21st C virtual soldier training is here...

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21st C virtual soldier training is here...

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Twisted rebar, concrete, and splintered furniture lay scattered across the floor of this room. Our view through a jagged hole in the wall looks out on the city, showing steady civilian traffic crossing a bridge over a river below. Sparrows flap through the gray haze, and Arabic music and the voices of merchants filter up from the street.

An Army major beside me, Paul Tyrrell, scans the high-rises on the other side of the river through his laser rangefinder. He is the frontline eyes of the coalition, responsible for calling in air strikes. A platoon sergeant named Donald Prado tells Tyrrell that an office tower half a mile to the west is an enemy stronghold.

In eight minutes, coalition soldiers will storm across the bridge. Prado radios in for the Air Force to drop a smoke screen for cover. He's also spotted snipers on the roof of a hospital to the north but cautions the major that the civilian facility is off-limits to targeting.

Then Tyrrell sees something Prado missed: Three of the antennas on the roof are tactical radio masts, a tip-off that insurgents are using the hospital as a communications base.

"That's a high-payoff target, brother," says Tyrrell. He gets approval to deliver a "limited lethality" fragmentation bomb to the hospital roof. The office tower will receive the full treatment - a 1,000-pound GPS-guided bunker buster.

Seconds later, the missiles smash into their targets in perfect synchrony. Smoke and dust billow out in bright plumes, followed by shouts and the keening of ambulance sirens.

The air is thick with heat, but it's not the merciless 120-degree swelter of Baghdad. It's late spring in Lawton, Oklahoma. We're in the battle lab of an Army base called Fort Sill, and the air-conditioning is on the fritz. The river, the bridge, the civilian traffic, the birds, the bombs, and Sergeant Prado are all virtual - a simulation generated by flat-panel displays on the walls, a subwoofer in the floor, and half a dozen Windows and Linux boxes down the hall. Only the smashed furniture, the officer standing beside me, and the adrenaline spikes are real.

This is the new way soldiers will train for battle. In September, a select group of Army infantrymen, Marine corpsmen, Navy sailors, and Air Force pilots at Fort Sill will become the first military personnel to learn the art of combat and the rules of engagement from surround sound action movies starring themselves.
By netchicken: posted on 29-8-2004

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