was not only used as a visualization and planning tool in PC21; it has been integrated into autonomous vehicles, for example.

“Autonomous vehicles need to have a data terrain format in order to get them from point A to point B,” Glaser explained, so Carnegie Mellon’s Artificial Intelligence Task Force has been using OWT for this purpose for 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 has been validated by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency for precision targeting, so now the system can help with fire mission command systems in PC22.

Just ahead of this year’s Convergence project, the Synthetic Training Environment Information System, OWT, and Reconfigurable Virtual Collective Trainer for a variety of air and ground platforms will undergo a operational evaluation around September. PC22 will take place mainly in October and November.

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

“We will basically use it as a rehearsal tool for the lower tactical level for platoon leaders and company commanders,” Glaser said. This will be demonstrated during the operational evaluation, but as it takes place just before PC22, the service will wait a year to try it in a convergence project environment, he added.

Jen Judson is an award-winning reporter covering ground 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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