The Office of Naval Research (ONR) TechSolutions program has transformed a former tomato packing plant on Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., into a state-of-the-art Infantry Immersion Trainer (IIT) prototype. Launched in November 2007 as a technology demonstrator, the IIT began real training of Marines before all of the facility´s high-tech equipment was even fully operational.
Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Carlton W. Kent, who witnessed a demonstration of the IIT hosted by ONR TechSolutions director Master Chief Stephen French on December 14, 2007, said "it was like a flashback walking through the streets of Iraq."
Originally planned for only several rooms in the I Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) Battle Simulation Center at Camp Pendleton, Col. Robert Coates, the director of the I MEF training and exercise group, asked the ONR program manager, Cdr. Dylan Schmorrow, to move the technology demonstrator to an empty 32,000-square-foot facility in the Camp San Mateo area of the base known as "Area 62." At the request of I MEF, Program Manager Training Systems provided additional funds to complete the remainder of the facility.
IIT´s purpose is to provide the most realistic combat conditions and settings to the small unit, in a virtual format, in order to teach and reinforce combat decision making and small unit mission rehearsal. Using Hollywood set design techniques, Strategic Operations, a San Diego-based training organization affiliated with Stu Segal Productions TV and film studio, transformed the vacant building into a maze of houses, streets, and alleys.
Many organizations contributed to the creation of IIT. The Institute for Creative Technologies at the University of Southern California added their expertise to project realistic characters into selected rooms and to add elements to add depth to the immersion, including sound and smell. Dan Kaufman, a DARPA program manager and former game industry executive, provided the team with an early release of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency´s Real World software that provides the virtual characters, or avatars, and the virtual environment. Lockheed Martin´s Advanced Simulation Center in Burlington, Mass., provided the system engineering and developed the software that allows instructors to control and operate the simulation system. Naval Air Systems Command Orlando developed a government-owned protocol to allow small weapon-mounted lasers to interact with the avatars.
Trainees use their regular tactical equipment, but weapons are modified to shoot special effects small arms marking system (SESAMS) rounds, which are similar in concept to paintball rounds. Trainees and role players use paintball masks for added protection. As the trainees move from room to room, they may encounter live role players or virtual characters. Occasionally, pyrotechnics are used to increase realism.
ONR researchers are currently studying how Marines train with the IIT to inform future programs.
Tech Solutions is an innovative, transformational business process created by the Chief of Naval Research and focused on rapidly delivering needed technology to the warfighter. The IIT system is based on technologies developed under the ONR Virtual Training and Environments program that have been developed for immersive infantry training from 2001 to 2007. IIT also incorporates significant technologies developed at the U.S. Army Research Development and Engineering Command and the University of Southern California´s Institute for Creative Technologies.