What Is the Use of VR in Military Applications? 8 Examples Making the Biggest Impacts
Military use of VR often yields better results for fewer resources.
Articles | Use Case | Training/Simulation
8 min read
The use of VR in military institutions has grown significantly over the years, with billions of dollars invested  across the United States Army, Navy, and Air Force. The goal? To increase recruitment numbers, drive down training costs, and ultimately produce more effective soldiers. VR military applications range from eye-catching demonstrations of the cutting-edge technology employed in military service to immersive combat simulations that prepare recruits for the myriad challenges they may face in the line of duty.
Exactly how is VR used in the military? Read on to learn about eight notable instances of VR contributing to military recruiting and training.
VR and Military Recruiting
Military recruitment has proven a greater challenge in recent years  , pushing all three branches to innovate in their methods. That’s why drumming up recruitment leads has become a vital application of virtual reality in military contexts. Virtual reality recruitment gives potential recruits a sensory sampler of field experience and demonstrates that the military remains at the forefront of technology, making enlistment that much more exciting a prospect.
1) Air Force and Activate: Special Warfare
The Air Force created Activate: Special Warfare to promote recruitment for its division of the same name, which focuses on action in hostile or politically sensitive environments. Activate’s first tour began in April 2021 and featured players carrying replica gun controllers and wearing haptic vests and special VR headsets. The vests let them feel vibrations that corresponded with in-simulation action, and designers even engineered the booths to generate bursts of hot air and wind effects to bring explosions and gusts from helicopter rotors to life. The 2021 tour concluded with more than 1,400 recruitment leads  ; tours are expected to continue for at least five years.
2) Army and Operation Firebreaker
Operation Firebreaker debuted in November 2021, housed within the mobile Army Adventure Semi truck. This hands-on virtual reality simulation put visitors in the boots of Army soldiers attempting to put out a raging wildfire threatening a small town. Participants worked in teams of four while wearing virtual reality headsets and seated in motion-enabled chairs to enhance immersion. The Army reported 1,500 participants and 490 leads  over the course of Operation Firebreaker’s first nine showings.
3) Navy and Helios VR Installation
The Navy has long prided itself as the tip of the technological spear among the military branches, and its partnership with Helios Interactive was a perfect example of putting that mindset into practice. For the Navy’s 2016-2017 recruiting tour, Helios designed a VR installation that put players on a virtual SWCC boat on its way to extract SEALs from hostile territory. Players wore rumble vests and operated a physical steering wheel controller while wearing VR headsets. The experience increased recruitment leads by 126% at one stop in its tour, and Navy recruitment leads doubled  after the implementation of VR recruiting.
VR and Military Training
VR military applications extend beyond recruitment . The use of VR in military applications can also make those new recruits into better active duty personnel faster than traditional instruction.
4) Air Force and Street Smarts VR
One challenge facing the use of VR in military training is ensuring all training locations are outfitted with the technology and tools needed to run these programs effectively. Luckily, not all VR military applications require the full, physical recreation of an interface as complicated as the AC-130U. Street Smart used HTC VIVE technology to design and implement repeatable training scenarios that prepare individuals for real-world conflict. Trainees wear virtual reality headsets and wield real-world replica weapons as they face a plethora of common security situations in virtual space. They learn de-escalation, non-lethal and lethal weapons training, active shooter responses, and more, with in-depth data recording for trainees and instructors to review.
The Air Force has employed Street Smarts at more than a dozen locations. As a result, it’s saving an average of 40 training hours per user per year while producing top-shelf security personnel. Read our case study to learn more.
5) Sheppard Air Force Base and Tech Training Transformations (T3)
At Sheppard Air Force Base, the Tech Training Transformations (T3) team has worked to bring VR into the classroom  — or rather, students into VR space. The Crew Chief Fundamentals course is a foundation of an Air Force education. It teaches core maintenance skills that keep aircrafts in fighting shape and ensure safe landing and takeoff. In 2020, T3 partnered with HTX Labs and moved the course into VR. Trainees examined tools, maintained simulated aircraft, and completed objectives in virtual reality using headsets and controllers. They were also able to inspect aircraft in real-time and at full scale, performing real-world maintenance actions such as operating hydraulics and spooling up engines. The course exceeds what’s possible with hands-on training, allowing students to view cross sections of planes’ electrical and hydraulic systems in real time.
The Air Force expanded the project in June 2021 to include non-player characters (NPCs) that provide instruction and answer questions for trainees. Students could swap places with NPCs to learn new roles — a maintainer could learn basic flight line security, for example. The system also allows for performance tracking throughout a trainee’s career in the Air Force.
VR trainee scores were comparable to those using traditional methods, but they completed the course in nearly half the time  . The 27-day course was cut down to just 12.5 days because students were immediately immersed in hands-on training rather than going through the process of reading manuals, receiving instructions, and then finally getting their hands on an aircraft.
6) Air Force AC-130U Gunship Crew Trainer
Beyond aircraft repair, the Air Force enlisted Vertex Solutions and Bohemia Interactive Simulations to create a VR-based training apparatus for the AC-130U gunship crew  . This training apparatus uses physical controls such as throttles, foot pedals, and a yoke in conjunction with a VR headset to immerse trainees in the virtual cockpit. That cockpit includes pilot and copilot seats in addition to all the dials, gauges, displays, dashboard instruments, and controls positioned where they would be in an actual aircraft. Hand movements and interactions with the crew station are tracked to ensure the experience is as close to being in the ship as possible, allowing trainees to build up muscle memory. It also includes an intelligent tutor function with automated instruction and real-time assessment of trainee performance.
This trainer builds familiarity with the crew station without having to keep a massive battle-ready gunship grounded for training purposes. Its implementation cuts down on the need for expensive real-world full-mission simulations, saving on fuel and time. Finally, the system’s architecture can extend to support simulations of exterior aircraft pre-flight preparations, loadmaster roles, and other crew positions, making it adaptable.
7) Army Synthetic Training Environment at Fort Hood
The Army’s most significant investment in virtual reality is taking place at the Synthetic Training Environment at Fort Hood, where researchers and instructors are blending virtual, live, and collective training elements  in a portable, immersive training experience. That experience is split over two systems still in testing. STE’s Information System (STE-IS) has an intelligent suite of training simulation and management software that makes it possible to engage in simultaneous training across multiple locations, complete with actual terrain imagery sourced from around the world. STE is also working on the Reconfigurable Virtual Collective Trainer (RVCT), an adaptable hardware system that connects to the STE-IS and allows it to run wherever the RVCT is deployed.
STE-IS and RVCT use interactive equipment such as a heads-up display, high-resolution monitors, and controllers that represent their real-world analogs. These systems work in tandem to replicate the operation of common fighting vehicles such as the Abrams, Bradley, and Stryker. This allows recruits to achieve deep familiarity with the vehicles without needing to store, maintain, or constantly refuel them during training.
8) Navy and PARASIM
The Navy partnered with Systems Technology Inc. and Bohemia Interactive Simulations to create PARASIM  , a training tool that lets students practice parachuting. The system uses an apparatus and harness to lift students into the air and outfits them with a VR headset so that it feels and looks as though they’ve just jumped from an aircraft. The rapidly approaching ground is rendered using the high-fidelity, large-terrain environments of BISim’s TerraTools for increased realism.
Around 400 of these simulators have been sold worldwide, and not just to the Navy. The Army, Air Force, Marines, and National Guard have also implemented PARASIM in parachute training, and for good reason. Virtual reality makes parachute training significantly faster, cheaper, and more approachable. Jumpers can learn in an environment of massively reduced pressure and risk, allowing them to build up muscle memory that will be invaluable when they do their first real jump. Jumpers can even practice chute malfunctions for emergency preparedness. The whole time, they’re saving time on suiting up, getting to altitude, and repeating the process, and saving money on refueling and aircraft maintenance.
HTC VIVE: Experts in the Field
The world of VR military applications is wide and varied, and there’s a lot to learn before diving in. HTC VIVE has experience building hardware that supports military-grade technology that saves the armed forces money and time while raising effectiveness. Our work with Street Smarts VR and the Air Force is just the tip of the iceberg.
Contact HTC VIVE today
to learn more.
Not ready to contact us? To learn more about how the military is using VR in the modern age, read our article " The Ultimate Guide for VR in the Military ".
 Source: US News, https://www.usnews.com/news/best-countries/articles/2018-03-20/the-us-military-wants-to-lead-the-innovation-game-in-vr
 Source: Bloomberg, https://about.bgov.com/news/us-military-services-face-biggest-recruiting-hurdles-in-50-years/
 Source: US Air Force, https://www.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/2849185/how-an-air-force-recruiting-commercial-became-a-popular-vr-game/
 Source: US Army, https://recruiting.army.mil/News/Article/2872466/virtual-reality-experience-uses-army-helicopters-to-save-town-from-firestorm/
 Source: US Navy, https://www.virtualrealitymarketing.com/case-studies/us-navy-vr-recruitment/
 Source: Texas Monthly, https://www.texasmonthly.com/news-politics/air-force-virtual-reality-training/
 Source: US Air Force, https://www.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/2706835/tech-training-transformation-modernizes-tech-training-with-virtual-reality/
 Source: BISim, https://bisimulations.com/company/customer-showcase/vr-based-gunship-crew-trainer
 Source: Military Embedded, https://militaryembedded.com/radar-ew/sensors/army-goes-deep-into-vrar-for-training-and-combat
 Source: BISim, https://bisimulations.com/company/customer-showcase/virtual-parachute-training