FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (Feb. 26, 2009) - The Army is currently fielding the new Virtual Battle Space 2 Army gaming system, designed to provide units realistic, integrated training based on lessons learned from the field in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Col. Mark McManigal, director of Futures and Integration Directorate and Training and Doctrine Command's Training Capability Manager for Gaming, residing at the National Simulation Center at Fort Leavenworth, said VBS2 Army was developed based on training gaps identified in small unit operations.
He described the primary benefits of VBS2 Army as a mission rehearsal tool and place where Soldiers and leaders can develop and practice unit tactics, techniques and procedures in a game environment before executing live training in preparation for combat operations.
Although VBS2 Army is tailored to train Soldiers at company level and below, McManigal said, "It has a great deal of potential to get at some select battalion-level combined arms training strategies, such as (command and control)."
He gave an example of an infantry battalion commander at Fort Lewis, Wash., who integrated field and game training in a distributed environment during an exercise last October.
"(VBS2 Army) is a training enabler that's low cost, low overhead and doesn't require a lot of operators," McManigal said.
Each VBS2 Army fielding suite consists of 52 laptop computers, headsets with microphone, optical mice, steering wheel controllers and a projector for conducting after action reviews. All of the components can be packed and deployed with a unit. Two observer-controllers are all that are required to operate the system for a company-level exercise.
Some improvements that VBS2 Army provides over past Army systems, McManigal said, are the ability to modify the game scenario in real time, simulation of the battle command systems and an enhanced after action review capability.
"Additionally, we have a capability within the game to conduct language and cultural training - a very powerful tool," McManigal said.
During a demonstration of VBS2 Army Feb. 19 at NSC, Soldiers in a convoy of humvees drove through the streets of an Iraqi town, dodged an improvised explosive device and sniper fire, and then dismounted to speak with a local sheikh. An observer-controller then changed the scenario in real time adding another IED and calling in a medevac helicopter.
Maj. Tom Biedermann, an Australian exchange officer at NSC, said his army has used a version of VBS2 for about two years. VBS2 and VBS2 Army were developed by the Australian company Bohemia Interactive.
"The American version concentrates a lot more on the theaters of war that they, and to a lesser extent we (Australia), are involved in, specifically Iraq and Afghanistan," Biedermann said.
He said VBS2 Army is a powerful situational awareness tool for Soldiers at lower levels to better understand their role in the overall mission.
McManigal said VBS2 Army is "not just for the infantryman; it can be for the truck driver, the convoy commander, the new lieutenant and the special operations forces Soldier."
Hans Hull is a military analyst at NSC, ensuring that equipment and personnel within the VBS2 Army environment are operating doctrinally and within their capabilities.
"My job is to provide the most realistic simulation experience for Soldiers," Hull said.
As a former armor senior noncommissioned officer, Hull said he used the older unit conduct of fire trainer and SIMNET systems, but that they were hands-on virtual systems as compared to VBS2 Army, a cognitive gaming system. Hull said a system like VBS2 Army would have been an incredible training asset during his time in the Army.
VBS2 Army was first fielded last week at Fort Hood, Texas, and full Armywide fielding is scheduled to be completed by the end of September.
Although VBS2 Army is just now being fielded, McManigal said NSC is already looking to improve VBS2 Army and researching the development of future gaming systems.
For example, McManigal's team will incorporate a community of practice repository to disseminate new information and share terrain files, scenarios and content throughout the VBS2 Army community. A community forum will allow units to share lessons learned from in the field, as well as receive new tips, techniques and procedures from sources like the Joint IED Defeat Organization.
McManigal said these capabilities would allow units to build specific scenarios tailored to meet their mission requirements.
"VBS2 Army has the capability to help those leaders meet those training objectives, and that is very powerful," he said.
Editor's note: Screenshots of the game are available at http://virtualbattlespace.vbs2.com/.