US Army online gaming
The US Army can now adapt hundreds of technologies and weapon systems of the future, without spending even half of the time or money required to build such capabilities in the real worldREUTERS/Maxim Zmeyev

In a bid to shape the future force, the US Army has opened a realistic online gaming platform, which allows soldiers to share ideas on vehicles, weapon systems, tactics and team organisation.

Developed under the Early Synthetic Prototyping (ESP) project, the game, Operation Overmatch, connects soldiers with Army scientists, engineers, and developers to engage in two-way conversations for discussing ideas, concepts, and new capabilities. It allows soldiers to play against their comrades in an eight-versus-eight mode, where they get a chance to fight enemies with emerging capabilities in a realistic environment.

"Soldiers have the advantage of understanding how equipment, doctrine, and organization will be used in the field -- the strengths and weaknesses," said Michael Barnett, project lead for Operation Overmatch. "And they have immediate ideas about what to use, what to change and what to abandon -- how to adapt quickly".

The new game enables warfighters to experiment with advanced weapons and vehicles. Its current version boasts manned armoured vehicles, robotic vehicles, and UAVs, with scenarios centred on manned/unmanned teaming at the squad and platoon level in an urban environment.

Simply put, Army can now adapt hundreds of technologies and weapon systems of the future, without spending even half of the time or money required to build such capabilities in the real world. Later, it could use the feedback provided by soldiers and in-game analytics to evaluate new ideas and inform areas for further study.

"In a game environment, we can change the parameters or the abilities of a vehicle by keystrokes," said Lt. Col. Brian Vogt, ESP project lead.

"We can change the engine in a game environment and it could accelerate faster, consume more fuel or carry more fuel. All these things are options within the game -- we just select it, and that capability will be available for use".

Vogt also noted that Army engineers would determine practical applicability of a change before introducing it into the game.

For now, Operation Overmatch is in early development alpha testing, but Army is already inviting soldiers to sign-up so that they could get early gameplay access in the beta testing program, which is slated to begin in October.