Augmented Reality Advances Battlefield Mission System Support
Advancements in augmented reality (AR) technology are redefining how modern military units train, maintain, and support operations, enabling subject matter support from around the world that previously required in-person expertise.
Imagine a U.S. Army unit deploys abroad to operate critical equipment left in place by the previous unit. The equipment rapidly develops a technical issue, but no field support representative (FSR) is available on site to consult. Troubleshooting over the phone with the new unit technicians results in little progress resolving the issue.
“One of the issues I experienced as director of the Joint Improvised Threat Defeat Organization was units [would] show up in theater having never seen or trained with new equipment,” said retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael H. Shields, who is now CACI’s Senior Vice President of Technology and Strategy Implementation. “Or worse, they fall in on inoperable equipment, putting U.S., coalition, or host nation forces at risk. AR can bridge that gap.”
In 2020, the global coronavirus pandemic significantly hampered the ability of FSRs to travel both to domestic posts and locations outside the continental U.S. to provide onsite assistance for mission-critical technology, resulting in an increase in problem resolution time. Even just a few hours of system downtime can potentially add significant risk to base and personnel protection missions, so CACI engineers quickly innovated to help solve this challenge.
Rapidly developed and tested over three months in late 2020, CACI’s Remote Support Kit (RSK) allows support engineers and FSRs to securely view the problem through the eyes of the deployed operator from a remote support factory location in the U.S., using AR technology.
How It Works
Remote assistance for a deployed counter-unmanned aircraft system (C-UAS) capability, for example, is visualized in real time on either a smartphone or the Microsoft HoloLens 2 mixed reality headset. The Army unit technician abroad contacts the C-UAS help desk and quickly arranges a remote support call to troubleshoot the issue. Using the RSK, factory technicians in the U.S. can see what the Army unit technician sees in real time, with a virtual overlay placed over the equipment to guide the field technician performing the hands-on troubleshooting. The remote expert draws instructions onto the technician’s live video stream, and within minutes they discover a slightly damaged connector is causing the problem. The Army technician quickly replaces it with a spare part and the C-UAS system is returned to full operation in less than an hour.
“We have over 700 C-UAS systems deployed in various remote environments around the world,” says Tom Councell, CACI’s Senior Vice President for Tactical and C-UAS Solutions. “If an issue arises, a systems technician or FSR in the field can rapidly apply the remote support team’s instructions from an AR overlay, giving them a feeling of having an expert standing right next to them. It’s a game-changer for remote engineering support and remote training delivery that eases the operator’s job and reduces system sustainment costs. The kit can be configured to support any equipment a customer wishes.”
Securing Support Communications
Tom Germani, CACI’s Executive Director for Global Solutions Technical Operations, says a secure communication link is a critical element to assure mission integrity. “Our proprietary secure tunnel technology encrypts and obfuscates location and virtual private network (VPN) traffic for operation in the most contested environments. The anonymous router provides cellular connectivity to more than 130 countries right out of the box.”
Preparing for Future Challenges
According to Erik Grant, CACI’s Advanced Solutions Chief Engineer, over the coming years extended reality (XR) and AR technology will transform how we interact with, control, and consume information. “We are incorporating more virtual and mixed reality technology into our products and solutions as we design and execute our future technical roadmaps. This will allow operators to both utilize our capabilities in more innovative ways and radically change our support abilities for the better.”
When the global pandemic subsides, just as remote work has increasingly become a more widely adopted long-term model for workplaces, the RSK and other AR technologies will also help reduce the ongoing need for FSRs to physically travel, helping the U.S. military rapidly adapt to new emerging challenges in the future.