The U.S. Air Force recently held a wargame that saw pilots flying simulated missions that involved the combined use of podded airborne laser weapons and two undisclosed “future kinetic concepts” in a virtual reality battlefield environment. The wargame highlights the service’s efforts to develop virtual testing environments for use in weapon systems development and its increasing interest in using these digital spaces for use in training.

According to an Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) press release, the wargame was conducted at Kirtland Air Force Base between January 24 and 28 in conjunction with AFRL’s Munitions Directorate. It was held as part of the joint Directed Energy and Kinetic Energy Directed Energy Utility Concept Experiment, or DEKE DEUCE, which is designed to explore “synergies between directed energy and kinetic concepts in the future battlespace.” This most recent experiment saw pilots, weapon systems officers, and air battle managers teaming together to operate in a series of what AFRL calls “virtual vignettes” that explored the combined use of “an airborne high energy laser pod and two future kinetic concepts.”

Lockheed Martin

An artist’s conception of a future fight jet shooting down a threat with a laser.

Rusty Coleman, an AFRL’s Munitions Directorate technical advisor, said the experiment offered a unique opportunity to put the directorate’s kinetic weapons concepts in front of pilots and other personnel. “It allowed us to see novel employment concepts that we could not have seen otherwise,” Coleman said. “The pilots virtually flying the aircraft provided feedback beyond what we could have gotten from any other venue.”

There has been growing interest within the Air Force in using virtual reality to augment training, although there has been some pushback from pilots about the reliance on these simulations. “VR has proven to be a tremendous tool for showing specific sight pictures that would otherwise be impossible to show via 2D pictures and traditional academic material,” a spokesperson for the 355th Wing told The War Zone last year, adding that “communities all across the Air Force are starting to adopt similar platforms for multiple different career fields.”

Dr. Darl Lewis, an AFRL wargaming principal investigator, said the experiment brought together various Department of Defense research communities to explore how “next-generation” weapons technologies might work alongside one another. “An urgent need exists to rapidly field and integrate viable next-generation weapons, both DE and KE [(directed energy and kinetic energy)], in response to increasing capabilities and aggressive intentions from our adversaries,” Lewis said. “This DEUCE focused on identifying capability and joint integration gaps that can be addressed by systems under consideration, as well as potential future tactics and procedures.”

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