BOISE, Idaho -- The National Guard Bureau has partnered with a Hollywood special effects company to make future training more realistic for brigade combat teams during Exportable Combat Training Capability exercises.
The improvements involve a new visual modification kit that will transform the Army's M1097 HMMWV into simulated Russian T-72 Main Battle Tanks and BTR-90 Personnel Carriers.
While BCTs already use variations of visual modifications -- plastic, fiberglass, and sheet metal -- to replicate enemy vehicles, these new kits are the first of their kind, said Maj. Aaron Ammerman, XCTC program manager for the NGB.
"Taking a look at how VisMods are done across the Army, I think these are the best I've ever seen," said Ammerman. "They will provide an exponentially more realistic threat signature for troops to train against as they do force-on-force exercises."
In 2018, NGB contracted Westefx to improve the XCTC program and its 21-day combat training exercises that ready units for mobilization. The company has provided special effects for movies such as "James Bond," "Taken" and "Men in Black II." They have also participated in approximately 50 XCTC rotations by providing battlefield effects, props and equipment for the military the past 10 years.
Westefx owner and lead designer Erick Brennan said the new VisMods will provide Soldiers with realistic identification and engagement training via effective noise and visual signals.
"No enhanced battlefield training simulators can compare with the functionality, realism, durability and cost-effectiveness of this new VisMod vehicle," said Brennan. "They are pretty amazing and we are really proud of them."
The kits -- each weighing approximately 1,700 pounds and fitting over the chassis of a Humvee -- resemble the size and silhouette of the tank and personnel carrier but with an inflatable canvas-like frame.
Its gas-operated weapon systems simulate the firing of .50-caliber and 125 mm main guns that can be configured to multiple integrated laser engagement systems. The MILES gear, along with the kit's smoke generator, will enable Soldiers to track and simulate target acquisition.
"We will be able to train against a realistic enemy," said Sgt. 1st Class Clinton Doramus, Idaho Army National Guard VisMod fleet manager. "These kits aren't going to look and act like a Humvee. They are going to look and act like T-72s and BTR-90s."
While exponentially more realistic than previous VisMod vehicles, these kits also provide a more cost-effective alternative than using actual tanks and personnel carriers. The Humvees cost less and the Army has more of them.
"A Humvee costs approximately $30,000 plus another maybe $5,000 to maintain for the year, whereas an M1A1 tank costs a lot more," said Doramus. "It's initial and maintenance expenses that make these kits a lot more cost-effective to do on Humvees than tanks or Bradleys. Plus the Army doesn't just have 60 spare tanks sitting around somewhere."
Doramus and a team from the Idaho Guard, mostly engineers and mechanics, helped Westefx install 12 kits onto Humvees at the Idaho Army National Guard's Orchard Combat Training Center. The team has spent more than a year assembling and maintaining the fleet of 60 Humvees allocated for installation. NGB and Westefx plan to continue production of 48 more kits over the next three years.