Royal Navy embraces VR to train sailors

10th May 2024
Paige West

The Royal Navy is revolutionising its training programme by incorporating advanced Virtual Reality (VR) technologies into its navigational training.

A £27m investment has seen the installation of nine bridge simulators across England and Scotland, centred around the Navy’s warfare school at HMS Collingwood in Fareham. These facilities have been developed through a collaboration involving Capita, Metaverse VR, and serving Navy personnel.

The simulators, each named after a renowned Royal Navy navigator such as Ross, Parry, and Flinders, mimic the bridges of modern warships and crucial global maritime environments. The main training hub at HMS Collingwood has:

  • Two large ‘full mission’ simulators equipped with wrap-around digital displays and VR headsets
  • A smaller simulator featuring an LCD display
  • Two compact trainers designed akin to high-end gaming setups, maintaining the same level of detail and accuracy

Virtual reality plays a crucial but focused role, particularly in the full-scale simulators where trainees wearing VR headsets experience a three-dimensional environment. This setup is critical for developing situational awareness during complex manoeuvres such as docking and resupply operations.

“The new simulators are fantastic and the debriefing – allowing to accurately run through what’s just happened – is a game-changer when it comes to training navigators and bridge teams,” explained Lieutenant Commander Gavin Lowe, Officer in Charge of the Navigational Training Unit.

Sub Lieutenant Stephen Smallman shared his experiences with both the old and new systems: “The old simulator was good, but you knew you were in a room with some screens. Here, you feel like you are stepping onto the bridge of a warship. It is very easy to become immersed in the situation – it makes everything feel much more real.”

Looking ahead, the Royal Navy plans to expand the capabilities of these simulators. This includes adding more global ports and harbours to the simulation database, incorporating new ship models such as the Type 26/31 frigates, and enhancing environmental conditions like tidal streams. There's also a plan to interlink simulators across various sites to facilitate comprehensive task group training.

David Hook, Managing Director at Capita Defence, highlighted the efficiency and innovation behind the project: “I am proud that Capita has delivered state-of-the-art navigation simulators to the Navy at pace, using an agile, collaborative approach that demonstrates a step change in training technology and delivery.”

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