Drone Training in Simulation Environments

BISim, simulation environments, drone trainingDrones in both warfare and civil operations are becoming more powerful – and high level training for pilots becoming more critical.  Drone training remains a challenge for government, state and large enterprise agencies trying to scale operations.

As simulation technology advances, can realistic virtual environments develop pilot proficiency to the standard required?   Here, an expert in simulation training software makes the case for using virtual tools to develop the next generation of drone pilots.

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The following is a guest post by Pete Morrison, co-founder and chief commercial officer at BISim, a global training and simulation software company for both defense and civil applications.  DRONELIFE neither accepts nor makes payment for guest posts.

Drone training is critical for troop success in modern warfare

 by Pete Morrison

Modern-day battles depend on satellite communications, electronic warfare and drones — with each tool improving artillery’s accuracy and enhancing troop protection. Drones play an increasingly greater role, with combat drones enabling long-range surveillance and tactical drones offering immediate close-support capabilities.

Mykhailo Federov, Ukraine’s minister of digital transformation, describes the war between Ukraine and Russia as a “technology war.” Unlike past wars, every aspect of this conflict includes drones — from air defense to jamming systems and gathering intelligence to launching attacks at a distance.

Ukraine’s new “Army of Drones” initiative includes contracts to purchase nearly 1,000 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV). The country’s long-term goal? To launch 10,000 drones for patrolling the 900+ mile front line, watching and relaying real-time intelligence to command teams.

They aren’t the only country with plans to incorporate drones into their fighting and surveillance arsenal. Over 100 countries and non-state groups use drones. As drone use grows more sophisticated, robust training and experimentation platforms are essential. Simulation technology offers an affordable, risk-free training solution that allows repeatable training that can track and measure training outcomes.

The need for drone operations training

As modern warfare evolves, troop training must follow suit. Increasingly, wars are fought from miles away. Educating and building troop skills and competencies with remote operations, AI integration and improved situational awareness is paramount. A solid investment in training results in:

  • Increased operational proficiency for flight control, maneuvering, payload deployment and mission planning to maximize drone capabilities.
  • Enhanced skills for handling mission-specific tasks, like target identification, data interpretation and payload utilization.
  • Safe drone operation without endangering personnel or civilian populations — and compliance with legal requirements.
  • Heightened situational awareness, with operators learning to interpret real-time data from drone feeds, identify potential threats and communicate valuable information to commanders and ground forces.
  • Better understanding of how drones can synergize with other assets like ground forces, aircraft and naval units. This knowledge facilitates better coordination and enhances the overall effectiveness of combined operations.
  • Improved ability to counter threats posed by enemy drones when troops know strategies for detecting, tracking and neutralizing hostile drones to mitigate an enemy’s drone-related attacks.
  • Advanced adaptability and innovation by fostering a culture where military operators feel empowered to explore new applications, develop creative solutions and adapt drone capabilities to evolving operational needs.

Benefits of high-fidelity simulation for drone training

Training to operate drones is intense. For example, the U.S. Army requires its drone pilots to take the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Operator Course — a mix of classroom instruction and hands-on training. The best drone training includes high-fidelity simulation, a complex environment for experimentation, concept development, hands-on practice and mission rehearsal.

Virtual simulation software, such as VBS4, simulates fully or partially autonomous and human-operated drone systems. VBS provides a robust and realistic virtual environment to expose trainees to many scenarios, allowing them to:

  • Practice on a specific drone’s system capabilities and uses.
  • Develop tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs).
  • Conduct mission rehearsals.

Beyond the drone operator, virtual simulation training enables mission commanders and intelligence analysts to develop and practice their skills and game different strategies for employing drones effectively and efficiently. The most effective simulation training provides a complex, rich environment, including terrain, buildings and other elements you can adjust according to training needs.

Drones’ primary sensors are electro-optical sensors, which provide real-time imagery processing, targeting feedback and data for autonomous systems. A high-fidelity simulation platform must replicate those same sensor views (optical, infrared, thermal) and provide the flexibility to switch among them.

High-performing simulation platforms can test autonomous systems, evaluate algorithms and integrate them into higher-level tactical scenarios for leaders to understand the interactions between artificial intelligence (AI) and humans. With this knowledge, leaders can evaluate the best blueprint, rerun simulations and verify alternate approaches for less expensive strategies. As we move into a future world with fully autonomous drones, it is only a matter of time before drones are making critical shoot/no shoot decisions, and high fidelity simulation will be a critical training component for this type of AI.

Drone training use cases

The limit on a high-fidelity training simulation platform is restricted only to the imagination of its users’ operational needs and creativity. Here are several use cases.

Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) simulation and training provides real-time situational awareness for various scenarios, including search and rescue operations, tracking enemy movements or monitoring borders to identify illegal crossings. One company used a training simulation platform to develop its FLIRSIM™ platform — a portable, rapid-deployment, inclusive training tool that replicates real-world scenarios for training purposes. While developing this tool, its architects relied on another simulation platform to create real-world scenarios operators would encounter. They incorporated roleplay for trainees, updated environments and had the flexibility to leverage AI or a human operator to control each training scenario.

The U.S. Air Force Academy trained cadets using a simulation platform to develop their airmanship skills and expose them to different air power scenarios. Training administrators can start scenarios with basic tasks like drones tracking specific individuals or groups. Administrators can escalate a mission to involve a nighttime special operations mission reliant on a virtual, remotely piloted aircraft — or introduce new wrinkles, like a weather event, into a training exercise.

Maximizing their accuracy is critical when ammunition, weapons, and strike drones are in short supply. Drones provide the eyes and ears on the battlefield. Their increased use has significantly changed military thought, development and training.

Ultimately, a mission’s success depends on its pilots’ proficiency and the drones’ capability. Training drone pilots using simulators reduces the likelihood of injury to the pilots or damage to the expensive drones. Simulators enable organizations to replicate real-world tactical scenarios in complex physical and human environments using the same sensors and targeting systems drones use to conduct their missions.

This training gives personnel valuable experience and knowledge, prepares them for multiple scenarios and empowers them to make better decisions in real-world circumstances. Military organizations that invest in drone training position themselves as the vanguard of technological advancements and ensure the continuity and maintenance of their overall operational effectiveness and readiness.

About the Author

Pete Morrison is co-founder and chief commercial officer at BISim. He is an evangelist for the use of game technologies and other COTS-type products and software in the simulation and training industry. Pete studied computer science and management at the Australian Defence Force Academy and graduated with first-class honors. He also graduated from the Royal Military College, Duntroon, into the Royal Australian Signals Corp. He served as a Signals Corp Officer for several years. His final posting was as a Project Officer in the Australian Defence Simulation Office (ADSO).