As improvised explosive devices continue to claim soldiers' lives, the US military is exploring simulated training, which it hopes will better prepare troops for war.
With its complex technologies and fantastical weapons development, modern warfare has been inspiring videogame software since the earliest days of gaming. Now the tables have turned and Motion Reality, the firm behind the computer-generated Gollum character from ‘Lord of the Rings’ have created virtual-reality training programs to help train soldiers.
- The Humvee is a replica armoured vehicle stationed in Fort Eustis, Vancouver, which is used to prep military trainees for war in Afghanistan and Iraq. Riding in the hydraulic 4x4 simulator is similar to being in a theme park equivalent, featuring the g-force shocks soldiers would experience when driving over homemade improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Afghanistan, for example.
- The program was born out of collaboration between the military and the entertainment industry, a relationship that was cemented in the disaster of 9/11. The 360° virtual environment includes artificially intelligent avatars that respond to physical and voice commands.
- IEDs have contributed significantly to the US death-toll, killing more US soldiers over the last two years than gunfire. “This is better than anything I can create in the field,” says Major Dolge, an Afghanistan and Iraq veteran, of the simulated training. It adequately prepares the soldiers for the dangers they will experience at war, he says.
- A signpost outside Fort Eustis points to Baghdad, Iraq, Kandahar and Afghanistan – a sobering reminder of what lies beyond the entertainment of the virtual training centre.
- Master Sergeant Terry Constantine crouches in a visually-simulated environment at Fort Monroe. HD camera technology capturing full-body 3D motion, much like in an immersive videogame, is being used to counter the low-tech IEDs employed by Afghan militants.
- Satellite images, surveillance data and intelligence reports from Iraq and Afghanistan are used to create a credible 3D architecture for the simulation. VIRTSIM can immerse up to 12 troops in its virtual environment allowing for the culminating section of the training: two teams battling each other to stay alive in a training exercise.
- Clint Attwell, chief warrant officer, tries out special 3D glasses inside the 3D simulator. In the simulated environment, soldiers practise tracking and shooting armed tanks using real and simulated weapons. The realistic battle-training allows them to cut their teeth before being exposed to the perils of Afghanistan.