In the past we reported in the past how AR is being used to reduce the maintenance skills gap in the US armed forces. So it should come as no surprise that even while AR struggles to get a foothold in the overpriced civilian market that military augmented reality technology is still going strong.
According to a 124-page report published by Research and Markets, the world’s military will spend about $1.79 billion on AR by December 1, 2025. Going back only as far as last year, the figure for 2017 was $511 million. This marks a compound growth rate of 17.4% per annum over an eight year span.
The report - Military Augmented Reality Market to 2025 – Global Analysis and Forecasts by Components, Product Type & Functions - takes both a broad and a detailed look at how developments in augmented reality is having an impact on the military.
Of course, one of the key differences between the military and civilian sectors is that price is no object to the military. In contrast, all but the wealthiest would balk at a set of AR goggles costing $3000. But that is peanuts for the military.
The key piece of military augmented reality hardware for the military is the so-called “heads-up” display: a Head Mounted Display (HMD). This enables the wearer to see the real-world about them, while at the same time, supplying the kind of data that would normally appear on a screen. Thus the wearer need never look down, or take their eyes off the surrounding environment. In the military, this is called “situational awareness”.
The main piece of data that military personnel need, while in the field, is navigational data. But they need to be aware of the presence and location of hostile forces and other dangers (e.g. land mines) at the same time.
Besides navigational data, heads-up displays can be used to supply information from HQ or other units, field orders, status updates, etc. This can facilitate better coordination between land, air and sea combat and intelligence units.
Old and new players
However, the most important and compelling use of military augmented reality is to assist combat units with rapid friend-foe identification. This is a vital component of combat readiness in order to avoid the horrendous mishap of friendly fire - which both costs lives and is extremely damaging to combat morale and national consensus.
But it is not just the big boys like the USA, Russia and China that are procuring these military augmented reality systems. It's not even just hi-tech countries with advanced military needs, like Israel and South Korea. On the contrary, hi-tech but recently peaceful Japan, oil-rich Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are buying into the new military technology.
And even less wealthy countries are getting in on the act. For example, South American market leaders like Brazil and Mexico, and third-world but populace India. Not to be outdone, the United States Defense Department is putting increased financial resources into military augmented reality technology, specifically to facilitate heads-up navigation.
One of the core technologies being developed for the US military is BARS (Battlefield Augmented Reality Systems). This development is being spearheaded by the Advanced Information Technology of Naval Research Laboratory. They are working in collaboration with Columbia University on this project.
But other companies such as the old mainframe computer manufacturers and some of the new hi-tech players are also getting in on the act. Companies mentioned in the report include: BAE Systems, Applied Research Associates, Inc, Google (now a subsidiary of Alphabet), Osterhout Design Group and Six15 Technologies.
But what is significant in this report, is that while the US and Canada remain the biggest procurers of military augmented reality, it is likely that their combined percentage share of the market will drop from its 2017 level of 70%.