US Army using immersive tech to develop prototype hypersonic weapon

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Soldiers from Fort Sill in Oklahoma recently used a mix of VR, AR and MR to walk around and ‘touch’ the US Army’s new prototype long-range hypersonic weapon

Quick read

➨ The US Army’s aggressive prototyping schedule demands that the hardware be quickly modified and integrated for soldier feedback
➨ Testing is being carried out at the Collaborative Human Immersive Laboratory
➨ Plans are also in the works to allow remote sites to utilise the simulations and interact in real-time from multiple locations

The story

The US Army is using immersive technology to virtually design and test a new prototype weapon.

Soldiers from Fort Sill in Oklahoma recently used a mix of VR, AR and MR to walk around and ‘touch’ the US Army’s new prototype long-range hypersonic weapon—or LRHW—as an interactive, true-to-scale, 3D model.

The system consists of a 40-foot transporter erector launcher with missiles and a battery operations centre (BOC). The truck and trailer combination, along with the BOC, are all taken from existing US Army stock, and are in the process of being modified to create new equipment.

The US Army Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office (RCCTO), which is overseeing the project, is aiming to deliver the prototype LRHW no later than fiscal year 2023. 

This aggressive prototyping schedule, which pushes the US Army’s initial hypersonic capability delivery ahead by two years, demands that the hardware be quickly modified and integrated for soldier feedback—which is where immersive tech comes in.

Inside the MR lab, known as the Collaborative Human Immersive Laboratory (CHIL), participating soldiers were able to view the equipment from any angle, at any distance, and manipulate it as needed in order to better understand its operation and recommend improvements.

Lieutenant Colonel Aaron Bright, chief of the operational training division of the training and doctrine directorate at Fort Sill, explained: “We were able to stand as a group around an area called ‘the cave,’ which allowed all of us to see, in 3D, through special eyewear, the transporter erector launcher and missile as one.”

“I was able to grab pieces of the LRHW with my hands and move them weightlessly to the side to get a better look at another part, and to better understand how the system as a whole works. The kinds of things that would take hours with a crane, and several more hours with tools, we were doing on our own in seconds.”

CHIL enables real-time collaboration through equipment including VR headsets, 3D glasses, holograms and handheld controllers. The facility is owned by Lockheed Martin, which is serving as the LRHW prototype system integrator and developing other components.

First Sergeant Michael Weaver, with the 1-31st Field Artillery Battalion of the 434th Field Artillery Brigade at the Fort Sill Fires Center of Excellence, said: “You can apply virtual reality and augmented reality to almost any concept or other component the Army has and gain vital feedback. Identifying potential issues early on in the development process is crucial because it is easier and cheaper to adjust design during the concept phase as opposed to production.”

Soldiers will be involved throughout the process and as more integrated and modified hardware becomes available, they’ll get a chance to walk around the real system. Plans are also in the works to allow remote sites to utilise the simulations and interact in real-time from multiple locations.

“We have a very tight timeline with the LRHW,” commented Colonel Ian Humphrey, integration project manager for the RCCTO’s Army Hypersonic Project Office. “We have to make it safe and we must meet very hard requirements. Although the LRHW is a prototype, the soldier feedback we get here provides operational input early in the process. This is not only to help inform the LRHW, but also aid in the development of the Army’s hypersonics programme of record.”

Image: Lockheed Martin
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