The Australian Defence Force wants to train its soldiers with VR

Using virtual reality to make soldiers emotionally optimal on the field sounds like a plotline lifted right out of a sci-fi film. Or indeed, an actual episode of Black Mirror. Alas, stranger than fiction, we find ourselves in the midst of VR psychological resilience training programs that are very much about to happen. Australia’s Minister for Defence, Christopher Pyne, has announced that they have given $2.2 million to finance the University of Newcastle’s project aimed at developing enhanced emotional and psychological resilience training that will use VR and biometrics.

The project, which sees neuroscientists designing environments that mirror real-world combat situations, has been led by Associate Professors Rohan Walker and Eugene Nalivaiko. The hope is that it will make soldiers build up resilience to the pressures of psychologically stressful situations, allowing superiors to monitor their progress and identify when they’re ready for deployment.

“The idea will be that trainees can master the skill in a measurable situation where we can control the difficulty of the task to ensure they’re prepared before moving to a real-world conflict situation,” Nalivaiko said in a press statement. “What tends to be challenging is where difficult experiences are beyond the individual’s ability to control them.”the_australian_defence_force_wants_to_train_its_soldiers_with_vr_-_2

So while soldiers may be combat ready, they might not be psychologically ready for deployment which could cause obvious problems during stressful situations.

“It’s imperative our troops are forearmed with strategies to ensure they remain in control of the situation and are equipped with the skills to make a level-headed decision,” Nalivaiko continued in the statement.

Talking to Mashable, Walker gave the example of a helicopter situation with casualties on board, in itself raising three very stressful experiences in one situation. Not only would emergency responders or paramedics have to deal with the fact that they may be in a conflict zone, they have to deal with a helicopter landing, but they also have to rapidly triage what might be very significant injuries.”

The resilience training program will work in conjunction with the Battle Smart method that the Australian Defence Force have already put in place for their soldiers. The aim of the program, the paper says, is to encourage optimal emotional and behavioural outcomes in response to adverse events that are considered to promote resilient psychological functioning. The VR training program is likely to help test whether their initial reaction to a situation is the best response – that way superiors can identify methods to change or adjust their responses if needed.

The use of VR seems to be finding a comfortable home in the military, with the British Army only last year announcing that their VR experience had increased applications by a massive 66%. Recruitment to the army reserve is notoriously challenging and their YouTube 360 VR campaign definitely made a big impact.

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