The University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies supports the mission of the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Organization (JIEDDO) to develop innovative methods for training threat assessment and how to counter threats during a dismounted patrol.

The Problem 

Threat assessment during dismounted patrol in the contemporary operational environment (COE) is a complex task that is typically mastered only through hours of on-the-job experience. While real-world dismounted patrols are vital to attacking insurgent networks and supporting friendly ones, learning how to identify and counter threats in that environment is dangerous and potentially deadly. Current training for threat assessment may include slide shows that introduce conceptual knowledge (such as the characteristics of a vulnerable point), why certain areas are vulnerable, and what ground signs might look like. Mission rehearsal exercises (MRXs) may review procedural knowledge, such as how to use specific equipment or how implement proper spacing techniques. What is missing, however, is the transition from the classroom to live training in a controlled practice environment that enables real-time assessment of mastery of critical concepts and procedures.

Addressing the Training Need

The Dismounted Interactive Counter-IED Environment for Training (DICE-T) is a prototype training application designed to introduce, reinforce and assess dismounted training concepts and principles in an engaging and immersive environment before live training and deployment. The DICE-T experience uses a combination of narrative video and immersive gameplay to deliver over-arching “first principles” related to threat assessment.

The current prototype has three different exercises or “missions.” Each mission is divided into three phases that emphasize critical components of dismounted patrol: planning a route, executing a patrol and countering threats, and mission debrief/AAR. The game scenarios represent real-world dismounted patrol situations, and trainees receive a video FRAGO describing the current threats in the area. As training progresses, difficulty and complexity of the missions escalate as more information is provided in the FRAGO. Each mission begins with a video that introduces threat-assessment concepts and highlights specific lessons for each phase.

During the initial planning phase, trainees learn to identify specific vulnerable points and vulnerable areas (VPs/VAs) on a two-dimensional map. They learn what experts are thinking when they are planning a route and then using touchscreen tablets, they are required to mark VPs/VAs on the game map. Then trainees use FRAGO information to help inform their planning and draw a patrol route.

The second phase emphasizes the proper execution of a patrol. In the video, the trainees learn how to identify threats from a first-person perspective. During their patrols they must continue to assess and identify threats, and also explain why they are dangerous along with how to counter threats in real time. The associated video content helps the trainees learn to be aware of ground signs and how to scan their environment for anomalies.

In the third phase the trainees review their responses to the threats. The after action review (AAR) describes the top five VPs/VAs identified or missed, other VPs/VAs identified, and provides feedback on trainees’ explanations of the dangers posed. Individuals can compare their performance during a group AAR at the end of the training session. Thus, DICE-T offers the unique capability of assessing trainee knowledge of and ability to identify and counter threats in real time.

Instructional Design and Assessment

DICE-T’s instructional design and assessment are informed by cognitive-task-analysis interviews of subject-matter experts, as well as observations of Counter-IED training and training support materials. One of the goals for DICE-T is to help novices think like experts before they are deployed. Novices experience a high cognitive load during classroom instruction when presented with the fire-hose of information typical of military training slide shows. When attempting to apply that conceptual knowledge in the field, they may have trouble remembering exactly what to do, when they should do it, or especially why. DICE-T’s instructional design thus incorporates the adult learning model referenced in Army Learning Concept 2015 (ALC 2015).

People learn how to use information more efficiently and remember that information when given real world problems to solve and when they are provided with scaffolded learning opportunities. DICE-T does exactly that: trainees use what they have learned in the classroom, think about what they would do during live training, and get a deeper understanding of the underlying principles of dismounted counter-IED behavior. Using evidence-based practices and assessment techniques for adult instruction, DICE-T provides an engaging element to traditional classroom instruction, and better prepares trainees for live exercises. DICE-T can serve as an effective “crawl” training phase, providing

Development and Deployment Cycle

The DICE-T v0.5 system is housed in a self-contained 45′ ISO Container with on-board generator. The trailer contains three training kiosks, each with four individual stations. Total training time is approximately 45-60 minutes. The system uses the Unity game engine and runs on Android tablets. The tablets communicate with each other and other system components via standard PCs. The research and development is being performed in a spiral process with the first v0.5 prototype being delivered in December 2011. This first prototype functions in single-player mode, and tracks all scores for AAR and assessment. The current v1.0 design includes multi-player modes with “blue vs. world” and “blue vs. red” game play, and could run on tablet or laptop PCs, both within a trailer or as a separate modular system. The ICT will investigate possible communication/integration with other game and narrative-based training systems.