Video Games Gaining Clout as Military Training Tools

By Erwin, Sandra I. | National Defense, November 2000 | Go to article overview

Video Games Gaining Clout as Military Training Tools


Erwin, Sandra I., National Defense


Commercial computer games have "great training value," for the Marine Corps, said the service's commandant, Gen. James L. Jones.

Many simulations used by the Marine Corps at its facilities in Quantico, Va., rely on commercial video games, Jones said in an interview earlier this year.

"There is a squad leaders' course where a squad leader can stand in front of a giant screen and actually run a squad through a particular scenario," Jones explained. Those scenarios range from combat patrol through the jungle to urban warfare and operations in the desert. "The computer picks up [the squad leader's] command, as if he were talking to a real squad, and the computer can cause the squad to do different things," he added. "When he is engaged by an enemy force, he can maneuver his squad, and they react on the screen. But you really get into the game, and it's all done in real time and is very realistic."

Ideally, said Jones, there should be a balance between simulation-based and live training. "I believe in simulation and live training both. I think simulation can do an awful lot for learning the basics. But there is nothing like getting out there and doing it in real life," he said. "Sometimes that is more expensive, if you are shooting a very expensive shell." Tank gunnery, for example, is "extremely dependent on good simulation.

"We also can improve our individual marksmanship via simulation, with the M-16 rifle, that will actually result in higher scores when they go out and do live fire," Jones said.

In addition to combat training, Jones wants to take advantage of Web-based technology to allow more Marines to earn professional degrees online. "We are doing the same thing as the Army," said Jones. "I have told the Marine Corps that I expect resident courses and correspondence courses are to be considered by selection boards to be co-equal.

"We want Marines to get the education. How they do it is of secondary importance to me. And we are going to aggressively link all our off-campus to our on-campus courses," Jones asserted. "They'll be seamless."

The Army also has incorporated off-the-shelf video games into vehicle crew training systems.

A case in point is the use of the commercial tank simulation "Spearhead II" to train crews on artillery fire control, explained Jerry Speer, program manager at the Army's Simulation, Training and Instrumentation Command (STRICOM), in Orlando, Fla.

Spearhead, which can be purchased for about $30, was co-developed by Zombie Virtual Reality Studios and Mak Technologies Inc., based in Cambridge, Mass. It is a tank game featuring multi-player capabilities via the Internet and simulation of mobility and combat interactions.

The game is being used to "drive the operational software of the Army's FBCB2," said Speer. The FBCB2 is the Force XXI battle command prototype software that Army units at brigade and below levels use for command and control in a tactical network. The FBCB2 trainer incorporates the scenarios used in the Spearhead game, Speer explained. "You can use this system in a classroom, to train the digital skills that are perishable.

"The game is used to stimulate FBCB2," he said. Stimulate means, for example, sending messages that are used in the game on friendly and enemy position, to the operational FBCB2 software. "Then we display those forces that are in the game, within FBCB2. So you can see the enemy and friendly forces and communicate on their activities in the operational software. So the messages are stimulating FBCB2."

Even though Spearhead is a commercial tank game, he said, it's "a game that you can play and derive training benefits from, which is more attractive to Army soldiers than picking up a manual about what button to push to send which message. You can actually do it in a game environment."

The Spearhead-based system is being fielded as a prototype training device at Fort Hood, Texas, for the 4th Infantry Division, which is being equipped with the Army's more advanced digital networks.

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