The environment in which our militaries are operating is changing at pace. Rapidly proliferating, increasingly multipolar threats means the battlespace of tomorrow will be more contested and congested than ever before.
It is a shifting picture which will increasingly require a connected, multi-domain response, with assets from the outer reaches of space to the depths of the ocean seamlessly networking to ensure superiority and mission readiness in a world dominated by growing volumes of data. Those who are able to successfully harness, interpret and use that data on the battlefield will hold a critical advantage.
With the need to operate in new ways to combat the emergence of new environments and new threats comes the need to train the militaries of tomorrow in new ways too.
BAE Systems is combining its decades of expertise in military training with collaboration, bringing together technologies from a number of leading companies to develop and prove next generation training for the forces of tomorrow.
Project OdySSEy is at the heart of this collaboration. It brings together experts in simulation, supercomputing, data analytics and augmented and virtual reality to create a single synthetic environment, enabling air, land, sea, space and cyber forces to plug in and train together.
We spoke to Lucy Walton, Head of Training at BAE Systems’ Air Sector, to explain more about Project OdySSEy and how the technologies being developed as part of the initiative will help deliver mission readiness for the military forces of tomorrow.
What is Project OdySSEy?
The aim of Project OdySSEy is to shape the future of collective training and test and prove the technologies which will be required to deliver that future training across all military domains. At BAE Systems we understand how to train military forces through an intimate relationship we have with our customers built on decades of working in partnership. But we do not have a monopoly on good ideas and that is why we are partnering with a number of other companies to develop a single synthetic environment (SSE) which will harness the technologies which will shape the way our customers train in the future.
There are a number of large scale, multi-national training exercises which take place around the world each year – exercises such as Red Flag. But their sheer size means they are relatively infrequent. The creation of a SSE– effectively a ‘military metaverse’ - will allow military forces across all domains to securely train in a virtual world and, importantly, to do so regularly, gaining crucial battlefield experiences without the challenges and constraints of live collective training and its limited warfare scenarios.
We have started to demonstrate and prove the concept at one of our main sites in the UK, where we are using fully-immersive, extremely high-fidelity synthetic technologies to create a live-synthetic mix across a number of platforms and domains – specifically focussing on the air and land domains in the initial phase. For example, we have shown how we could connect a full mission fast jet simulator to someone on a deployable laptop simulator in a forward operating base and we have run complex scenarios which connect air power with land forces.
When it comes to training pilots, we believe there will always be a need for an irreducible level of live flying in fast jet trainer aircraft like Hawk, but synthetics provide huge benefits in areas including safety, affordability and sustainability.
What we’re showing is that the capability is there to allow militaries to train collectively using real software and real tactics away from prying eyes, preparing for scenarios which simply could not be undertaken in live training.
We have worked alongside military and industry partners out of our Warton site, in the UK, to show how this capability works and we are feeding the lessons taken from that back into development of the project.
How does the Single Synthetic Environment work?
At its heart, the SSE is built on a digital backbone, with a high-fidelity simulated world capturing inputs from across domains. But with Project OdySSEy we are going well beyond creating a virtual or augmented reality, we are harnessing what is known as extended reality technology to create the most immersive, high fidelity experience for trainees.
What that means is we are capturing data points from every interaction - from a rise in pulse rate to a complex tactical decision - meaning that we will be able to analyze a student’s learning, tailoring their future syllabus to what they need. By enabling them to focus on their weaknesses as well as build on their strengths, military forces can learn better and quicker.
These technologies are built on that digital backbone enabling multiple users in multiple locations to train securely in a way which gives them the skills they require for the frontline.
How important is collaboration and partnership on Project OdySSEy?
It is critical. We recognise that as BAE Systems we bring a pedigree of working with military, but we do not have access to all of the cutting edge technologies being developed by smaller, highly-specialized companies, often operating in sectors well outside of the defense and military spheres.
For example, in the gaming industry we can see that some of the graphics and simulation technologies which have been developed are well advanced and continuing to develop very rapidly. While it has been known for decades that synthetic technologies hold huge potential for the training and preparation of future forces, advances driven by areas such as computer gaming and the medical industry mean the scope is now wider than ever before.
From Hadean, a supercomputing specialist which powers the computer game Minecraft, and data analytics experts VRAI, through to simulation firms Pauley and Bohemia Interactive Simulations, we are working alongside leading minds in their fields.
This expertise and cognitive diversity is allowing us to change the norms, drawing upon agile innovators and enabling us to use our expertise to integrate a capability which can deliver for our customers.
BAE Systems has a place at the heart of training pipelines around the world, training some 450 pilots and 6,000 aircraft technicians every year. Where our core strength as a company lies is in taking this technology and innovation and, using our experience and insight gained through those decades of military training on platforms such as the Hawk, as well as other training experience, integrate these ideas into a relevant capability which will give military users the edge.
What comes next?
Having completed some successful demonstration work which validates the capabilities of this Single Synthetic Environment, we are now looking to the next phase, based around rapid iterations of capability.
Through our initial phases we have integrated the air and land domains with battlespace command capabilities and the next steps will see us add further domains to increase the complexity and capability of the environment.