Looks like enlisted gamers can now look forward to playing a video game as part of training. But while the idea sounds fun, the million-dollar question here is… would it effectively prepare the Marines for the real-life scenario?

Last week, Marines from Marine Air Support Squadron 1 (MASS-1) conducted a demonstration test on a video game-based training prototype that would allow future airspace control personnel to train virtually.

Program stakeholders responsible for developing the Gaming Environment for Air Readiness (GEAR) System stood anxiously as unit leaders from the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (MAW) watched the Marines work through air-control scenarios of the virtual simulation.

2MAW Marines Train Using Video Games
A Department of Defense contractor (left) demonstrates to a Marine officer (right) how to navigate through the GEAR system on July 28. (Image source: US Marine Corps/DVIDS)

GEAR allows the Marines working in the Direct Air Support Center (DASC) to train with only a desktop computer instead of using many vehicles, equipment, personnel, and time—which can sometimes be very costly.

During the demonstration, Marines navigated through scenarios where they were tasked to plot points on their maps and give orders to simulated characters programmed to emulate real-life pilots with the leverage of artificial intelligence.

“The role of the DASC is to control airspace,” said 2Lt. Joseph B. Greer, an air-support control officer with MASS-1. “While aircraft are in that airspace, we’re the ones who are telling them where to go and how they will go, as in altitude or specified route. We can deconflict aircraft paths with other support arms, like artillery, just to make sure that everyone’s getting where they need to be safety.”

Founded in 1943, the MASS-1 provides the DASC, including planning, receiving, coordination, and processing coordination requests for direct or close air support who are then tasked to support ground force operations. Airspace management necessitates extensive and continuous training, which can be challenging to implement and maintain, and the GEAR system could be solving just that.

“Just to train personnel takes a lot of equipment, a lot of time, and upwards of 60 Marines just to go out and do a live exercise,” said Kyle B. Tanyag, the lead software developer for the GEAR program.

Tanyag added: “I think [GEAR] would benefit the Marine Corps by allowing them to train without restricting them to just these live exercises.”

However, developers of the simulation training admit tons of challenges in making the GEAR system as nearly perfect as possible since “DASC is not easy to replicate” and would require sophisticated AI.

“When I speak, there’s a speech-to-text feature sent to the AI,” Greer explained. “From there, the AI picks out the critical pieces of information from what I spoke and discerns a proper response in order to simulate what a pilot would be saying to me.”

Tanyag, on the other hand, called this process a rule-based AI system where “students either text chats something or responds via voice.”

“We take that and parse through what was said or typed,” he added. “The AI takes that input, and given the context of those messages, is able to respond.”

2MAW Marines Train Using Video Games
Department of Defense contractors conduct an orientation about the GEAR system at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina. (Image source: US Marine Corps/DVIDS)

This is just one of the many vital military exercises the USMC conducts to ensure the Marines maintain top-notch status and are always on their toes, especially when a dire situation calls it.

GEAR system, while still a prototype, the Marines of MASS-1 are looking forward to the “potential impact” of the training this simulation could offer.

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“I’ve been at MASS-1 for almost a year, and I think this could be really beneficial for newer Marines, myself included,” said Lance Cpl. Matthew R. Gignac, an air-support operations operator with MASS-1. “Doing it like this, in a way less stressful environment, makes it really good training. If it was more developed it could definitely help progress Marines.”

Game-based learning has already gained popularity in educational institutions worldwide. Some even proved that it had helped students—serving as a platform where they can put their theoretical knowledge into practice. So to answer the question above: it’s a yes and maybe. Yes, it will provide a platform for MASS-1 to advance their skills ahead of real-life combat situations and expand their experiential skills… and perhaps because one can never know how to handle a grave situation unless placed under pressure—not until lives are on the line.

For now, though, the MASS-1 will continue to test new versions to provide feedback and help determine if video game-based systems “can potentially augment or replace traditional on-the-job training in the future.”

What do you guys think? Let us know in the comments below.