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VR Utilised by U.S. Army to Let Soldiers Modify Hypersonic Weapon Prototype

The U.S. Army recently announced that combining virtual reality (VR), mixed reality (MR) and augmented reality (AR) helped its soldiers observe and interact with its new LRHW system prototype, in form of a full-scale, three-dimensional and interactive model.

U.S. Army Soldiers at Fort Sill, Oklahoma are utilising virtual reality (VR) technology to gain some insight about the Long Range Hypersonic Weapon (LRHW) prototype’s parts, and impacting the design of the system. The mixed reality laboratory, known as Collaborative Human Immersive Laboratory (CHIL) allowed Soldiers to get views of the prototype from all angles and a large variety of distances, which can be tweaked to gain a clearer understanding of operations and probable improvements.

Chief of Operational Training Division of the Directorate of Training and Doctrine, Fort Sill, LTC Aaron Bright, remarked that his compatriots stood within a specific area called ‘the cave,’ wearing specific eyewear to watch the Transporter Erector Launcher and missile prototype in 3D. Bright remarked that he was able to grab and hold LRHW segments with his bare hands and move them around effortlessly to clear his view of other components. This helped him understand how the system works as a unit. According to Bright, moving things around would take a crane several hours, whilst tools would take even more time, compared to how immersive technology only required a few seconds.

Hypersonics is usually regarded as a complex and futuristic technology, but the input had low-tech components needed for the operational experience of Soldiers, including generator placement and access, and excess equipment that can be taken off to reduce weight and raise routing efficiency.

The army is testing the weapon protoype. Image source: Army.mil

Feedback from the Soldiers during the building process will aid the Army discover minor flaws and enhance operational potential. The system has a 40-foot-long Transporter Erector Launcher (TEL) equipped with missiles, and a Battery Operations Center (BOC). These components are currently being modified to build equipment that have not been used like this before.

Michael Warner, 1st Sergeant with the 1-31st Field Artillery Battalion, 434th Field Artillery Brigade, Fort Sill Fires Center of Excellence, expressed that AR and VR technology can be used for most Army concepts to gain useful feedback. He emphasised that identifying issues near the start of the development process makes it more economical to modify designs during the idea phase rather than during production.

The Army Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office (RCCTO) is responsible for assigning the LRHW model to a battery by fiscal year 2023. The vigorous prototyping timeline pushes ahead the Army’s delivery date by two years, making it too short a timespan before hardware modification and soldier feedback integration. This issue is solved by using VR that enables Soldiers to give their feedback during the early stages.

COL Ian Humphrey, integration project manager for ROTCO Army Hypersonic Project Office, revealed that the LRHW timeline is quite brief. Elaborating further, he said that his team was focussed on making the system safe and capable of meeting hard requirements. Despite LRHW being a prototype, the Soldier feedback generates operational input during the early stages of the process. He expressed that this would help in developing the Army’s hypersonics program of record, apart from informing the LRHW.

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