SYRACUSE, NY--New York Army National Guard Soldiers can now hone their M2 machine gun skills in the classroom before heading for the range, thanks to a new training system called the Individual Gunnery Training or IGT.

The new system brings the range to the Soldier instead of requiring the Soldier to go to the range. It's similar to systems that have been used to train tank and Bradley gunners successfully.

The IGT is a computer training console with a simulated .50 caliber machine gun mounted on a stand. The gunner has to use a complex, but efficient system of switches and controls to maneuver the weapon, sight in using the head mounted display, and send mass amounts of cyber-rounds down range with precision.

"We are Combat Service Support and do not have the range time that other units have," said Master Sgt. Michael Molgaard, the operations sergeant for the 27th Brigade Special Troops Battalion. "This training system will help make up for that in a great way. This trainer will prepare the Soldier and get the Soldier in the right mind-set for actual hands on of the .50 cal."

The IGT was developed by the Raydon Corporation, and the 27th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, New York Army National Guard, is the first to field this new equipment.

"The system is a lot more advanced than most virtual battlefield trainers," said Staff Sgt. Anthony Burgess, a master gunner instructor with Charlie company, Warrior Training Center, Ft. Benning, GA. "It is the first of its kind with voice recognition."

Through a head mounted display and microphone, the Soldier can see 360 degrees of the battlefield and speak commands.

The computer recognizes key words and acts accordingly; bringing up visual displays, changing to night vision or thermal sight or even stopping the vehicle, to name a few. The computer also takes into consideration the possibility of multiple enemy targets from the side and rear of the vehicle.

"It teaches the Soldier situational awareness since the enemy can come from any direction," Burgess added. "The Soldier can virtually see everything around him."

Three interactive programs of instruction are included with the .50 caliber IGT system. The first is the basic .50 caliber for new users to give the Soldier familiarization with the trainer and the capabilities fo the system. T

The second and third are more advanced and take the Soldier through a matrix progression, designed for sustainment in the Combat Service Support and Heavy Brigade Combat Team gunnery tables.

"This system teaches the Soldier everything there is to know in order to fire live rounds," said William Evans, a training specialist with Raydon.

"From traverse and elevation on the tripod, to tracking a target, to night fire, to using the thermal sights," he added.

"The tutorial and hands-on training takes an average of 60-80 hours to complete," Burgess said. "Once the initial training is complete, sustainment training can be done each time the Soldier uses the system."

The computer remembers where the Soldier left off and will adjust the tutorials based on the amount of time since the last class in order to keep the Soldier up to date and efficient. Targets moving across the screen can be anything from enemy troops, trucks and armored vehicles to helicopters.

Civilians are also brought into the scenario to help Soldiers distinguish between enemy targets and civilians in order to make the right decisions while firing.

"All the different situations that a Soldier could be put through during an actual live fire gunnery, are replicated on the IGT," Burgess said. "It queues you up for what you could face on a range or in the real world ... this trainer is a gate to live fire "

"This is a great tool that teaches the fundamentals and allows for home-station training, "said Sgt. First Class David Ford, the battle NCO for the 27th IBCT. "But there is no substitute for the real thing."