Services converge on Florida for virtual combat exercises

Virtually, that is.


More than 2,000 defense contractors and military personnel took part in electronically
simulated military exercises at the Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and
Education Conference here. Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles got the conference off to a festive
start when he renamed the Central Florida Research Park the National Center for
Simulation.


The main showroom floor resembled a conference of video games on steroids, with large
monitors showing helicopters shooting at tanks and simulated infantry-men attacking a
fortified town. Participants drove simulated military vehicles through a virtual desert
and tried to land an F-18 fighter on a small runway.


But military simulation is more than fun and games. Silicon Graphics Inc. had one of
the largest displays at the conference. It demonstrated real-life pilot training for day
and night missions.


David "Bart" Bartlett, modeling and simulation manager for Silicon Graphics,
has been working with simulation technology for years. He said it was no surprise the
showroom floor looked like a giant video arcade.


"Ten years ago, the military started using simulation technology for flight
training to save money, and the entertainment industry started to pick up some of that
technology for movies and games," he said. "Today, the entertainment industry is
more advanced, and the government is looking to capitalize on that."


Bartlett said the skills players learn from home computer flight simulators actually
transfer into the world of military training simulations.


"My son played Wing Commander and TIE Fighter on our computer at home," he
said. "Then I took him to Patuxent River Naval Air Station and put him in a real F-18
simulator. This was the real thing, and he was easily able to shoot down the first plane
they threw at him."


One factor pushing simulation technology into the mainstream is its acceptance in the
entertainment arena.


As people become more comfortable with simulators for entertainment, their use as a
training tool will be more acceptable, Bartlett said.


Another factor is decreasing cost.


"Simulation technology that cost $30 million 10 years ago, today would cost no
more than $5,000," he said.


Military simulations have gone through three stages, according to speakers at the
conference, and all three levels were present on the show floor.


First-generation simulators require users to enter into a large domed structure, and
the simulation appears all around. Many simulations still use this technology and have the
added effect of real motion.


Interactivity with simulators on large projection systems eliminated the need for
special enclosures and formed second-generation simulation technology. Most systems at the
convention were this type.


The third stage in military simulation technology is electronically linking dispersed
simulators so people can work as a team or fight one another in real time.


For example, Lockheed Martin Corp. linked a Humvee driving simulation to a helicopter
simulation at the conference. If the person piloting the helicopter flew overhead, the
Humvee driver could hear the whirl of the blades and see the helicopter on one of three
display monitors.


Michael Genetti, manager of business development for Lockheed Martin, said the Army had
more than 20 Humvee simulators linked for training exercises at bases around the country.


The next generation of simulations will employ distributed architectures with
real-world links, Bartlett said. For example, a commander could download a map of current
conditions in Bosnia and have pilots fly a simulated mission based on real weather and
known enemy positions.


Silicon Graphics is experimenting with high-end simulation in a new reality center in
downtown Orlando.


About the Author

John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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