By Staff Sgt. Joel SalgadoJuly 22, 2015
As a convoy of Humvees travels across the dusty plains, Sgt. Jarrod Stegall scans for potential threats. Suddenly his vehicle comes to a halt as a pickup truck comes out from behind a building. Recognizing it as an insurgent vehicle, the vehicle commander shouts to Stegall, "Enemy vehicle 400 meters!"
Receiving the command, he adjusts his traverse and elevation mechanism to the correct settings and engages the target. A few rounds later, the enemy vehicle is destroyed and he radios the vehicle commander to confirm the kill. Satisfied with the engagement the vehicle commander orders the convoy to keep moving.
The convoy continues with Stegall engaging similar vehicular and dismounted threats until they reach their destination. Following the mission Stegall takes off the virtual headset, clears his simulated machine gun and exits the simulator.
The entire convoy Stegall conducted July 16 was in virtual reality, utilizing the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault)'s unstabilized gunnery trainer-individual, a virtual training system that allows unit master gunners to build scenarios for crew gunners to virtually engage targets and validate them before conducting live-fire gunnery tables.
As the first active duty unit in the Army to receive the system, according to Nate Johnson, a senior training specialist for Radon, the company that produces the system, there are high expectations for its ability to add value to the unit's training, a sentiment echoed by 3rd BCT's master gunner, Sgt. 1st Class Buakai Tamu.
"We expect to see drastic improvement now that they can come here and, without expending an excess amount of rounds attempting to engage and destroy targets, we can identify their weaknesses, get better at the crew drills that are required, get them proficient at the range," said Tamu.
Consisting of a simulated weapon system, a heads-up display visor, and a headset that allows the gunner to communicate with a synthetic vehicle commander and driver, the systems provides the trainee a full crew experience to allow them to train the tasks required for gunnery.
"It makes it a lot more interesting because it's something that I can communicate with," said Stegall, a vehicle crewmember with the 626th Brigade Support Battalion, 3rd BCT Rakkasans. "Just getting familiarized with moving around and the commands helps me dramatically. That, in turn, helps with my training, and training produces results."
The typical training process to validate a crew prior to live-fire gunnery places them in a similar system, the Reconfigurable Vehicle Tactical Trainer, a full-scale mockup of a vehicle that is designed to focus more on crew drills and convoy scenarios.
"The RVTT is not a primary system for gunnery," said Tamu. Its focus is more on convoys and scenarios where crews maneuver and react to contact.
"The UGT-I comes ready with the most up to date manuals, requirements and score sheets which can assist the gunner in meeting the standards to move to gate to live fire," said the Rakkasan master gunner.
Tamu, a scout in the Army, said he can definitely see the benefits the system would have given him as both a gunner and a crew member if it were around while he grew up in the Army.
"One reason it's important is because it would help personnel … to become proficient at some key drills such as employment of the weapon system, target acquisition, engagement techniques, moving around with the traverse and elevation mechanisms, which will save precious time on the range when the Soldiers are actually qualifying on their crew gunnery," he said. "Having the ability to rehearse and training prior to getting out there on a live-fire range makes everything second nature."
In addition to the training the system offers, the UGT-I allows for the unit master gunners, senior gunners and leadership to receive immediate results from a training simulation.
"As a master gunner, we can put those score sheets together and identify the biggest weaknesses or the drawbacks, and then we can recommend to unit leaders and master gunners and senior gunners to focus [on] that training prior to occupying the range," said Tamu.
With a battalion weapons company set to conduct crew live-fire next month, the UGT-I will get its first chance to prove its worth in ensuring that the Rakkasan gunners are capable of providing accurate and discriminate fires in support of the brigade's forces.