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.