The tension in the room was palpable as the prototype Gaming Environment for Air Readiness system was started. Program stakeholders leaned on the shoulders of anxious developers as Marines from Marine Air Support Squadron 1 prepared for their demonstration of the program. Unit leadership observed the Marines working through air traffic control scenarios while plotting points on their maps, giving commands to a simulated pilot programmed with artificial intelligence. The Marines who worked at the Direct Air Support Center trained only with a desktop computer instead of using a large amount of vehicles, equipment, personnel and time.
“The role of DASC is to control the airspace,” said Second Lieutenant Joseph B. Greer, an air support control officer with MASS-1 who was testing the GEAR. “While the planes are in this airspace, we are the ones telling them where to go and how they will go, such as the altitude or the specified route. We can eliminate conflicts between plane paths and other weapons of support, like artillery, just to make sure everyone gets to where they need to be safely.
“I’ve been at MASS-1 for almost a year, and I think it could be really beneficial for new Marines, myself included.” launches the corporal. Matthew R. Gignac, MASS-1 Air Support Operations Operator
Marines who work in the DASC have an important role in military exercises involving aircraft. Controlling the ebb and flow of airspaces requires extensive and ongoing training, which can often be difficult to implement and maintain.
“Just training personnel takes a lot of equipment, a lot of time, and over 60 Marines just to go out and do a live exercise,” said Kyle B. Tanyag, the GEAR program’s lead software developer. “I think [GEAR] would benefit the Marine Corps by allowing them to train without limiting them to just these live exercises.
Electronically replicating a DASC is no small feat, as many Marines must fill the roles necessary to operate the center. To complement this, the GEAR offers artificial intelligence characters to interact with the user.
“When I speak, there’s a text-to-speech function that’s sent to the AI,” Greer said. “From there, the AI selects the essential information from what I said and discerns an appropriate response in order to simulate what a pilot would say to me.”
“We call it a rules-based AI system,” Tanyag said. “The student is chatting something over text or responding by voice. We take that and analyze what was said or typed. The AI takes that input and, given the context of those messages, is able to respond.
Although still a prototype, the Marines of MASS-1 are optimistic about the potential impact the GEAR could have on training.
“I’ve been at MASS-1 for almost a year, and I think it could be really beneficial for new Marines, myself included,” said Lance Cpl. Matthew R. Gignac, an air support operations operator with MASS-1. “Doing it like this, in a less stressful environment, is really good training. If it was more developed, it could definitely help the Marines progress.
MASS-1 Marines will continue to test new versions to help determine if GEAR can potentially augment or replace traditional on-the-job training in the future.