Magazine article National Defense

Avoiding Ambushes

Magazine article National Defense

Avoiding Ambushes

Article excerpt

Marine Corps accelerates deployment of convoy simulators

The Marine Corps is expanding the use of simulators to pre- pare infantryman to survive roadside ambushes.

"The explosion in ground simulations is a paradigm shift for the Marine Corps," said Terry Bennington, deputy director of the Marine Corps' Training and Education Command's technology division at Quantico, Va.

A decision last year to acquire eight new infantry simulators at a cost of $5 million each was rooted in necessity, officials said, as near-constant combat deployments have left Marines barely with enough time stateside to train before they're gone again.

Marines had for years been asking for training devices that would allow them to conduct combat convoy dry-runs, Bennington said.

Currently, the Corps has two networked six-vehicle combat simulators at Camp Pendleton, Calif. A similar setup is planned for Camp Lejeune, N. C One six-vehicle simulator will be installed in Hawaii, two in Okinawa, Japan; and one at Twentynine Palms, Calif. All eight of the $5 million systems will be fully fielded by the end of 2009, Bennington said.

By training on the simulator, Marines are given the opportunity to encounter the enemy in about 20 different scenarios, all based on actual events that occurred on the ground in Iraq. They experience the action while riding in vehicles and shooting weapons that look and feel like the real thing. The experience also leaves them better prepared for their required live-action training, officials said.

"In a day, they can learn a lot of stuff that would [normally] take weeks to do," said Luis Garcia, project manager for the combat convoy simulator at the Marine Corps' training systems office in Orlando, Fla. Garcia and his team are working with the Corps' Training and Education Command to make the simulator a requirement for pre-deployment training. Currently it is an option for commanders in addition to their required combat training work-ups.

The convoy simulator at Camp Pendleton is located inside two sprawling 6,000 square-foot warehouse-sized buildings sitting on about half an acre. Inside, each building is divided into six bays, each containing a vehicle hull completely surrounded by a 360-degree display screen.

The vehicles - light humvees and 7-ton medium trucks - are the actual hulls, minus their engines. The optics are the same as those used in the field. Eight overhead projectors aimed at the surrounding screen are able to create day and night conditions, which allow Marines to practice exercises using their night-vision goggles. The sounds of combat are also piped in as another detail that adds to authenticity, including weapons and calls for artillery fire.

While the system helps set the scene for combat, the high-tech personal weaponry inside the simulation bay allows Marines to fight as they would in theater. Marines are outfitted with M- 16s, M-4s and pistols equipped with Bluefire technology that uses nitrogen or carbon dioxide gas canisters in the magazine to recreate firing recoil. The gas canisters have revolutionized the simulator environment by cutting the cord, trainers said. Previously, mock firing recoil was created with an air hose that kept Marines tethered.

"For our small arms, we were able to go to the Bluefire, which means you're able to get out of the vehicle now. You don't have that long black cord trailing behind you," Bennington said.

That mobility is crucial, as Marines need to be able to move freely around their vehicles in order to interact with other vehicles in adjacent bays that are linked into the system. The system at Pendleton has 12 vehicles networked together, which allows 60 Marines to train at once using the same scenario.

"You still see all the other vehicles in that virtual world," Bennington said.

Normally in simulations, what you see is [only] in front of you," Bennington said. …

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