Marines go to battle stations that are workstations

When the Defense Department sent seemingly contradictory directives to
increase training and trim budgets simultaneously, top-level officers were dubious.

Flying computer-navigated jet fighters with guided missiles is no cheap matter.

But when Marine Corps officers met with some of the best and brightest from the
information technology community, an innovative solution began taking shape.

The Marines have begun supplementing field training with the latest computer-simulated
war games, the Marine Tactical Warfare Simulator (MTWS), developed by VisiCom Inc. of San
Diego. And it’s all done at a fraction of the multimillion dollar price tag of live
field exercises.

“We have a unique simulation device here that can be used either in peacetime for
practice, or in wartime to help guide the course of action,” said Maj. Gary Tepera,
MTWS project officer at the Marine Corps Systems Command in Quantico, Va.

Marine officers who maintain the system described an operation last fall in which a
Marine general led more than 75,000 sailors and Marines in an assault on the Southern
California coast. But instead of spending huge sums for a live field exercise to practice
the tactics and logistics of assaulting beaches, the general opted to use the MTWS system.

“These were 10 days of maneuvers that could have cost millions of dollars in jet
fighter fuel, in bombs exploded and bullets fired, not to mention the cost of planning and
executing an amphibious landing,” MTWS systems officer Maj. John Kelly said.

The system, developed for the Marine Corps for $20 million, graphically depicts land,
air and sea forces in a simulated theater of war and has become the backbone of the
Marine’s simulated combat training.

“It’s certainly no substitute for actual training,” Kelly said.
“Soldiers will still need to practice their skills, like getting out and walking 20
miles with an 80-pound rucksack. But this is a very good system to sharpen the skills of
commanders and their staffs.”

MTWS runs on a Hewlett-Packard Co. J Series workstation with a 120-MHz PA RISC II
processor, 500M of RAM and a 1G hard drive. The workstation has 1M instructional cache, 1M
data cache and an HP integrated graphics card capable of supporting a screen resolution up
to 1,080 by 1,024 pixels. The workstations are connected on a 10Base-T Ethernet LAN.

“What we like about the machine and what some foreign governments like about it is
the fact that it can help a commander to evaluate his options taking into account weather
conditions, logistical difficulties and a host of other particulars that often slow the
decision making process,” said John Balestreri, a division controller at VisiCom.
“The system can even tell you what your best course of action might be.”

Balestreri said that commanders targeted for training do not directly use MTWS.
“From their point of view, there is no computer system involved,” he said.
“They act and operate the same way they would in the field.”

During the exercise MTWS provides the control staff with constant tactical data,
including such information as status of ground and air missions, detection of enemy forces
and assessment of losses.

The controller also can request specific information on a unit, such as casualties,
successes or failures. MTWS generates spot reports and sends them to appropriate
commanders at their stations to inform them of significant events.

To issue an order, the commander makes his request to a subordinate. The orders are
keyed into the machine, which then executes the command. Because the system is compatible
with other simulators used by other services, the results can be shared.

MTWS works with the Navy’s Joint Maritime Command Information System and the Air
Force’s Air War Simulator, as well as with similar computer simulation systems of
U.S. allies.

“When you consider the size of some of these giant exercises in Europe and Asia,
then you have to realize that this kind of technology can be a great training aid,”
Tepera said. “The system really helps us go a long way toward organizing the thoughts
and plans of allied armies.”

The biggest simulation ever staged was held last month during the Ulchi Focus Lens
exercise in South Korea. In the exercise, South Korean and U.S. simulation computers
communicated with each other via the Aggregate Level Simulation Protocol (ALSP).

“There were numerous simulations built by the different services, and what evolved
after we started running joint exercises was confusion,” Kelly said. “They were
too big to run on one model so a protocol was created called ALSP to help different
services connect to one another. And since many of our allies have similar systems, we can
also communicate with them.”

The British Ministry of Defence is considering buying the system and will test it this
fall at a military exercise.   

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