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CHIPS Articles: Corps evaluates virtual decision kit to supplement training

Corps evaluates virtual decision kit to supplement training
By Kaitlin Kelly, MCSC Office of Public Affairs and Communication - October 3, 2017
MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. — Innovation. Vision. Initiative.

Those are the reasons Lt. Col. Marcus Mainz envisioned the Tactical Decision Kit, or TDK.

The Marine Corps Rapid Capabilities Office, in collaboration with the Office of Naval Research, developed the TDK which uses technology that allows Marines and Sailors to train virtually on or off duty, and test their decision-making skills from the barracks.

In February 2017, Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Glenn M. Walters directed the RCO to rapidly replicate the small unit decision-making capability conceived by Mainz and other Marines in conjunction with the ONR.

“After the ACMC said he wanted Marines to innovate, I knew there had to be something we could do to make a huge impact,” said Mainz, commander of 2nd Battalion 6th Marines at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. “We needed a solution to help current and future Marines become the best thinkers, planners, decision-makers, teachers and trainers.”

Mainz repurposed Corps’ resources, gathered ideas from Marines, and settled on a goal to create new ways to help Marines work on their decision-making skills.

“Mainz performed a mission analysis of what defined the success of his battalion,” said Col. Walter Yates, program manager for Training Systems at MCSC. “He said it boiled down to the basic elements of accomplishing the mission — whatever the mission might be — and bringing his Marines home from the fight alive and well. Mainz wanted to develop the Marines of 2/6 to become the best tactical decision-makers in the world.”

Mainz said he wanted to create an environment where Marines could master cognitive and warfighting skills from the comfort of the barracks.

“It was great to have the freedom and support from our leadership to be innovative,” he said. “The TDK isn’t just a bank of computers. It’s a new way of thinking with many possibilities.”

In 2016, under Mainz’s guidance, 2/6 barracks recreation rooms with extra space and unused pool tables were turned into decision-making rooms using laptop computers commercial and government software and hardware along with multiple computer-based training systems.

The TDK includes high-performance laptop computers equipped with twice the amount of memory as a typical laptop, a rapid central processing unit, a graphics adapter and high-resolution display with incredibly life-like graphics, Yates said.

Marines can use this computing hardware to enhance rapid decision making, employ a competitive training environment that was not previously available, provide hands-on force-on-force training to allow them to operate against a thinking enemy and improve tactical decisiveness in any environment. The TDK includes:

Augmented Reality: The augmented reality system allows Marines to visualize a variety of terrain to aid in their mission planning and real-time decision-making skills. It enables a group of Marines to conduct virtual briefs and terrain walks while interacting with other Marines in the same virtual environment.

Virtual Battle Space 3: A first-person shooter simulation from the viewpoint of the player that places the Marine in squad- and platoon-level force-on-force scenarios. VBS3 requires Marines to think tactically, make decisions, and communicate with subordinates and adjacent units in a complex, competitive environment using a range of supporting assets.

Interactive Tactical Decision Game 5: The ITDG 5 system allows the users to create and execute in-depth, customizable TDGs that show second- and third-order effects of decisions. This enhances Marines’ abilities to create after-action reports, debriefs and digital sand table exercises, among other uses.

“The TDK is designed to augment the regimented and cyclic training the Marine Corps conducts to maintain deployment cycles and the capability to respond to crisis or conflict in any climb or place,” said Capt. Ryan Steenberge, project manager of the TDK with the Rapid Capabilities Office at MCWL. “TDK helps Marines work on their operations planning, decision-making skills and tactical training. They plan, execute and then debrief to improve their strategies.”

With the TDK, Marines use tools such as drones to perform reconnaissance of the virtual battlespace and gather imagery data they can transform into a terrain model. They view the model using a 3D virtual reality headset and develop the warfighting plan within this environment. Once the plan is formulated and briefed, Marines rehearse the execution of the plan using the networked Deployable Virtual Training Environment software from MCSC’s TRASYS. They can virtually fight each other or on teams against enemy forces using different scenarios and environments.

The system saves the game, and commanders can use the scenarios to train their Marines in similar environments using immersive training systems such as the Instrumented Tactical Engagement Simulation System (also fielded through TRASYS). ITESS is a deployable training capability that uses lasers and sensors on Marines’ weapons, helmets and uniforms to replicate the stresses and threats of combat. The Marines engage the enemy with weapons and simulated artillery, executing decisions they made using the TDK.

“Marines who are competitive and want to win will practice using the TDK equipment because it’s readily available in the barracks, and they enhance their operational and tactical skills,” said Yates. “When they go to the field to apply what they’ve learned, they maneuver very quickly and aggressively perform reconnaissance; they find opportunities, and they locate and close with the enemy. Training in a simulated environment gives you a synthetic experience that results in real, measurable skills, and in most cases, it’s more cost effective, safer and more accessible.”

TDK deliveries to Marine Corps infantry battalions began in May 2017 and will conclude in October 2018. MCSC provides expertise and personnel to the RCO, including a project manager, engineer, contracting officer, legal counsel and a logistician, who support the director of the RCO to rapidly field the TDK to infantry battalions across the Marine Expeditionary Forces. The ONR will continue to gather integration, training and operational data from each infantry battalion through January 2018.

“There are aspects of field training that can never be replicated in a non-field environment, so the TDK is used to supplement and enhance, not replace, regular training,” said Steenberge. “In the Marine Corps, we like to say we’re the best maneuverers and thinkers out there. The commandant has a huge drive to make every Marine a decision-maker, and the TDK offers that opportunity.”

If the Corps moves forward with the TDK, it will transition to a program of record under PM TRASYS, Yates said.

A Marine uses Virtual Battle Space 3 in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. VBS 3 is part of the Tactical Decision Kit developed jointly by Marine Corps Systems Command, the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab’s Rapid Capabilities Office and the Office of Naval Research. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Alexis C. Schneider)
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