Technology, AFWERX, helping SF Academy graduates become more lethal, ready

  • Published
  • By Dan Hawkins
  • Air Education and Training Command Public Affairs

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas – Recognizing the pace of change is accelerating, the Security Forces Academy here has taken full advantage of an opportunity to help field tomorrow’s Air Force faster and smarter by adding innovative technology into its apprentice course to help produce more lethal and ready Airmen.  

For arguably the most critical skills a Defender must possess – how and when to employ the use of force – the 343rd Training Squadron schoolhouse recently acquired eight Multiple Interactive Learning Objectives simulators from the security forces career field team, as well as a VR-based training system from industry through a partnership facilitated through an AFWERX, to help them teach students how to employ both lethal and non-lethal force.

“Both of these tools have shown to be valuable assets in helping teach our Airmen how to make critical, life and death, decision-making skills,” said Master Sgt. Justin Consley, non-commissioned officer in charge of the Security Forces apprentice course. “Using this immersive training technology to train on law enforcement specific scenarios is definitely helping us produce more lethal and ready Defenders.”

The opportunity to partner with, Street Smarts VR, a New York-based vendor who specializes in creating interactive law enforcement training scenarios through motion capture technology, on this beta-test came about after the vendor contacted the schoolhouse to inquire about their interest in field testing a system aimed at putting trainees in scenarios they will find themselves when they arrive at their permanent duty stations at no cost to the unit.

“With some of the standard procurement processes, by the time we acquire certain technologies, they’re obsolete,” said Capt. Zachary Watkins, officer in charge of the Security Forces officer technical training course. “With the help of AFWERX, what we are doing through this one-year partnership is removing the barriers to getting that leading-edge technology into the schoolhouse now before it becomes obsolete and giving our commander no-risk flexibility to decide if this is technology we need long-term.”

The opportunity to create realistic training scenarios using the VR system that are stressful, including both the law enforcement and air base defense environments, that allows Defenders to learn the proper application of force based on the priority level assets involved or the rules of engagement is a huge gain for the students and the instructors.

“This system limits us to only our imagination to create scenarios, so we can place students in situations which differ from the public law enforcement side,” said Tech. Sgt. Jesse Bechtel, 343rd TRS instructor supervisor, who has been overseeing the use of the VR system in the apprentice course. “The immersion this system provides the students enables them to become fully involved in the scenario and assists in creating a stressful environment, much like it would be in a real-life response.”

Using the VR system, the instructors have noted the value of the immediate feedback the system provides to students, as well as the control they have over the actors in the scenarios and can change the tone of a scenario at the click of a button.

“Unlike with real role-play scenarios, if a student is not giving the right verbal commands to the subject, as an instructor I can easily click a button and have the subject become more aggressive,” Bechtel said. “If the student is using good verbal commands then I can have the subject become compliant.  This immediate feedback is important for students to understand how their actions play a part in the response.” 

After each scenario, students also get the opportunity to view their actions from an “outside the body” viewpoint, and if the student had to utilize deadly force, the system shows them the trajectory of their shots, giving them that additional feedback on whether or not they made a good shot. 

“As the student is viewing this, we the instructors will talk them through their reactions and ask them to explain why they used the level of force they did,” Bechtel said. “It is extremely helpful for the students to be able to see their mistakes to be able to learn from them.” 

With the Security Forces career field currently in transition from the M9 Beretta pistol to the M18 SIG Sauer Modular Handgun System as part of the Air Force’s Reconstitute the Defender Initiative, the vendor created an M18 handgun model to use in the VR environment, giving future Defenders a first look at the weapon they will soon be carrying.

A key part of the partnership is the ability for the schoolhouse to provide feedback to the vendor in real-time and in turn, the company can make changes inside the virtual environment that can put an Airman at a certain Air Force base all the way down to very specific details.

“At our request, the vendor built a mockup of the Shaw Air Force Base main gate, including a beret-wearing Airman inside the scenario, as well as 3D printing an M-4 rifle to use in different scenarios to add realism,” Bechtel said. “Moving forward, we are hoping to get further into the use of the big data points, like how many students are using lethal force in certain scenarios and when, to see how we can further maximize each training event.”

The VR training has also created excitement amongst students, and for many, injected a natural learning tool.

“This is really cool training,” said Airman 1st Class Valric Suyom, a recent apprentice course graduate headed to Kadena Air Base, Japan. “I grew up playing video games and to be able to inject VR training into an operational setting was a natural transition for me.”

The MILO system was acquired by the Academy to put students in various interactive use of force training scenarios, including the potential application of deadly force, through the use of enhanced video screens.  

“The MILO really adds multiple dimensions to the training and helps present training in a way that is learner-centric,” said Tech. Sgt. Kathryn James, 343rd TRS instructor supervisor at the Security Forces apprentice course. “All of our students learn differently and we can incorporate different types of learning styles in one scenario, such as visual, auditory and kinesthetic.”

The SF Academy has six MILO systems in place at the Medina Annex training campus, including two 180-degree video theater systems, as well as four single-screen systems, James said.

A key feature of the system is that gives instructors the ability to dictate a scenario’s outcome in terms of what level of force is needed to be executed by the student as the exercise unfolds based off the student’s responses, which prevents them from having the ability to act in a pre-prescribed manner.

“This element really helps prepare our future Defenders for real-life scenarios because you never know what is going to happen when you respond to a situation,” James said. “Being able to inject outcomes into the scenario without the student being aware vice trying to direct role players as the scenario plays out personalizes each scenario, maximizing training.” 

As part of the three-day use of force training, students are expected to explain the decision-making process they used when determining the amount of force applied in the scenario.  With the MILO, instructors can pinpoint exactly when certain decisions were made by the student in reaction to the scenario on the screen, and even show those decision points in video playback to the students, James said.

“Using data from the system, we can break down for students at precise points where certain decisions might have been better made and acted on, which is something that is really difficult to do with live role-players.”

Another added benefit to having the MILO system is an increase in efficiency in terms of the number of system-based repetitions each student gets to experience.

“The ability to run students through more scenarios as opposed to having to set up each individual scenario using other students as live role players gives them more reps and practical application of the concepts we are trying to teach them,” James said.

One other benefit of the system that adds efficiency is the ability of instructors to replicate a training environment that students will find themselves in, such as a weapons storage area, or even a flight line.  This capability facilitates training without interrupting real-world operations.

“It’s very helpful that as instructors, we can go out and film new use of force scenarios right here at the Academy and put them into the system, making it tailorable to our needs in next to real-time,” James said.

Other uses for the MILO include weapons familiarization drills and courses of fire that replicate the Air Force’s weapons qualification courses.