Published: June 6, 2024
Category: News
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Dr. Randall Hill, Vice Dean, Viterbi School of Engineering, Omar B. Milligan Professor in Computer Science (Games and Interactive Media), Executive Director, ICT

One World Terrain (OWT) is an Army program designed to assist the DoD in creating the most realistic, accurate and informative representations of the physical and non-physical environment. Initially part of AFC’s Synthetic Training Environment (STE) concept, the goal was to help establish a next-generation government/industry terrain standard for modeling and simulation (M&S) hardware and software for training and operational use.

As the Executive Director, ICT, I feel the successful transition of OWT into a POR is a vindication of our University Affiliated Research Center (UARC) status. UARCs are a strategic United States Department of Defense (DoD) research program, associated with a university, established to ensure that essential engineering and technology capabilities of particular importance to the DoD are maintained. University Affiliated Research Centers, like ICT, are specifically designed to provide critical mass in research areas that meet Army and DoD future needs and anticipated combat requirements.


In October 2021, at the annual convention of the Association of the United States Army (AUSA), GEN McConville, Chief of Staff of the Army, highlighted one of the early wins in the Army’s modernization efforts, describing how the One World Terrain (OWT) project was used to assist 82nd Airborne Soldiers in mapping the Kabul airport in support of the mass airlift and evacuation operations (GEN McConville’s remarks start at 32:50 in this video.) 

His remarks received a great deal of attention, with good reason. OWT is a very visible and successful part of the Army’s modernization. However, that technology did not emerge in a vacuum – or overnight. We are proud of our work in the OWT success story, by sharing its origin story, in the hope that ASAALT and Army Futures Command (AFC) will recognize this as an example of how research done at a UARC is impacting the modernization campaign. 


ICT’s work on OWT began in 2013, which predates the STE Cross Functional Team by many years. At that time, Mike Enloe (now STE CFT CTO ) and Rob Bowen were at CAC-T. They recognized the need for a comprehensive 3D geo-specific terrain dataset for training purposes and they ideated the OWT concept. 

Major tenets of the concept were designed and executed by the Modeling and Simulation team here at the USC Institute for Creative Technologies. With support from Mike Enloe and Peter Squire (Code 34 Program Officer for the Office of Naval Research (ONR)), the DoD funded ICT to perform research that would spearhead the capture of 3D geospatial data. ICT pioneered the development and use of autonomous, off-the-shelf drones (small Unmanned Autonomous Systems or sUAS) to accomplish this goal. By identifying a specific area, the sUAS would fly a pattern that would photograph all the terrain in it.

In the same time frame, the Office of Naval Research (ONR) also invested in ICT research on geo-specific terrain modeling and simulation. The ONR funding enabled the development of the Marine Corps Tactical Decision Kit, and it supported development of the OWT pipeline that would subsequently be used by the infantry Marines and the projects that followed. The Marine Corps deployed this technology to all its Infantry Battalions. 

An essential factor for moving the program to where it is today was broadening the scope of the use of OWT from training to operations. The ICT terrain team developed the OWT Capture Kit, which was jointly supported by the STE CFT and the Simulation Training and Technology Center (STTC), part of AFC DEVCOM’s Soldier Center. ICT was the lead on the hardware/software pipeline as well as training and fielding to the 2nd and 3rd brigades of the 25th Infantry Division, Hawaii, as well as providing hardware/software and support to 82nd Airborne Division and 7th Special Forces Group.

The transition of the OWT project was facilitated by then STE CFT Director, MG Gervais, when she hired Ryan McAlinden as an IPA to coordinate the terrain projects across the Army and other departments. Around the same time, PEO STRI awarded a contract for OWT to Maxar Technologies.

With McAlinden’s IPA assignment to support the STE CFT, Kyle McCullough took the lead on Modeling and Simulation at ICT, continuing to push the research. This included the use of AI/ML to semantically label the terrain – Semantic Terrain Point Labeling System+ (STPLS+). This work was presented at ICT’s 2019 Technical Assessment Board (TAB). 

The executive leadership, including Mr. Jeff Singleton, Mr. Doug Tamilio, Dr. Bart Halpern, Dr. John Hart, and the representative from PEO STRI, decided to accelerate STPLS+ in order to get it to a transition point more quickly. To make this possible, PEO STRI provided 6.3 funding for advanced development to run in parallel with the 6.2 research on STPLS+. 

As a result, the STPLS+ code base has been transitioned to PEO STRI and Maxar Technologies, which had no such capability up to that point. ICT is continuing its research on semantic terrain labeling and providing incremental updates to PEO STRI and Maxar.


On Oct 11, 2021, an Army Times article quoted BG Glaser describing the OWT project and its use at the Kabul airport. In an article that appeared on Oct 18, 2021 in Breaking Defense, the impact of OWT on multiple Army modernization lines of efforts was further elaborated. It noted that OWT will be essential to Positioning, Navigation and Timing (PNT), Robotic Combat Vehicles, Next Generation Combat Vehicles and IVAS, and will potentially be used by the DoD’s Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2) system. 

The headline picture in the Breaking Defense article was taken during the training ICT developers Luis Leal and Jason Knowles conducted with the 25th Infantry Division. The lead photo in the article is the eBee drone ICT delivered to the 25th ID. The OTA vendor, Maxar Technologies is highlighted in the article. The transition of OWT capabilities used by the 82nd Airborne, 25th ID, 7th Group and Army modernization programs is a direct result of the R&D performed by ICT and Soldier Center. As per our status as the Army’s UARC, ICT continues to research and develop OWT capabilities and knowledge in concert with the Army’s requirements and acquisition organizations.


In Feb 2024, 3D terrain was loaded for the first time on the Army’s mission command systems at Project Convergence / CAPSTONE 4.  Although OWT had been a player in all Project Convergences since the first one back in 2020.

This was the culmination of years of research, development, and engineering out of the One World Terrain (OWT) program, an AFC signature effort born at the Combined Arms Center – Training (CAC-T) and the Institute for Creative Technologies back in 2017. 

This same capability was used during the 82nd ABN DIV airlift operation in Afghanistan in AUG 2021, by the 101st in support of allies and partners in Europe in 2022, and the 25th ID in support of INDOPACOM partnering operations in the Pacific.


The ICT has been part of OWT since its inception, from the earliest drone reconstructions at NTC and Ft. Liberty in 2018, to leading authorship of the Army’s first Software-Initial Capabilities Document (SW-ICD) in 2024. OWT represents a foundational shift in the way the Army collects, builds and consumes its geospatial data. It will serve as the scaffolding for future systems by providing highly-resolved, highly-accurate and foundational 3D geospatial data synchronized from enterprise to edge. 

The UARC, alongside partners across the Army (AFC, TRADOC, ASAALT, USACE), have shaped how the Service will use its ‘digital dirt’ to fight the wars of the future.

ICT’s role has been to establish the vision, conduct research, build prototypes, evaluate solutions, coordinate among agencies, and provide trusted agent SME, guidance and input. Initially these roles were for the training elements of the STE, but more recently have shifted to the operational and intelligence communities who seek to use these advanced geospatial capabilities to more rapidly make decisions in complex, large scale mission sets.

With the transition of OWT into an official Army POR, the UARC will assist ASAALT in its execution of the program, TRADOC in ensuring the current requirements are met, and AFC in helping define future requirements as the Army continues its transformation. 

Aside from OWT, many ICT projects have become POR (Programs of Record) including DisasterSim; ELITE; JFETS; Mobile C-IED Trainer (MCIT), Tactical Questioning IEWTPT; ELECT-BiLat and UrbanSim (Games for Training POR).

We cannot express how proud we are to have been instrumental in the success of OWT.  We expect to take on similar challenges and see similar results as the UARC enters its next quarter-century.