Virtual combat training: Simulators allow for lifelike and effective training
By Wendy Brown, Fort Bliss Bugle Staff:
For a combat training exercise, the room was surprisingly quiet. Soldiers from 2nd Platoon, Company B, 1st Battalion, 77th Armor Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, rarely spoke as they stood on circular pads in a large, black room with two large projection screens.
Wearing combat helmets equipped with what appeared to be a black visor covering their eyes, the Soldiers looked in random directions and occasionally stood, knelt down or lay prone for seemingly no apparent reason. They carried weapons, which they pointed and fired – silently – on occasion.
For an uninitiated observer, the training might seem peculiar. For someone who knows almost all the action at the Fort Bliss Dismounted Soldier Training Center takes place within the Soldiers’ helmets and the video-game-like scenarios on the room’s projection screens, the Jan. 8 training session followed standard operating procedures.
The center at Fort Bliss is one of 28 Army installations to have one of the virtual training centers available for Soldiers to train for an endless variety of possible scenarios, said Alan Allcock, the center’s training and simulation trainer. The system, a creation of the Intelligent Decisions Company of Ashburn, Va., has been available at Fort Bliss since August 2012.
“It’s another training tool, and it’s free,” said Allcock, “You don’t expend any money on bullets, but you’re getting the training.”
For the training exercise with 2nd Platoon, the center’s employees created a scenario that involved clearing a village of improvised explosive devices, said 1st Lt. Brandon Rickard, 2nd Platoon leader.
“We can do it right here and do it the way we want,” Rickard said. “It makes it easier on us.”
For a similar exercise in the field, members of the company would have had to plan it 90 days in advance and spend a considerable amount of money on ammunition, food and water, Rickard said.
Rickard said he recommends the training facility.
“You can come in and do any scenario you want to do. It’s really beneficial,” he said.
The platoon’s Jan. 8 training session was not all quiet, even to someone not completely privy to the action going on within the helmets. When a series of trucks drove into the scenario, the Soldiers warned each other and began an attack. The amount of talk, stress and movement between the digital warfighters increased significantly.
Spc. Matthew Klink, a member of the unit, said the virtual training exercise was the first he had participated in, but he found it lifelike and useful.
“It’s a really good simulator that helps you develop skills you can transfer into real life,” Klink said.
Last year the center developed 46 scenarios for various units, Allcock said.
“We have limitless scenarios,” Allcock said. “Whatever the unit wants to do for training, we can design a scenario.”
Soldiers who train on the system don a 26-pound backpack containing computer equipment, arm and leg sensors and an Advanced Combat Helmet outfitted with a visual display, a microphone and headphones. Everyone in the room can see the training scenario on the room’s projection screens and hear the company’s leaders giving commands from computer stations.
Soldiers are issued one of three weapons – an M4 assault rifle, an M4 assault rifle with an M320 grenade launcher attached or a M249 Squad Automatic Rifle, Allcock said.
After suiting up, the Soldiers stand on a black pad – there are 18 – and go through the scenario. If all of the 18 slots for suited Soldiers are taken, or if a Soldier has a profile and cannot suit up, the system has 10 work stations that allow Soldiers to participate from a computer screen, Allcock said.
The arm and leg sensors register the scenario movements, Allcock said. For example, if a Soldier kneels down on the pad, the Soldier’s avatar in the scenario kneels down.
A joystick is connected to each weapon, and Soldiers use it to move their avatar forward in the scenario, Allcock said. The avatars can be male or female, and all unit representatives have to do to receive the correct number of avatars of each gender is ask.
The center has scenarios that involve villages to foot patrols, as well as urban environments, Allcock said.
The scenarios also allow for units to call in artillery, a medical evacuation unit or vehicular support, Allcock said.
In addition, the center can record the training from start to finish so commanders can see every move the Soldiers make, Allcock said. There are also various views commanders can see, including an aerial view.
The system automatically records how many kills the Soldiers make, how many Soldiers would have died in an actual attack, how many friendly Soldiers are killed and how many vehicles are blown up, Allcock said.
After the training exercise, Soldiers hold an after action review.
Allcock said he recommends unit representatives contact the center well in advance so center employees can develop the best training scenario possible.
Everyone who works at the center is familiar with military operations, Allcock said, and that helps when it comes to creating lifelike scenarios and productive training.
“We’re all former military and we know the trials and tribulations of training Soldiers the right way,” Allcock said.
To learn more, visit http://www.intelligent.net/news/dismounted-soldier-training-system-0812.
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