War lessons beamed home

Lessons from Iraq are quickly incorporated at live training facilitiies for armored vehicles and infantry in the United States.

Events in Iraq are quickly turned into lessons for live and virtual training

When a homemade bomb explodes in downtown Baghdad, its reverberations are felt as far away as Fort Polk, La., where U.S. soldiers train for duty in Iraq. Lessons learned on the ground about how insurgents use improvised explosive devices are transmitted immediately to Fort Polk's Joint Readiness Training Center.

'We get feedback virtually every day,' said Gerald Dinkel, president and chief executive officer of Cubic Defense Systems Inc. of San Diego. The company, a unit of Cubic Corp., provides realistic combat training systems to the Army and the Joint Forces Command.

'There are times at Fort Polk, for example, where we receive input on something that happened in Iraq, and it's incorporated into the next day's scenario,' Dinkel said.

A variety of forces are driving the military's increased use of simulation and training. The services are placing heavier emphasis on training than in previous conflicts, while also trying to reduce training costs through a networked approach that takes advantage of new technologies.

Another driver is the unpredictable nature and constantly changing tactics of the enemy, which force the services to continually update their doctrine and training.

'During the Cold War, there was a consistent, static view of the enemy relative to what we have today,' Dinkel said. 'But in today's environment, there is a constantly changing set of dynamics for which troops must train.'

At one end of the spectrum, live training prepares soldiers for battle by letting them fire weapons as they move through a training course or facility.

At the opposite end are two types of computer-based training: constructive and virtual training. Constructive training uses computer programs to teach tactics and situational response. Virtual training creates a replica of the weapon system or command or operations center that looks, feels and operates like the actual equipment.

Although constructive and virtual systems can save money and facilitate large-scale training, there is no substitute for live training, according to analysts and industry officials.

Anteon International Corp. of Fairfax, Va., specializes in integrating audio and visual data into live training for soldiers' after-action review, said Dick Coltman, group vice president of Anteon's Instrumentation Division.

The company builds a sophisticated urban warfare training system known as the Military Operations on Urban Terrain. The live training facilities comprise structures resembling those in urban settings where soldiers conduct patrols or missions. The larger, fixed sites can accommodate battalion-sized operations; the smaller, mobile sites are geared for squad-level training. They let soldiers hone both individual and collective skills on the training field and through review of after-action reports.

'The most valuable commodity is the video and audio associated with it,' Coltman said.

Digital video provides a frame-by-frame analysis of how the soldiers performed in the facilities. Should a soldier 'die' during the training, the video is used to discover what went wrong.

'The video tells all,' he said.

Live training helps soldiers feel less stress when they engage in actual combat, Cubic's Dinkel said. 'We would like people to feel that Iraq is a piece of cake compared to JRTC.' Rapid mobilization of U.S. forces for the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq has made the services rely more on technology to train troops than in past conflicts, experts say.

The ability to conduct constructive and virtual training on notebook computers in the field has cut training time considerably, said David Fraley, director of federal consulting for market research firm Gartner Inc. of Stamford, Conn., and a training officer with the Army Reserve.

Mobilization times are substantially different from the past, he said. Training now is done in days or weeks, where before it might have taken as long as 18 months. 'There are no 18-month windows anymore,' he said.

Constructive training, especially large-scale training, is particularly useful for military leaders and their staffs, Fraley said.

Science Applications International Corp. of San Diego sees integration of all three training types as a trend, said Beverly Kitaoka, business unit manager with SAIC's Training and Simulation Solutions unit.

Although it is impossible to completely substitute virtual for live training, it is possible to substantially augment live training with virtual and constructive training, she said.

SAIC also creates virtual training solutions for individual soldiers. In October 2004, the company won a 15-month contract worth $6.9 million from the Army's Program Executive Office for Simulation, Training and Instrumentation to design, develop and deliver common driver trainer system components for the Stryker combat vehicle being fielded at Fort Knox, Ky., and Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.

'This is our first big virtual trainer [project] that we are building as a prime contractor,' Kitaoka said.

Virtual training has become so sophisticated and realistic, the soldiers are experiencing the next best thing to live training, she said.

'We're getting to the point where these guys actually often climb out of the simulators sweaty,' she said.

About the Author

William Welsh is a freelance writer covering IT and defense technology.

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