The U.S. Army looks to the metaverse to recruit and train soldiers
The metaverse—the 2023 version, anyway—is a source of massive unrealized potential more than a finished product. That initial impression “hasn’t resonated very well with everyone,” acknowledges U.S. Army Lieutenant General Maria Gervais, deputy commanding general and chief of staff at the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command.
Yet Gervais is all-in on the metaverse, both because she believes it will eventually reach a level of immersive realism capable of facilitating hyper-realistic training, and also because of its potential audience. The Army is searching for ways to reverse a recruiting deficit, and the metaverse promises to facilitate connections with digital-first prospective recruits from Generation Z and its successor, which Gervais calls Generation Alpha.
Not only are prospective soldiers from those generations likely to hang out in the metaverse, Gervais believes, but their tastes and habits are likely to be shaped by the technology—especially the younger Generation Alpha.
To consider joining the armed forces, “they need to be able to see themselves in the role, and they need to visualize that role before they ever make a decision,” said Gervais in remarks at the GEOINT 2023 Symposium, hosted by the USGIF.
In addition to raising awareness and interest, Gervais sees the metaverse “as a platform of opportunity to inject [the Army’s] messages of career opportunities and benefits with potential recruits, and also leverage the platform to instill the Army’s mission and values into the social mainstream.”
That’s on the recruiting side. Just as exciting to Gervais is how the metaverse could transform training and operations in the Army—a process that’s already underway thanks to the Synthetic Training Environment (STE), an immersive digital training module whose development Gervais helped lead.
In STE, “basically the Army has created a realistic sandbox video game platform of the planet and outer space that can support distantly located soldiers from all over the planet to work and train together in this 3D sandbox,” Gervais said.
STE’s immersive environment helps users train under conditions that would be difficult to conjure using traditional methods, as well as enabling more “reps and sets” than traditional means, according to Gervais. It’s also more configurable: Less-experienced soldiers can work through simulations under friendly conditions, while the STE can be modified so that better-trained soldiers have to confront obstacles such as fog, darkness, or an aggressive opposing force. The simulations can also steer users to focus on relatively mundane aspects of operational training such as toggling between display views—the sort of detail that is important yet normally “either at best an afterthought, or at worst ignored,” according to Gervais.
For now, STE and similar Army initiatives such as the three-dimensional global terrain simulator One World Terrain have a different focus than many of the commercial metaverses. Platforms such as Decentraland and The Sandbox are playful, surreal game worlds, while the Army’s interest is in using the metaverse for hyper-realistic training. Despite the success of STE, there remains a gap between Gervais envisions and what’s possible with current technology.
“What we are trying to do is replicate a training environment with an aggressive, unconstrained operational force in order to provide a very realistic environment for our soldiers,” Gervais said.
But just like their commercial counterparts, Gervais and the Army are playing a long game, waiting for the maturation of the bundle of technologies that make up the metaverse. For both the Army and the tech companies, the point isn’t to deliver a finished product today, but to invest and experiment so that they’re positioned to be leaders as a more compelling metaverse emerges.
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