DSTS: First immersive virtual training system fielded

By MAJ. LOREN BYMER, 3rd Brigade Combat Team Public AffairsAugust 1, 2012

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FORT BRAGG, N.C. (Aug. 1, 2012) -- The Army's responsibility is to provide realistic training for the individual Soldier while mitigating risk. With emerging technology of the virtual world, this is becoming a reality.

The first fully immersive virtual simulation training system for Soldiers was fielded at Fort Bragg last week, and Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., gets the Dismounted Soldier Training System this week.

The Maneuver Center of Excellence's Directorate of Training and Doctrine spent more than five years developing the DSTS with Training and Doctrine Command Capability Manager for Virtual Systems and the Program Executive Office for Simulation, Training and Instrumentation.

"(The Dismounted Soldier Training System) gives the power of simulation to the squad in order to close the gap of individual Soldier training and collective training," said John Matthews, project director and assistant project manager for Close Combat Tactical Trainers with PEO-STRI. "This system enhances training, it does not replace it."

With a variety of environments, and the ability to insert specific entities into the scenarios, the options for training opportunities are virtually limitless for offensive and defensive operations, said Paul Kizinkiewicz, Light Systems Team chief for DOTD's Systems Training Branch.

Replicating complex operating environments can be challenging, said Col. Jay Peterson, assistant commandant of the Infantry School. A battalion might visit the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La., every two years, but it's expensive. That's where simulation comes into play.

"(The Dismounted Soldier Training System) puts Soldiers in that environment," Peterson said. "They look into it and all of a sudden, they're in a village. There (are) civilians moving on the battlefield, and there (are) IEDs and vehicles moving. ... If utilized right, you can put a squad in that environment every day and give them one more twist."

Rehearsals for missions or live-fire exercises are just a couple of ways Sgt. Charles Haywood said he sees using the system.

"You can mold the situation, and you can do it as many times as you want and give younger guys a chance to step up and be leaders," said the team leader, 1st Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, during Fort Bragg's validation process.

"I think everybody accomplished the missions, minus some casualties," Haywood said. "But that's part of (the training); retrain and try again. (The DSTS) would make part of a well-rounded training cycle, a little bit of this on top of field time can get you different views and situations."

The system itself is divided into five distinct work areas. The Soldier Simulated Training area is a 10-foot by 10-foot area with a manned module pad, which provides feedback for the Soldier to safely move in his or her space.

The Exercise Control Workstation is the brains behind the system and allows the trainer to create, modify and execute training exercises. This workstation controls each person participating in the training.

Virtual Soldier Multifunction Workstations allow additional virtual Soldiers, vehicles, neutral or opposing forces to "participate" in the training and is controlled via keyboard and mouse by an additional individual.

The Semi-Automated Forces Workstation gives the trainer the option to create additional static items like furniture and buildings or animated items such as dogs and birds, inside the virtual world. There can also be modifications made during the scenario like adding an improvised explosive device or more vehicles and combatants.

The ability to record Soldier, team and squad actions during training is a valuable tool for after-action reviews, said Jay Brimstin, deputy director of the MCoE's DOTD. And the ability to rapidly reset the training event allows for more repetitions. Enhancing training and leader development are the fastest and most effective means of achieving overmatch at the squad level, which is what the "Squad: Foundation of the Decisive Force" initiative is about.

A total of 127 DSTS suites will be fielded to Army and National Guard units, Kizinkiewicz said. Fort Benning's is located at the Clarke Simulation Center on Harmony Church.

"(Virtual training) supplements live training," said Jim Morris, chief of DOTD's Training Development Division, "by elevating the performance level of participants so that they enter the live training at a higher level. The reason that it saves money is that it would cost us significant amounts of money in order to make training enablers like UAVs or dog teams available for multiple training rotations. In the virtual environment, we bring them in virtually."

Editor's note: Vince Little of "The Bayonet" contributed to this report.