By Kyle MizokamiJul 9, 2019
The U.S. Department of Defense is considering using virtual reality technology to train military personnel who might someday come up against dirty bombs and other radioactive weapons. The Defense Threat Reduction Agency, which typically concerns itself with responding to weapons of mass destruction, wants to use VR as a training tool to teach soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen how to respond to “radiological threats,” from dirty bombs to nuclear weapons.
The DTRA posted a solicitation to industry on the FedBizOpps web site. The solicitation calls for a virtual reality or augmented reality system designed to simulate “operating in a battlefield nuclear warfare (BNW) environment, or performing radiological threat objects find and interdict operations.”
“Radiological/nuclear considerations may include,” the solicitation also notes, “everything from point radiation sources, area contamination, and nuclear weapon detonation.”
Nuclear weapons and their hazards are well known, radiological weapons somewhat less so. Radiological weapons are not nuclear weapons but weapons designed to disperse highly dangerous and even lethal radioactivity over a wide area. A combination of plutonium and high explosives in a backpack or truck bomb, for example, would scatter radioactive debris over a wide area.
Unprotected persons caught in the blast—or venturing into the blast zone afterward—could be exposed to dangerous levels of radioactivity, leading to radiation sickness or cancer. A contaminated zone could remain dangerous for days, weeks, months or even years, depending on the radioactive isotope used.
A soldier from the 444th Chemical Company, Illinois National Guard, checks another for contamination during a nuclear terrorist attack training exercise Vibrant Response 2019.
Radiological weapons have yet to have been used, existing mostly in theory as “dirty bombs” used by terrorists against civilian targets. One possible exception is the assassination of former KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko. Litvinenko was allegedly slipped a dose of the radioactive isotope polonium through a cup of tea and developed radiation poisoning soon afterward.
An AR/VR training tool in this context could be a program that simulates the detonation of a radiological or nuclear weapon and overlays likely areas of contamination and levels of radioactivity over the user’s field of view. This would allow the user to “look” at a location and estimate the effects of such a weapon and formulate a response. Adding meteorological data such a barometric pressure and wind speed pulled from the internet would help estimate the spread of fallout.
On the other side of the spectrum such tech could allow military personnel to search for dirty bombs by looking for telltale signs of radioactivity within a VR or AR environment—all without actually using radioactive materials for training.