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Ryan Robertson

Investigative Reporter/Anchor

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Military

US Air Force using mixed reality to train new pilots: Weapons and Warfare

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Ryan Robertson

Investigative Reporter/Anchor

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In the second episode of Weapons and Warfare, step into the cockpit of a U.S. Air Force Huey helicopter and learn about the latest in mixed reality learning. This video game-like experience is part of the branch’s effort to streamline and modernize training for the next generation of Air Force helicopter pilots.

Also featured in this episode:

  • Funding for the war effort in Ukraine is running out, but the U.S. is still helping where it can as 500 Ukrainian soldiers arrive in Germany to train with American troops.
  • Tensions are rising on the Korean Peninsula as the North fires artillery rounds into a disputed boundary with the South. Both sides are using derisive language and blaming one another.
  • As the U.S. continues to provide military aid, the Naval Research Laboratory is taking steps toward a shift to clean energy by using hydrogen to power unmanned aircraft.
  • The U.S. Army has made its choice: Close-contact troops are going to use Sig Sauer’s replacements for the M4 and the M249 rifles.

You can subscribe to the Weapons and Warfare podcast on the platform of your choosing here.

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[RYAN ROBERTSON]

OKAY…WELCOME FOLKS TO ANOTHER EDITION OF WEAPONS AND WARFARE, FOR STRAIGHT ARROW NEWS I’M RYAN ROBERTSON. WE HAVE A LOT TO GET TO THIS WEEK….YOU’LL FIND OUT WHAT MADE ME SICK IN NATIONAL HARBOR MARYLAND…OUR WEAPON OF THE WEEK IS REALLY A THREE-FER…AND WE’LL WRAP UP THE SHOW WITH A LIGHT-HEARTED LOOK AT WHAT THE HECK THE WHITE HOUSE IS THINKING… BUT AS WE ALWAYS DO…LET’S BEGIN WITH SOME NEWS NUGGETS YOU MAY HAVE MISSED.
WE START IN GRAFENWOEHR, GERMANY WHERE AROUND 500 UKRAINIAN SOLDIERS ARE NOW TRAINING WITH AMERICAN TROOPS. THIS AS THE SECOND ANNIVERSARY OF RUSSIA’S FULL INVASION INTO UKRAINE NEARS.

THE JOB OF TRAINING THE UKRAINIANS FALLS TO THE 155TH ARMORED BRIGADE FROM THE MISSISSIPPI ARMY NATIONAL GUARD. THE 155TH RECENTLY TOOK OVER FOR AN ARKANSAS NATIONAL GUARD UNIT THAT OVERSAW THE TRAINING OF MORE THAN 7.500 UKRAINIAN TROOPS OVER THE PAST NINE MONTHS.

[COL. Michael Dykes, Commander, Task Force Thunder]
“I would like to thank Major General Taran and the Ukrainian Government for their trust in the United States government and the United States military, our NATO allies, our European allies and the Thunder Brigade for allowing us to train your soldiers to help better prepare them for victory.”

[RYAN ROBERTSON]

WITH AMERICAN FUNDING FOR WEAPONS AND AMMUNITION HAVING DRIED UP FROM WASHINGTON D.C., THIS KIND OF TRAINING REMAINS ONE WAY THE U.S. IS ABLE TO CONTINUE HELPING UKRAINE IN ITS EFFORTS TO PUSH BACK THE RUSSIAN INVASION.

TENSIONS REMAIN HIGH ON THE BORDER OF NORTH AND SOUTH KOREA. ACCORDING TO MULTIPLE REPORTS THE NORTH KOREANS RECENTLY STOKED THE FLAMES BY FIRING ARTILLERY SHELLS AT THE SEA BOUNDARY BETWEEN THE TWO COUNTRIES.

FOR THEIR PART, THE NORTH KOREANS ADMITTED TO FIRING NEARLY 100 ROUNDS NEAR THE DISPUTED BOUNDARY. HOWEVER THEY DENIED SHOOTING AN ADDITIONAL 60 ROUNDS THE FOLLOWING DAY. ALL OF THAT WAS FOLLOWED BY MULTIPLE ROUNDS OF RHETORIC FROM EACH SIDE WHICH PUTS A 2018 AGREEMENT BETWEEN THE TWO NATIONS AT RISK. THAT WAS A DEAL TO EASE PRESSURE ON EACH COUNTRY’S DEFENSES. MANY EXPERTS POINT TO SOUTH KOREA’S UPCOMING ELECTIONS IN APRIL AS MOTIVATION FOR THE NORTH TO PROVOKE TO PROVOKE THE SOUTH.
CLEAN ENERGY, IT’S A TERM NOT OFTEN ASSOCIATED WITH THE U.S. MILITARY BUT THERE IS AN EFFORT UNDERWAY TO CHANGE THAT. THE U.S. NAVAL RESEARCH LABORATORY IS HELPING LEAD THE CHARGE TO PUT HYDROGEN FUEL CELLS TO WORK. THE LAB AND ITS PARTNERS ARE HELPING TO DEVELOP HYDROGEN POWER UNITS TO POWER THE MARINE CORPS’ STALKER UNMANNED AIRCRAFT.

[Rick Stroman, NRL Alternative Energy Section]

“A hydrogen fuel cell takes hydrogen fuel and air from the environment and combines the two. This produces two things: electricity and water. It’s like an internal combustion engine where you are burning fuel. In this case we are not burning the hydrogen, but combining it electrochemically with the oxygen in the air. This process is much more efficient and you acquire electricity directly.”

[RYAN ROBERTSON]

IN ADDITION TO REDUCING CARBON EMISSIONS, THE APPEAL FOR OPERATORS CAN BE SEEN IN FLIGHTS THAT ARE SUBSTANTIALLY LONGER THAN A BATTERY POWERED ELECTRIC AIRCRAFT. THE PROJECT COULD ALSO HELP THE MARINE CORPS REACH THEIR GOAL OF REDUCING THE NEED FOR LIQUID FOSSIL FUEL BY 50 PERCENT BY 2025.

TRAINING. THE WORD ALONE CAN SEND EVEN THE MOST ENTHUSIASTIC OF PROFESSIONALS RUNNING FOR COVER. BUT NOT ALL TRAINING INVOLVES A BEIGE CONFERENCE ROOM AND A SPREAD OF STALE DONUTS. FOR SOME SOON-TO-BE PILOTS IN THE AIR FORCE, THE NEXT EVOLUTION OF TRAINING LOOKS LIKE SOMETHING STRAIGHT OUT OF ‘READY PLAYER ONE’

IT’S THE KIND OF SET-UP THAT WOULD LOOK RIGHT AT HOME IN A DAVE AND BUSTER’S. FOR AIRMEN TRAINING TO BECOME THE AIR FORCE’S NEXT GENERATION OF HELICOPTER PILOTS, THIS AUGMENTED REALITY IS THE NEW REALITY OF PILOT TRAINING.

[Maj. Paul Ferris]
It’s modeled off the TH-1H Huey helicopter. And it uses basically combined virtual and mixed reality environment where students are able to train and actually flip switches and see their hands.

[RYAN ROBERTSON]

THIS SYSTEM HAS BEEN IN USE BY THE AIR FORCE FOR A FEW YEARS NOW, AND THE PEOPLE INVOLVED SAY THE BENEFITS ARE NUMEROUS.

[Dennis Wilkoff | Vertex Solutions President, COO]

It best replicates the actual operational environment, it allows us to provide, essentially, on the job training.

[Maj. Paul Ferris]

We use it for all types of profiles, emergency procedures, training, instrument training, and then eventually what we’re trying to do is get it where we’ll have multiple devices that can be paired together, they supply information on a mission environment.

[RYAN ROBERTSON]
PERHAPS MOST OBVIOUS ADVANTAGE, IT’S A MORE COST EFFECTIVE WAY TO GET PROSPECTIVE PILOTS INTO A SEAT FOR MEANINGFUL HANDS ON TRAINING.

[Maj. Paul Ferris]

If you think about the normal simulators, they level the motion simulators, you know, those costs a lot of money for their for us, if we can have something you can see it’s a very small footprint. We can put it in in a student room, and students are able to use it and have easy access to it. That’s a big one for the Air Force.

[RYAN ROBERTSON]
THAT TRAINING IS ALSO HELPING GRADUATE STUDENT PILOTS AT A FASTER RATE. AN AIR FORCE TIMES ARTICLE FROM 2019 REPORTS THE FIRST CLASS TO PUT THIS TECHNOLOGY TO USE GRADUATED A FULL SIX WEEKS AHEAD OF SCHEDULE.

One of the truly great things about this multiplayer mixed reality trainer is the fact that it combines tactile feel with virtual reality. I have my cyclic, I have my collective, I have my tailrotor pedals and then when I put on my goggles, I’m fully immersed in a both mixed and virtual reality ahead of me, I can see what appears to be the airfield. But I also have all of my equipment right here at my side. And if I wanted to, I can take off.

[Dennis Wilkoff | Vertex Solutions President, COO]

The head mounted displays HMDs have video pass-through like 4k cameras that we can distinguish what pixels are looking at the physical environment, what pixels should be fired as a virtual reality. And that allows us to seamlessly mesh the physical environment, physical hands switches with a virtual reality output.

[RYAN ROBERTSON]
IN 2021 THE AIR FORCE OVERHAULED IT’S HELICOPTER TRAINING PROGRAM. SINCE THE EARLY 1990s HELICOPTER PILOTS HAD TO COMPLETE FIXED WING TRAINING BEFORE MOVING ONTO HELICOPTER TRAINING. THAT OLD REQUIREMENT IS NO LONGER IN PLACE.

[Maj. Paul Ferris]

And the reason behind that is you’re focusing on core competencies of being a helicopter pilot, I don’t need to teach a helicopter pilot how to go upside down or do anything like that. Or actually, you know, that would be very bad if he did. So by teaching them how to hover and the operation of flying the helicopter is really one that saves us lots of time, which translates to money overall. So we’ve really revitalized our pipeline.

[RYAN ROBERTSON]
IT’S A CHANGE, AT LEAST IN PART, THE AIR FORCE HOPES WILL LURE MORE PROSPECTIVE PILOTS TO SIGN ON THE DOTTED LINE. A RECENT REPORT IN THE SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS NEWS DETAILED THE BRANCH’S SHORTFALL OF 2,000 PILOTS. IT’S A PROBLEM THAT’S PUSHING AIR FORCE LEADERS TO GET APPROVAL FOR FIVE AND SIX FIGURE RETENTION BONUSES.

WHILE THAT’S NOT SOMETHING IMMEDIATELY AVAILABLE, THE OPPORTUNITY TO TRAIN WITH THE LATEST TECHNOLOGY IS.

[Dennis Wilkoff | Vertex Solutions President, COO]

I think this approach is really going to revolutionize aviation training in general. Once we can get to a level where we can get FAA certification, it will create the ability where now pilots don’t have to travel to a centralized training facility. We can because they’re lightweight, low cost, we can put this locally. And so pilots can get their check rides and simulators in their own neighborhoods, spend more time generating revenue flights. And so we’re going to see greater access to training makes better pilots.

[Ryan Robertson]

CHRISTMAS MAY BE GONE, BUT AMERICA’S GROUND TROOPS WILL SOON BE GETTING A NEW LITTLE SOMETHING IN 2024.

[RALPHIE ‘A CHRISTMAS STORY]

“AN OFFICIAL RED RYDER, CARBINE ACTION, 200 SHOT ROUND AIR RIFLE!

[Ryan Robertson]

NO, NOT THE RED RYDER, INSTEAD IT’S SOMETHING WITH A LITTLE MORE KICK.

MEET THE M7 AND THE M250, BOTH BUILT BY SIG SAUER. AFTER 27 MONTHS OF TESTING AND EVALUATIONS, THEY WERE SELECTED AS THE NEXT GENERATION OF RIFLES FOR AMERICA’S CLOSE-CONTACT TROOPS. ADD TO THAT THE M157 FIRE CONTROL, MADE BY VORTEX OPTICS, AND UNCLE SAM’S FRONT-LINE OPERATORS WILL BE ARMED WITH WEAPONS THAT SHOULD BE A SIGNIFICANT STEP UP FROM THEIR PREDECESSORS, THE M4 AND THE M249.

THE M7, KNOWN THROUGH THE TESTING PHASE AS THE XM5, AND THEN THE XM7, BEAT OUT COMPETITION FROM GENERAL DYNAMICS-OTS AND TEXTRON SYSTEMS TO BECOME THE LONG-AWAITED REPLACEMENT FOR THE M4 AND ITS PREDECESSOR, THE M16. ON THE SURFACE LEVEL THE CHANGE TO THE M7 MIGHT BE A HEAD-SCRATCHER FOR SOME. IT’S LONGER, WEIGHS MORE, AND CARRIES FEWER ROUNDS. BUT MILITARY BRASS SAYS THE CHANGE FROM A 5.56MM ROUND TO THE NEW 6.8MM CARTRIDGE WILL HELP IMPROVE ACCURACEY, RANGE AND STOPPING POWER. ADD TO THAT THE NEW ROUNDS CAN REPORTEDLY PENETRATE RUSSIAN AND CHINESE BODY ARMOR AND IT APPEARS THE MILITARY’S FRONT-LINE COMBAT TROOPS COULD SOON HAVE AN ADDED ADVANTAGE WHEN THE BULLETS START FLYING.

NEXT UP, THE M250. REPLACING THE M249 SQUAD AUTOMATIC WEAPON.

COMING IN AT A FULL FOUR POUNDS LESS THAN IT’S PREDESSESOR THE M250 IS A MAJOR LEAP FORWARD FOR SEVERAL REASONS. IT’S MORE ERGONOMIC, HAS AN IMPROVED GAS SYSTEM AND WILL DELIVER THE SAME 6.8MM CARTRIDGE AS THE M7. WITH AN IMPROVED BI-POD MADE OF TITAINIUM AND AN EASIER LOADING OPERATION, IT’S A USER-FRIENDLY WEAPON ALMOST RIGHT OUT OF THE BOX. HOW FRIENDLY? A SOLDIER WITH THE ARMY’S 75th RANGER REGIMENT SAID “I would certainly take this weapon into combat today.”

AND THAT BRINGS US TO WHAT MANY ARE CALLING THE REAL GAME CHANGER, THE M157 FIRE CONTROL SYSTEM. IF THE NAME IS CONFUSING, THE OPTIC AND IT’S OPERATION ARE NOT. IN THE SIMPLEST TERMS IT IS A HIGH-TECH SCOPE AND COMMUNICATION SYSTEM DESIGNED TO IMPROVE THE SKILL LEVEL OF THE OPERATORS USING IT BY COMBINING THE LATEST TECHNOLOGY WITH ACTUAL OPTICS TO INCREASE THE RANGE OF EFFECTIVENESS BY HUNDREDS OF METERS. FOR ALL OF THE HIGH-TECH ELEMENTS, THE MAKERS OF THE M157 WANT TO MAKE SURE IT’S NOT KNOWN AS A “SMART SCOPE” THAT’S BECAUSE SHOULD THE POWER IN THE UNIT FAIL, THE OPTICS ARE STILL USABLE, WHICH IS A BIG DEAL IN A FIREFIGHT. BUT THAT’S A “JUST IN CASE” FEATURE.

BUILT WITH SMALLER AND MORE ROBUST PARTS THE IDEA IS THE M157 WILL BE AS RELIABLE AS THE RIFLE IT SITS ON. SO WHAT CAN USERS EXPECT? IN A FRACTION OF A SECOND THE FIRE CONTROL SYSTEM CAN SENSE DIRECTION, WIND, ELEVATION, AND BULLET DROP, ALLOWING THE OPERATOR TO PUT SITES ON THE ENEMY IN THE BLINK OF AN EYE. IT ALSO HAS THE ABILITY TO CONNECT WITH OTHER DEVICES TO SHARE THE PICTURE THE OPERATOR IS LOOKING AT OR RECEIVE IMAGES AND INFORMATION FROM OTHER TEAM MEMBERS, GIVING THE USER A CLEARER PICTURE OF THE BATTLEFIELD.

SO, WHO GETS THE NEW STUFF FIRST? THE ARMY SAYS THEY PLAN FOR THE 101st AIRBORNE DIVISION TO BE THE FIRST UNIT EQUIPPED THE NEXT GENERATION SQUAD WEAPONS BY MARCH OF THIS YEAR.

TIME FOR COMMS CHECK, WHERE WE TAKE A DEEPER DIVE ON YOUR QUESTIONS ON THE STORIES WE’RE REPORTING. FIRST UP…

POST: “THE U.S. NAVY IS LEADING AN INTERNATIONAL COALITION TO END THE HOUTHI THREAT IN THE RED SEA.”
QUESTION/COMMENT: @diogenes-ty9yy no AKA ”We give a military operation a name and then we simply pretend like we’re doing something while we don’t do anything? SMH…”

POST: “DESPITE HEAVY LOSSES, PUTIN BELIEVES THAT THE RUSSIAN WAR MACHINE IS BIG ENOUGH TO HANDLE IT.”
QUESTION/COMMENT: “@calebmahoney2448 aka Caleb “Russia’s goal has already been met. They are simply holding the lines now as their goal has already been met. Under no metric can you spin this to say they are losing, they already won.”