Simulation Reshaping Military Training

Article excerpt

TECHNOLOGY JUMPING FROM TEENAGERS" COMPUTERS TO PILOTS" COCKPITS

Driven by ever increasing competition for defense dollars, U.S. military training is in the midst of a revolution led in part by a technology that is perhaps best known for its capacity to entertain teenagers on theme park rides, video games, and personal computers.

The technology is simulation, which is most familiar to millions of teens and their parents as the use of computer equipment to recreate a risk-free experience of doing something exciting-such as driving a race car, flying a space ship or fighting aliens. Some simulations, nicknamed "god games," put players in complete control of a computerized version of, say, the Battle of Gettysburg or the race to build a transcontinental railroad.

Today, simulation technology is assuming a major role in military training. The armed services are turning to simulation equipment for the same reasons that it has long fascinated the nation's young:

At its best, military trainers said, simulation can provide a surprisingly true-to-life experience, without endangering either life or equipment. In the field of military training, where weapons are deadly and equipment can cost many millions of dollars apiece, these are attractive attributes.

"Clearly, we need realistic training," Lt. Gen. Joseph Redden, commander of the Air Force's Air University, at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., told an industry briefing in Orlando, Fla. "We're using simulation to anticipate critical events as realistically as possible before we actually have to deal with them in real life."

The briefing was conducted in Orlando, because it is the headquarters for the Defense Department's simulation community. Attracted by the presence of Disney World, Universal Studios, a myriad of computer and software companies, and the University of Central Florida, all of the armed services have established training and simulation operations in Orlando.

Among them are the Army's Simulation, Training and Instrumentation Command (STRICOM), the Naval Air Warfare Center Training Systems Division (NAWCTSD) and the Air Force Training Systems Product Group (TSPG).

Largely through their efforts, simulation now is being employed in almost every arena of military training. For example, simulators are being used to teach:

Air Force pilots to fly advanced fighters-such as the stealthy F- 117.

Navy submarine officers to navigate in harbors and ship channels.

Army howitzer crews to execute indirect fire mission operations.

Marine infantry squads to clear a house during combat conditions.

Perhaps because of widespread experience with electronic games, young military personnel adapt quickly to the new teaching methods, their superiors said.

"Generation X is very comfortable operating in a simulation environment," said Marine Lt. Col. Frank McCallister, a team leader for the Simulator Master Plan at the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR), in Patuxent River, Md.

Simulators also are being used on a broader scale, to train military commanders. Earlier this year, for example, during the 50th anniversary summit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in Washington, D.C., the United States and

Sweden hosted a simulation demonstration for military commanders from 25 Partnership for Peace nations. …