Field Artillery School uses gaming technology to teach fire support skills, combined arms training
November 1, 2011
FORT SILL, Okla.--The U.S. Army Field Artillery School, as a part of the Fires Center of Excellence, is using gaming technology not only to teach students attending the Field Artillery Basic Officer Leaders Course here the fundamentals of calling for fire, but giving them a glimpse of what to expect when they are teamed up later in their careers with maneuver commanders in combat.
The FA School earlier this year conducted two collaborative Leadership Development Exercises with the Maneuver Center of Excellence and Aviation Center using Virtual Battlespace 2. The school is leveraging VB S2 as one of the gaming platforms, working towards Live, Virtual, Constructive & Gaming instructional integration as part of the Army Learning Model. The VB S2 platform was developed by Bohemia Interactive Australia, a civilian company that also develops computer games for entertainment.
The LDX teamed up students attending the Maneuver Captain's Career Course at Fort Benning, Ga., the Aviation Center Captain's Career Course at Fort Rucker, Ala., and Fort Sill's Field Artillery Basic Officer Leaders Course students.
The MCCC Captains assumed company commander roles, while the ACCC Captains assumed pilot roles and flew the rotary wing aircraft during the simulation. The FA Lieutenants performed company Fire Support Officer duties throughout the module. This pilot LDX was incorporated into the Company Phase of MCCC as the capstone exercise to the Stryker Urban Assault module. All portions of the module, through the OPORD briefing were graded requirements for the MCCC Captains. Upon the MCCC students' successful OPORD briefing, their plans were executed as a part of the LDX. Therefore, the fire planning and fires products generated between the Captains and Lieutenants via e-mail, by phone and VTC for the OPORD were critical to overall success for the module, not just the simulations portion.
Through maneuver and fires integration in this collective training experience in a virtual environment, maneuver Captains and Field Artillery Lieutenants were exposed to the dynamics of the commander and Fire Support Officer relationship in the planning and execution of an operation, said Capt. John Groefsema, FA BOLC-B instructor.
"We teamed up future maneuver commanders with future fire support officers," said Groefsema. "This is a great way (for everyone) to learn not only the basics, but what to expect on the battlefield."
In accordance with current doctrine, the U.S. Army employs offensive and defensive fires to protect maneuvering forces, maintain freedom of maneuver, shape the area of operation, and attack enemy capabilities in support of full spectrum operations. In this environment it is imperative for field artillerymen to understand maneuver and to be proficient in synchronizing fires with maneuver. Collaborative exercises such as this provide a viable venue to train this skill set.
It's not just about the English language but the specific terminology that goes along with both branches, Groefsema said. Doctrinally, both FA and maneuver complement each other, but that can be hard to see and experience in a traditional classroom environment.
"In the classroom we share our experiences and knowledge on what it's like to work and fight with maneuver, but it's just not the same as having the real thing," said Groefsema. A LDX of this nature can be the next best thing.
Groefsema said he has also been working to expand the VB S2 Fires scenario within the base platform of VBS2. As a "plug-in" to the base, VB S2 Fires is a relatively new concept and is still under development, and new coding needs to be created and implemented.
"Using this LDX as a stepping stone, as opposed to when our Lieutenants get to their first unit, we hope to give our FA guys a little bit of a head start. We hope to teach them how to relay to the maneuver commander how they can help coordinate fires assets on the battlefield," said Groefsema.
Using virtual environments like VB S2 and its off-shoot, VB S2 Fires, is in line with the guidance laid out in Army Learning Model.
"(VB S2 Fires) has extreme possibilities," said Mary Claytor, the Fort Sill VB S2 system administrator. "It is still in its baby phases, but we can grow it."
As a whole, the base VB S2 platform includes realistic graphics comparable to those seen in the video games "Call of Duty" and "Halo." Like "Call of Duty," VB S2 is done in the first-person perspective; i.e. the player experiences the action through the eyes of his avatar. It is a multiplayer video game in which more than one person can play in the same game environment at the same time. And unlike most other computer and video games that are often single-player activities that pit the player against preprogrammed challenges and/or AI-controlled opponents, VB S2 has flexibility and incorporates the ingenuity of human thinking. However, unlike PlayStation video games geared solely towards entertainment, the hero or avatar in VB S2 does not have an endless life force. The physical work of being on the battlefield is also accurately represented.
In the real world, if a Soldier sprints for a long time, they get tired and their breathing gets ragged. In VB S2, the avatar's heart rate races and his vision goes "wobbly" after extreme exertion. The point of his weapon also goes up and down, resembling what Soldiers go through in the real world when they try to aim at a target after running. Perhaps the best thing about VB S2 is no one scenario within it is quite like the other.
"If an ambush happened in Afghanistan tomorrow, next week we'll have a vignette to show us what happened. That allows us to bring up talking points and what could have been done better," said Claytor.
VB S2 is ever changing. It's adaptable. "In two years, I don't think I've run the same mission twice," said Claytor.
For example, she can insert trash in the road that disguises an IED, or suddenly the role players could be facing an angry mob of civilians. Unlike other tactical trainers, VB S2 can be changed on the fly.
Although the virtual portion of each LDX is still under development, it's the teamwork and learning that takes place for both the FA lieutenants and maneuver Captains that is the best take-away.
"Collaboration between the CoEs is critical to accomplishing our Army's goals in Army Learning Concept 2015 (TRADOC PAM 525-8-2), and these LDXs are our first steps at realizing the benefits of integrated leader training," said Col. Sal Petrovia, Chief of Fires at the MCoE.
"We've encountered some obstacles during the effort, but the overwhelming feedback from all students and instructors to date has been extremely positive. Each LDX strengthens our critical maneuver and fire support bonds at the junior leader level," Petrovia said.
Collaboration on VB S2 Fires integration into the LDX scenario has already begun between the MCoE and FCoE, and VB S2 Fires will be integrated into the November LDX. Also, all CoEs are working jointly to expand the scenario into the "common scenario" using a heavy brigade combat team (HBCT) conducting an offensive mission, and then transitioning into a defensive mission, Petrovia said.
The "common scenario" development is also well underway, and will be implemented into instruction in January 2012.
"Ultimately, our goal for fire support is seamless integration into all plans and contingency operations. This collaboration of our junior leaders during institutional training will lay the foundation for successful company command, fire support relationships, and common maneuver and fire support goals as these young leaders move out to their units and onward to execute missions in the Global War on Terrorism," said Petrovia.