How Lockheed Martin engineers in Havant are using gaming technology to train the armed forces

Ex-soldier Jonny Porter knows from experience that war games are hardly new.

Promoted by Lockheed Martin UK
Wednesday, 15th December 2021, 3:00 pm
Soldiers using Lockheed Martin equipment during Army Warfighting Experiment 2021 (AWE) held on Salisbury Plain in October
Soldiers using Lockheed Martin equipment during Army Warfighting Experiment 2021 (AWE) held on Salisbury Plain in October

He recalls: ‘Games have been used in the military environment for many, many years. As part of the planning process, we would have a war game where we would run through the operations we were about to conduct.’

But that simulation of scenarios has now been taken to a whole new level.

Jonny and his colleagues working for Lockheed Martin UK’s Rotary and Mission Systems (RMS), based in Havant, use gaming technology to create immersive virtual environments as training tools for the armed forces.

A soldier during virtual training

Virtual reality headsets and augmented reality goggles are being used by a generation of young servicemen and women who have grown up playing computer games.

Nigel Jones, UK RMS’s chief training system architect, explains: ‘Today people in the military are used to playing games and expect to train in an immersive, high-fidelity environment.

‘We have a number of training tools used within the services that are fundamentally based on games – something that when I started in this business would have been unthinkable.

‘But as computers and graphics have improved, the end result has become more realistic and aesthetically pleasing.

Jonny Porter, head of business development, Training and Logistic Solutions for Lockheed Martin UK’s Rotary and Mission Systems

‘Now if you’re a kid who’s interested in gaming, the gap between what you’re playing in your bedroom and what’s being used to train service personnel is narrowing.’

Jonny joined Lockheed Martin UK six months ago. He previously worked for another UK defence contractor and before that served 16 years in the Army, including tours of Iraq and Afghanistan.

UK RMS’s head of business development, Training and Logistic Solutions has seen from both sides how gaming technology has increasingly been applied to military training.

He says: ‘From a customer perspective, warfare is becoming more complex. There are more assets and elements in defence scenarios.

Nigel Jones, chief training system architect for Lockheed Martin UK’s Rotary and Mission Systems

‘What gaming allows us to do is to create complex training scenarios where the real physical asets are not required to be present.

‘Eg, a battalion of tanks training in a real environment are now able to add in other virtual assets, such as fighter jets.

‘In this day and age we can create very immersive, highly effective training environments. The games engines are the tools that our young engineers want to get the opportunity to work with and develop.

‘The beauty is that the games industry is able to invest a lot of money in games engines and games. It’s allowed computer-based training to evolve from very expensive bespoke applications.

Danny Wells, Software Engineer, Lockheed Martin UK Rotary and Mission Systems

‘We use virtual reality headsets and also augmented reality, where you look through goggles and see the real world but with images superimposed on top. It gives objects realistic behaviours.

‘Virtual reality is beginning to take off in the military. It’s an area that is rapidly developing as the resolution gets higher and higher.

‘The beauty of it is that you can create high fidelity in a very cost-effective manner.

‘For instance, if something changes in a vehicle then it can be updated in virtual reality. It’s so immersive that a soldier can believe they are sitting in a real vehicle.’

Jonny says augmented reality is still in the early stages of development. There is also the cost associated with headsets, although this is expected to come down.

He explains: ‘We have a variety of training simulations. Immersive virtual reality is where the virtual can see the live, but the live can’t see the virtual.

Lockheed Martin

That’s where augmented reality comes in. You can mix live and augmented reality, for instance superimposing a virtual tank and then telling a soldier where it is so that they can avoid getting run over by it.’

Nigel is another ex-soldier who joined Lockheed Martin about 17 years ago. He says he has seen’ massive change’ in that time.

‘The use of gaming technology is very much at the forefront at the moment. Computer games go right back to Pacman, but they seriously took off 25-30 years ago.

‘What we have seen since then is a very rapid advancement of both the computing power that people have at home and also the quality and sophistication of the games they play.

‘If you compare Pacman to something like Fortnite or Rocket League, it is self-evident that they have come a long way. Now people play on consoles, PCs, phones, tablets. Games are everywhere.’

Nigel adds: ‘The traditional approach to military training was high-end simulation, generally bespoke. That required an awful lot of work to make it resemble the equipment that was going to be used by the military.

‘But eight-10 years ago we began to see that some of the commercial games were far more capable and were being taken seriously in the military domain.

‘But however well a game is made, the chances are the developers don’t have access to real military equipment or data. We do, so we take that base gaming technology and develop it.

‘What we do is embrace what the game engine can do for us. We also work with SMEs who produce a lot of game content - things like the richness of terrain, how good the game looks.

‘The military are used to playing games and expect to train in an immersive, high-fidelity environment.’

It’s not just the Army that is benefiting from gaming technology. Nigel explains: ‘We’re also looking to see how this latest technology transfers across to the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force.

‘Virtual reality has always been recognised as very good for pilot training, because it is highly immersive and the fact that pilots spend a lot of time sitting in one place makes the modelling a lot easier.

‘Then, for instance, you have a loadmaster on a Chinook helicopter who needs to know how to operate the back ramp or fire rear-mounted weapons. That training can be done this way too.

‘Virtual reality and augmented reality can also be used for maintenance training, for example you can do walk-throughs of procedures and processes.’

Jonny adds: ‘Once you’d have had a sailor turning up on an aircraft carrier and getting totally lost. It would take them weeks to find their way around.

‘Now they can use a headset to have a virtual walk around the ship before they ever set foot on board.’

To find out more about Lockheed Martin UK, go to https://www.lockheedmartin.co.uk.

Company’s latest technology was demonstrated at AWE 21

Lockheed Martin UK was recently able to demonstrate some of its latest training tools at Army Warfighting Experiment 2021 (AWE) held on Salisbury Plain.

In October the army invited industry partners to showcase cutting edge technology and test a range of prototype systems by putting them in the hands of the user - personnel from a range of army units.

The Integrated Review has set the British Army on a course of evolution from an industrial age force to a digital age force.

The future battlefield will be different and the army will need to employ new and innovative training methods.

Jonny Porter, head of business development, Training and Logistic Solutions for Lockheed Martin UK’s Rotary and Mission Systems, explains: ‘We demonstrated how virtual reality headsets can be used to train soldiers in using armoured vehicles.

‘We also used augmented reality where we were giving soldiers hollow lenses and enabling them to see virtual elements on the ground.

‘One of the focuses at AWE this year was about using gaming technology to make military training more immersive. Next year the emphasis will be on conflict in built-up areas and tools that can make that more effective.’

Jonny adds: ‘We’ve had some really good feedback post-AWE. The next demonstration is at Tidworth with the Queen’s Royal Hussars, the armoured regiment equipped with Challenger 2 battle tanks.

‘We’re working with VR training prototypes, giving soldiers the opportunity to try them out. We’re really pushing the boundaries with VR, so we need the military to test it and give us their feedback.’

‘Increasingly, we now look for people who have games development degrees’

If you’re a graduate and are interested in gaming, then you don’t have to work for a commercial gaming company.

Why not put your skills to use developing training tools for the military?

Nigel Jones, chief training system architect for Lockheed Martin UK’s Rotary and Mission Systems, says: ‘When I started in this business we were looking for computer science graduates. But increasingly we now look for those who have games development degrees.

‘In my team it’s about 50/50 now. A lot of universities don’t have the financial clout to provide cutting edge gaming engines for their students to work with. But we can give them that opportunity.

‘They can do a variety of tasks and that creates a more rounded engineer. Making something highly immersive with graphics representing the real world requires a good skillset.’

Promoting STEM is important to ensure there are sufficient engineers in the future and Nigel adds: ‘We reach out to schools and offer apprenticeships and have graduate recruiting schemes. We have a raft of mechanisms we use to get the message across that Lockheed Martin is a modern, innovative employer.

‘Because without the right people, we can’t put our products in front of customers.’

To find out more about working for Lockheed Martin UK, go to https://www.lockheedmartin.com/en-gb/careers.html

‘My role gives me the opportunity to showcase my work internationally’

By Danny Wells, Software Engineer, Lockheed Martin UK Rotary and Mission Systems

I discovered my love of gaming at the age of two when I was given my first games console, the Sega Mega Drive II.

At school I was keen to get into the gaming industry so I joined Bucks New University to complete a BSc degree in Games Development.

As I learnt more about the applications of developing software, I was drawn more to careers that could use Virtual Reality (VR) and simulation to improve people’s lives through enhanced, more efficient and safer training.

After achieving my first-class degree with honours, I joined the Research & Development team at Lockheed Martin. There I worked with a lot of games technology, creating scenarios for training and developing plug-ins for specific functionality in simulations.

I also worked extensively with various other technologies including virtualisation, web development, application development, databases and constructive simulations.

During my time at Lockheed Martin, I’ve been able to use a wide range of tools for development, including games engines such as Unity3D and Unreal Engine 4.

I’ve learnt various programming languages including C#, C++, and Java. Combined. I use these tools to develop prototypes that can be visualised in Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR) and other applications, as best suited to the customer requirements.

The job role gives me the opportunity to showcase my work internationally. I attend various tradeshows, including IITSEC which takes place in Orlando, Florida each year and gives me time to network with the wider Lockheed Martin team.

ITEC also focuses on simulation and training and has taken place in Sweden, Germany and the Netherlands. Both trade shows allow me to meet and collaborate with other specialists in my field.

To enhance my defence knowledge, I also attend DSEI, which takes place in London, and allows me to see the latest in defence technology.

We use these trade shows to demonstrate the capabilities our team develop throughout the year. We can get our customers, including senior ranking personnel and our senior leadership team, to use the prototypes we’ve designed and developed.

The feedback I receive from these events allows me to learn and develop. I can also see first-hand how the work I’m doing is improving the customer’s skills and ability to effectively perform tasks in their role.This is the reason I continue to enjoy the work I do.

As part of a media partnership, www.portsmouth.co.uk has been featuring a series of articles about Lockheed Martin UK and the people who work there.