Stratagems: ShadowBox Training to Augment Game-Based Simulations for Combat Rescue Helicopter Aircrew


U.S. Air Force


Combat Search and Rescue teams


Personnel Recovery plays a very critical role in the success of military missions for both humanitarian and strategic reasons. Maintaining highly trained Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) teams is of critical importance to the Air Force. Cost efficiency considerations demand the development of training solutions that provide high efficacy at lower costs. Game-based trainers have the potential to meet this demand. 


Stratagems is an immersive, game-based trainer that incorporates techniques to address both the cognitive and tactical skills required for combat rescue missions. The game meets the following requirements: run on a desktop (commodity hardware), provide a deeply immersive experience, provide effective training for critical CSAR skills, and enable content reuse for cost efficiencies. t’s innovation arises from embedding probes relating to the trainee’s assessment of risks and priorities at critical points throughout the scenario. Players can compare their assessments to those of other experts during scenario after-action review. 

Stratagems uses the ShadowBox ( training approach to provide cognitive authenticity to the training experience. ShadowBox is a scenario-based training technique that provides trainees with insight into an expert’s thinking during challenging missions. The goal of ShadowBox is to provide visibility into the expert’s thought processes—all without requiring the presence of an expert.  ShadowBox trains cognitive skills such as sensemaking, decision-making, and anticipating. These skills are especially important in settings in which time pressure and uncertainty are high, as is the case in Combat Search and Rescue Missions. While Shadowbox has traditionally been used in the context of scripted, linear scenarios, this SBIR Phase II makes the novel contribution of extending this training approach to a branching scenario setting.

Ease of customization of the training scenarios is an important project objective.  For this, Stratagems includes a configurable authoring tool that will enable the rapid creation/modification of training scenarios with limited need for programming. This gives instructional designers the ability to evolve the content over time without the aid of software developers.


As we reach the conclusion to the technical period of this SBIR effort, the training game and the authoring tool are ready for use by end users. The game includes three training scenarios for the role of a pilot, and one for the role of an SMA. 

Related Applications

Game engines provide the infrastructure for many simulation capabilities such as accurate physics and basic AI capabilities agents. The technology will expand the reach of training to the task of training complex decision-making skills.  It can be used for self-paced refresher training and to support classroom teaching. There are no costly hardware requirements. The solution is agile: wherever users can set up a laptop, they can train.

Additional Information

The figure above shows a ShadowBox probe embedded in the game for the first training scenario. These contextual probes, inserted at critical junctures in the game, are designed to offer trainees insights on situation assessment and uncertainty management.

Publications: Newsome, E., Militello, L. G., & Ramachandran, S. (2018) Stratagems: an innovative approach for increasing cognitive authenticity in game-based environments. In A. Bruzzone & R. Sottilare, (Eds.), Proceedings of the International Defence and Homeland Security Simulation Workshop 2018 (pp. 1-7). Paper

Contact: For additional information, demos, and pricing, please contact:Sowmya Ramachandran
Stottler Henke Associates, Inc.
San Mateo, CA

Sowmya at
(650) 931-2716