Improve Threat Detection by U.S. Army Soldiers on Patrol

Threat Detection Skills Trainer


Improve threat detection performance of U.S. soldiers. 

ARA studied how combat soldiers detect and react to relevant threats while on foot or vehicle patrol. We produced a validated model of how experts detect threats and used the model to develop a computer-based training prototype that improves the abilities of soldiers to search for, identify, evaluate, and react to possible threats in combat.


ARA gathered data from soldiers who had completed several computer-based exercises designed to identify their abilities to detect, prioritize, and reason about threats. ARA also conducted semi-structured interviews with soldiers to gather insight into their threat detection experiences while deployed.

Research results:

  • In the prioritized threat search exercise, time pressure had a negative effect on performance of soldiers who had not deployed to combat. For soldiers with one or multiple deployments, time had had little, or even a positive, effect on performance.
  • Both experienced and inexperienced soldiers located targets in threat-relevant locations faster and with greater accuracy than targets in irrelevant locations.
  • In the change detection exercise, participants noticed threat-relevant changes rather than threat-irrelevant changes.

Our results demonstrated the usefulness of these exercises as training tools and revealed differences in soldier performance based on experience.

ARA created three computer/web-based training modules that use a "crawl-walk-run" approach. The first series of exercises involve threat searches. Following the threat searches, soldiers answered questions that required them to critically think about potential threats that were presented in a series of photos. Finally, soldiers completed the threat search and reasoning exercises by reading scenarios that framed the context presented in photos, then identifying threats and determining their relevance.


ARA’s research provided the only known data on threat detection skill development as soldiers gain experience. The training focuses on cognitive skills, such as change detection, attention management, and critical thinking rather than tactical skills. The Army has widely distributed this training on CDs. The project funder, U.S. Army Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences, continues to receive requests for this training from the Army and Army National Guard.

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