Warfare is becoming increasingly networked, so finding an effective way to quickly display the deluge of information available, in an easily digestible format, has never been more important. AR is a tool with the capacity to do just that. According to GlobalData estimates, AR will generate revenues of $152 billion globally by 2030, and the defence sector is leading the charge.

AR use cases in the military

The military is one of the first industries to fully realise the many different use cases that AR caters for. In defence, AR is primarily used in manufacturing and engineering. It is multifaceted, enabling workers to work more accurately, aiding remote assistance collaboration, and can replace paper manuals by providing step-by-step instructions. The advantages of remote assistance and instruction are also being adopted by military medics.

As well as this, AR is becoming an increasingly important part of training for the military as simulated assets can be displayed as if in the real world. AR is being used in battlefield applications too, for pilots and infantry, to enhance a soldier’s situational awareness and reaction times.

Microsoft’s HoloLens headset

A key driver in the mass adoption of this technology is Microsoft ’s AR headset, the HoloLens 2, which can be modified with specialised software to adapt to different scenarios. A principal example of this is the Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS), an AR heads-up display (Hud ) based on the HoloLens, that the US Army commissioned from Microsoft in a $21.9 billion deal in 2021.

AR is a cost-saving solution

The large upfront costs of some AR applications can make some militaries reluctant to invest. However, AR technology can provide substantial and long-term cost-saving solutions. For example, AR-simulated training scenarios allow complex training scenarios to be run more cheaply than deploying troops in training locations. Costs are also driven down by negating the need to allocate each soldier a combat vehicle for training, saving the equipment from wear and tear. As well as this, AR not only decreases average training times, but also error rates.

There are also many cost-saving opportunities in manufacturing with AR, as it offers precision and accuracy, and enables automated checks, reducing errors. For example, Boeing is providing AR glasses to its technicians to assist them during the conception phase, and for the routine maintenance of aircraft.

Costs can also be mitigated by the ability to adapt specific AR military use cases to COTS and COTS-derived technology.

AR has issues but still triumphs over VR

AR has some inherent problems. These include connectivity issues, difficulty in the orientation and alignment of the real-world and simulated objects, low processing power and weak radio signals for deployed troops, weight issues for infantry, difficulties in seeing AR-generated objects in natural light, and the limited field of view that wearable AR devices offer. However, AR’s advantages over virtual reality (VR) are becoming increasingly apparent. It is usually cheaper, has fewer limitations than VR, tends to cause less motion sickness, and can be dual purpose and used for both training and battlefield applications. AR is a key technology for the defence sector, allowing all those with devices to access essential intelligence, ensuring the right data is in the right place at the right time.