Early Synthetic Prototyping (ESP) is a training program based in a virtual gaming environment.
Soldiers can test state-of-the-art equipment and give feedback on that equipment, which allows technology developers performing research and guiding the science behind that technology to make proper assessments for moving forward with development. (1)
ARCIC, Army Capabilities Integration Center, is the impetus behind this new training and evaluation program. (2)
How the Army Traditionally Tested New Technology
Throughout most of the 20th century, when the Army had new technology it wanted to test, the procedure was much like how a corporation would develop and test new products for the marketplace. Inventors would create a design plan and a prototype, which would then be evaluated by military leaders. Equipment had to actually be manufactured and sent to troops to use and test in the field.
The defense department even has the Operational Test Command (OTC) to ensure new equipment testing takes place efficiently. (3) OTC is a subordinate unit to the U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Command (ATEC). (4)
This was a highly inefficient way to test new equipment as it relied on soldier feedback after the manufacturing phase. If equipment bugs had to be worked out, defense companies had to go back and re-make the equipment to be tested again. This was very expensive.
Now, thanks to ESP, companies can get feedback on new technology as it is being developed.
Scenarios Already Tested by ESP
ARCIC is currently using Early Synthetic Prototyping to test several scenarios through its virtual gaming environment. (5)
For instance, ARCIC has a robot navigation testing scenario in operation that allows individual players in the environment the opportunity to learn how to use VBS2 character movement, weapon use, and remote robot operation. VBS2 is the Army’s second generation virtual battlespace training simulation.
Another testing scenario involves two players using robots to assault a vehicle.
ARCIC is also using ESP to test defensive robot maneuvers, robots in a convoy functioning as a reconnaissance vehicle, operating a robot to rescue humans from combat situations, and using robots to fight each other. One of the latest technologies tested with ESP is called Wingman. (5)
Military leaders believe ESP will be beneficial for developing future military technologies, (6) and it’s easy to see why. Through ESP, the cost of developing military technologies can be lessened and the time from concept to finished product can be reduced by allowing end users (soldiers and other combatants who use the technology for its intended purpose) to weigh in sooner on the development process.
Lieutenant Colonel Brian Vogt of ARCIC sums up the Army’s plans for ESP with these words:
We cannot expect to develop and field cutting edge capabilities to our Army using antiquated requirements generation and refinement. The challenges of the 21st century require 21st century solutions. Early Synthetic Prototyping will enable the Army to field the right capabilities to future Soldiers to be successful in an evermore complex and challenging environment.” (6)
It will be interesting to see how the Army uses ESP in the future, and it will be even more interesting to see how the Army transforms this emerging training and testing environment into a force-wide vehicle for technological advancement. War gaming is nothing new for the U.S. Army, but ESP takes it up a notch.