Giant HD Screens Put Army Soldiers Inside Virtual Combat
Giant high-definition screens and surround sound can do much more for U.S. Army soldiers than just showcase Hollywood's latest war film. They can also create the virtual reality experience of surviving enemy ambushes, firefights and even roadside bomb blasts while hunkered down inside an armored vehicle.
One group of soldiers headed for Afghanistan became the first to go through the new combat simulator last month. The explosive effects of simulated blasts rocked their simulated armored vehicle, even as smoke obscured their vision of the nearby terrain simulated in high-definition video on a giant screen surrounding the vehicle.
Such technological wizardry can go a long way toward preparing soldiers for the psychological confusion and physical impact of the real thing, said Darren Ganier-Slotterbeck, a U.S. Army soldier and civil affairs specialist.
"I deployed in 2005, 2007 and 2008 with the Marines. I've been blown up multiple times," said Ganier-Slotterbeck, "and it definitely brought back memories. I was a little shaky when I got out of that thing. I'm not going to lie."
The new combat simulator allows soldiers not only to react to an improvised explosive device (IED) threat, but also to practice night training, firing on enemies from a moving vehicle, spotting unexploded bombs, and medical evacuations.
There's even a replay option similar to re-watching a football play or a "Starcraft 2" video-game match. The simulator records all the training scenario action so soldiers can immediately review what they did right or wrong and learn from the experience.
"If we'd had the ability to go through training like this at the time, those deployments would have been a lot different," Ganier-Slotterbeck said.
Such features also impressed Lt. Col. Eric K. Shafa, commander of Provincial Reconstruction Team Kapisa. His soldiers, including Ganier-Slotterbeck, are scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan once they finish training on the combat simulator at Camp Atterbury, near Edinburgh, Ind.
"A lot of these guys have never been to Afghanistan, and for them to see what the roads are like, what the scenarios are that they may encounter," Shafa said. "It helps prepare them for what they will see when they get downrange so they already have in mind what it's going to be like."
The Army's interest in virtual reality training doesn't end with the new simulator fielded by the Army's Counter-IED Collective and Individual Mounted Training Program. It has also ordered a different virtual reality combat simulator that mixes "Call of Duty" with Star Trek's holodeck to allow soldiers to rehearse combat missions almost anywhere in the world.