By Gary SheftickFebruary 24, 2012
FORT MEADE, Md. (Army News Service, Feb. 23, 2012) -- A new type of immersive full-spectrum training will be tested next month at Fort Irwin, Calif.
The "Decisive Action Training Environment" aims to link live-fire training with units immersed in virtual training, others experiencing constructive training at operation centers and still others involved in gaming. While Soldiers of the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, or HBCT, 3rd Infantry Division will be in the "box" at the National Training Center, known as NTC, they will be linked to support units participating at other locations.
A similar training environment was recently tested in Germany at the Joint Readiness Training Center, but not to the extent it will be put to the test in March at NTC, said Col. Robert "Pat" White, deputy commander of the Combined Arms Center-Training at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. He spoke Feb. 22 during a Blogger's roundtable from the Association of the U.S. Army winter symposium in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Combined Arms Center officials see the new NTC exercise as part of an Army "revolution" in training. It can save funding by linking virtual training and gaming to live-fire exercises. At the same time, it can simulate some of the complexities of the modern battlefield, White said.
"You can't replicate bullets flying at you," White said. "You cannot replicate the mortars and the rockets that are in combat itself. What we can replicate is the complexity of that."
The first full-spectrum Decisive Action Training Environment, or DATE, at NTC will feature a scenario in the Caucasus mountain region, White said. The HBCT will face hybrid threats ranging from conventional forces to insurgents. For about 4,000 Soldiers from the HBCT, it will be their first full-spectrum, tank-on-tank, force-on-force training in 10 years, according to a 3rd Inf. Div. brigade spokesman.
Most rotations to NTC in the past decade have focused on counter-insurgency, or COIN operations to prepare troops for duty in Iraq or Afghanistan.
This time Soldiers will bring with them their M1 tanks from Fort Benning, Ga., along with Bradley Fighting Vehicles and the brand new Assault Breacher Vehicle, or ABV. Company C of the Brigade's Special Troops Battalion was the first unit in the Army to be fielded with the ABVs, and received them less than a month ago.
The ABV is based on the M1 tank chassis and is designed for conducting in-stride breaching of minefields and complex obstacles. It has a full-width mine plow, dual-line charges, lane-marking system, remote-control system, and protective weapons system.
While 3rd ID Soldiers fight the maneuver battle in the Mohave Desert, other units will be linked into the scenario from nodes at their home stations.
"I get so excited about this," White said. "It opens up a whole new way to train."
Soldiers home-stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, will test another multi-echelon training environment this summer. The "Immersive Training Environment" will also link virtual, constructive and live training with gaming, White said.
Both a government acceptance test and user acceptance test for the Immersive Training Environment is expected to take place later this year at Fort Hood. If successful, the equipment and software will be fielded at other posts, camps and stations, White said.
Enablers such as Unmanned Aerial Systems and aircraft may support such exercises through simulations, White said, saving funding during a time of fiscal belt-tightening. "Our checkbook is not as full as it used to be," he said.
White said the "Training Brain" in Newport News, Va., can help commanders save funds by providing the "digital dirt" to recreate any region of the world for home-station exercises, using real-life data and bending it for training scenarios. Soldiers at home station would be able to immerse themselves into the "matrix" of the scenario.
Several brigades can be linked into an exercise from different locations, said Col. Maciotto Johnson, director of TCM Virtual for the Combined Arms Center-Training. For instance, he said one unit could be on a live-fire range at Fort Dix, N.J., another unit could be immersed in virtual training at Fort Hood, another in constructive training at tactical operations center on Fort Stewart, Ga., and a fourth unit could be involved in gaming.
All four of these units could be networked together for the exercise, training multiple echelons simultaneously.
In addition, a pilot program at Fort Benning is striving to create a virtual world where individual Soldiers can train on their own, any time of the day, to hone individual skills. White said the project is attempting to recreate a "World of Warcraft" type virtual domain where Soldiers will be able to train 24 hours, seven days a week.
"A lot of people, especially in the Army, would like to have a gaming solution that can immerse a Soldier, Johnson said. But he explained that it's not always easy to create culturally correct avatars for one-on-one interaction in a complex environment. "But we are working toward that in the gaming environment," he added.