Friday, September 12, 2008

The Air Force Embraces Virtual Worlds

The U.S. military has been at the forefront of exploring the uses of online gaming technology, primarily as a training tool. In January 2008, the Air Force published “On Learning: The Future of Air Force Education and Training,” a white paper from the Air Education and Training Command. The paper was notable because it laid out in some detail a proposal for an Air Force virtual world called MyBase.

Well, now there is an official RFP (request for proposal), with an October 3rd deadline. According to the Statement of Need, the proposed MyBase virtual world is rather limited in scope, with just 600 total users. Still, the Statement of Need envisions a fairly complete virtual world:

AETC requires a software application capable of simulating a training classroom on a typical Air Force base with both a flying and technical training mission. … The experience inside the virtual world will be 3D, geospatially accurate, and real-time. Users will participate in MyBase as avatars as well as take part in real-time live audio/video activities. The virtual world is persistent and when users are in-world, any changes they make to MyBase affect it forever forward and for all users until new changes occur. Users feel immersed in their experience as they engage with other users and content.

Returning to the white paper, the AETC foresaw a number of potential uses for MyBase.

Through an Avatar, Airmen will be afforded opportunities to participate in live, virtual and constructive learning opportunities in online classrooms, receive mentoring or personnel services, attend [Professional Military Education], participate in meetings, access knowledge bases, or collaborate on projects. Upon leaving the Air Force, some Airmen may even remain as valued mentors in the MyBase learning environment. …

Another appealing use of MyBase is assessing skills and aptitudes of new recruits:

Air Force systems must support the assessment and selection of the best and brightest to serve as future Airmen. Precise identification of viable recruits using advanced aptitude and skill assessment tools will ensure optimal selection and career field assignment and learning management systems will “push learning to the left.” The Airmen of Air Force 2.0 will supply the versatility and agility needed to increase Air Force combat capability in an era of smaller force levels and constrained financial resources to sustain them.

A program such a MyBase would allow targeted training exercises that can enhance and nurture decision-making abilities.

Advances in scenario-based virtual learning and decision simulation will mature and refine the learner’s innate talents and experiential skill sets, as well as give the learner an appreciation for the limits of software, hardware, and “brainware.” (pg. 13)

The paper shows recognition in the military that for today’s recruits a virtual world like MyBase will seem a familiar interface.

Our future Airmen are comfortable with these technologies and they will enjoy learning and working in these environments. Due to the sophisticated social networking websites in operation today, our newest Airmen will be extremely comfortable networking, collaborating, and learning through MyBase.

This MyBase project, along with other similar ventures underway or planned elsewhere in the military, will be worth watching to see how they develop and if they prove effective.