Digital convoy simulation prepares contracting support specialists for reality
January 29, 2014
Surrounded by video and sound systems, crews inside a simulated High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle can look out onto a desert or along forested roads. All of their actions, from accelerating to turning and stopping, affect what they see on the 360-degree projection screen, while their vehicle doesn't move an inch.
The Close Combat Tactical Trainer at Fort Bliss, Texas, is a system of mock military vehicles combined with computers and video to create simulations of battlefield situations that enable service members to train on their equipment without the logistics cost of fuel, rounds and maintenance.
"We teach the Soldiers to use their equipment more effectively and adjust for what happens in the simulation," said Francisco Alba, a computer-based training specialist instructor at the CCTT. "If the radio goes down, or the vehicle is damaged, they know what to do."
The simulator saves the military and government money, said Alba. Since the imitation vehicles don't move and don't even have engines, they do not require the fuel that would be needed for a unit to take multiple vehicles on training exercises.
The simulated HMMWVs and other tactical vehicles in the CCTT also allow units the opportunity to conduct training in a realistic environment without using up valuable training time driving to a field site. Reducing the need to drive a bunch of large vehicles for training exercises may also reduce the chances of an accident occurring. During 2010, accidents made up 27 percent of deaths in the military.
"The cool thing about it is, if you flip a vehicle, then nobody gets hurt. It's a simulation," said Alba. "This is a safe way for them to retrain and practice."
The CCTT can also provide training for personnel and units whose mission doesn't normally include using vehicles like the HMMWV, such as the civilian and military contracting support specialists in Operational Contract Support Joint Exercise 2014, who recently had the opportunity to train with the simulators.
Since the exercise participants only came to Fort Bliss for a contingency contracting exercise, they don't have any vehicles, but with the computer simulation, they are still able to have convoy training without borrowing vehicles from a local unit.
"The technology they have here makes it more realistic," said Marine Sgt. Joshua Higginbotham, contracting support specialist, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif. "You can do a whole lot more than you can typically do in a field environment."
The OSCJX-14 is a joint military and civilian agency exercise that gives the participating agencies the opportunity to practice contracting for and providing supplies to help disaster recovery. This means their job may include traveling around a disaster area to work with vendors who will be contracted to provide supplies.
"Practicing convoy operations to know what to do in different situations helps us do our job," said Higginbotham. "We are actually going to have to go into the area where a lot of our work is going to be in order to get people the supplies they need, like food and water: life sustaining stuff."
Although the CCTT was designed for deployment simulation, the civilian and military teams spent half a day taking convoy training to gain valuable experience to help better prepare them for a contingency mission after a natural disaster.
"We have a realistic simulator that we can go in and practice skills we haven't used in a while or never used," said Army Maj. Barry Williams, a contracting officer the Army Contracting Command at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Md. "They can learn what they can do better and what they can sustain."
For the convoy training, the contracting teams were given a tour of the facility by the instructors, and then briefed by their team leaders about the simulated convoy mission to drive four vehicles from Forward Operating Base A to FOB B. To do that, each team of five went to one of the four trailers housing the mock HMMWVs.
Inside the trailers, projection screens surround the real cab and hood of a tan HMMWV. The vehicles are equipped with everything a real HMMWV would have: the ignition to start the engine; a steering wheel for the driver; and radios to communicate with their commander and the other vehicles.
After receiving a brief overview of how to use each piece of equipment, the contractors took their places to start the mission.
"The simulators were really realistic," said Cynthia Vorachack-Hogan, a contracting officer with the Naval Supply Systems Command in Jacksonville, Fla. "It kind of gave you a view as if you were in that type of environment."
In this instance, the simulated environment immersed the operational contracting support specialists into a desert base surrounded by mountains, not unlike Fort Bliss. They practiced with the controls and equipment before "driving" the planned route to the next village while keeping alert for obstacles and detours.
"(The convoy training) allows us to come back to some of our fundamental procedures that we sometimes forget as contract specialists," said Williams.
Proper planning, preparation and practice are part of the doctrine that helps military operations run smoothly. Systems like the CCTT are used to help military and civilian personnel practice the skills learned they from exercises and real missions, said Williams.
"The training is excellent," said Vorachack-Hogan. "It gives us the real-life simulation and practice that we need in case something unexpected were to happen. It gets us ready to go whenever we are called."
For the military and civilian contracting specialists training to save lives and rebuild in the wake of a possible natural disaster, the simulated convoy experience can be programmed with maps and environments like the flooded roads of New York during Hurricane Sandy, to train them on "what if …" scenarios.
"I think this is very relevant. Whether we are a contracting unit or a combat arms unit, we are going to need those skills," said Williams.