U.S. Military Expands VR Medical Training for Soldier Medics

Air Force and Space Force boost investment in SimX virtual training technology.

(Image source: SimX.)

(Image source: SimX.)

The U.S. military continues to invest in virtual reality (VR) technology to train its forces. It has awarded more than $1.5 million in four new contracts to SimX to develop training solutions for special operations personnel in the Air Force and Space Force.

SimX is perhaps best known for its VR medical simulation technology system, which is already in use by institutions such as Stanford University, the Mayo Clinic and Children’s National Hospital. The company is now adapting its commercially available technology for military use.

The SimX technology platform allows trainees to work together in a multiplayer VR setting, either together in a training facility or remotely using a “holodeck-like” setting (for you Star Trek fans). The immersive interface doesn’t use dropdown menus or virtual selection tools. Instead, participants talk to and interact with virtual patients in very much the same way they would if they were physically present with the subject.

The new contracts will focus mainly on enhancing the SimX system to train military medics to hand off patients between care providers, train missions that will involve multiple teams of caregivers working simultaneously, and train medics in changing and realistic environments such as challenging weather conditions and night operations. The funding will also go toward enhancing the system’s ability to provide more customized and adaptable training capacity and giving the system more capability to train soldier medics for in-flight medicine during airborne and space operations for both the Air Force and Space Force.

The training will be given to the soldiers of the Air Force’s 24th Special Operations Wing (24 SOW), which includes pararescuers, combat controllers, medics and special ops surgical teams stationed around the world. These personnel will undergo VR training for a wide variety of scenarios from routine care to casualty care. The SimX system will also be deployed at the 24 SOW’s Special Operations Center for Medical Integration and Development at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, a training facility that uses realistic and innovative techniques to keep its personnel mission-ready.

Demonstration of the SimX VR training platform.

VR has become an important tool during the pandemic because it allows health care providers to treat people while reducing face-to-face interaction with infected patients—a feature that also enables medical training in a safe environment. The U.S. military is no different. The SimX system is already in use by the military, adapting COVID-19 cases from its civilian side for military training purposes.

The new contracts are part of the $2.5 million research and development program called Virtual Advancement of Learning and Operational Readiness (VALOR).

“The VALOR program is helping to increase overall medical capability and has the potential to improve survival rates in combat casualties,” said USAF Col. John R. Dorsch, wing surgeon of the 24 SOW and USAF pararescue medical director. “Expanding and innovating capabilities is critical for ensuring the highest level of combat trauma and austere medical care is provided by our special operators and medical personnel.”

The U.S. military has been exploring VR training, having published a white paper in 2019 on the technology’s potential. The COVID-19 pandemic seems to have boosted the Pentagon’s interest in the technology.

Read more about advancements in virtual reality at VR Project Offers Virtual Tour of Simulated Life on Mars.