Asymmetric Dialogue

Army creating virtual world for multidomain battle training

The One World Terrain is under development, but coming together rapidly, as part of the Army's Synthetic Training Environment. The TV monitor shows a vignette of the system at the STE lab on Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.Photo by: Photo by Jen Judson/Defense News Staff

FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kansas, and WASHINGTON — It’s one thing to build an aircraft or a vehicle, it’s another to build an entire virtual world with enough realism in which soldiers and units can effectively train, but that is what the Army is doing right now.

The service isn’t unfamiliar with virtual training and, before the gaming industry took off, it was the only game in town when it came to building virtual environments. But those Army developed trainers from the ‘80s and ‘90s are stove-piped, antiquated and lack the realism soldiers need to train effectively, Maj. Gen. Maria Gervais, who is in charge of developing the Army’s Synthetic Training Environment (STE), told Defense News in a March 13 interview.

And stove-piped training systems are the last thing the Army needs as it looks to fight in a multidomain operational environment in line with the service’s new multidomain battle concept that assumes the Army and the other services will be fighting collectively across different domains such as land, sea, air and cyber.

Just a few years ago, it was thought a STE wouldn’t be ready until roughly 2030, Gervais said, but with major advancements in technology in the gaming world and a new approach to the development and acquisition of a virtual training environment, the STE will come online much earlier than that.

STE development also has newfound support with the advent of the Army’s newest four-star command set to reach initial capability in the summer. The Army Futures Command (AFC) is being established to address the Army’s top six priorities: Long-Range Precision Fires, Next-Generation Combat Vehicle, Future Vertical Lift, the Network, Air-and-Missile Defense and Soldier Lethality.

The STE capability is important to each of the Army’s top priorities. The command established cross-functional teams to help manage the progress of modernization within each priority. While the STE is not one of the priorities, it was assigned its own CFT. Gervais is the lead.

One World Terrain

The Army set out to build what it is calling One World Terrain that compiles realistic and, in some cases, extremely accurate virtual maps of territory all over the globe. The idea is to be able to click on any place on a virtual globe and go there, sometimes with door-knob fidelity. Soldiers can then train virtually in an exact environment in which they can expect to operate in reality.

Just a few years ago, building One World Terrain was painstaking, tedious and expensive.

Trying to piece together a world’s worth of terrain meant 57 different terrain formats that wouldn’t work universally on different training systems. And terrain lacked realism and variety.

Combined Arms Center Commander Lt. Gen. Michael Lundy said he was told just four years ago that building a virtual terrain environment that encompassed the globe was next to impossible.


“Every time we had to do an exercise or a simulation, we had to build terrain for it. It got to be very expensive. I mean, millions of dollars,” Lundy told Army Undersecretary Ryan McCarthy on a trip last month to Fort Leaveworth, where the STE is being built in a lab. “What I said was, ‘We need to get to One World Terrain.’”

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