Magazine article National Defense

'America's Army'

Magazine article National Defense

'America's Army'

Article excerpt

Game Branches Out Into Real Combat Training

When the Army launched its PC-based video game, America's Army, three and a halt years ago, the service's intention was to connect with young people, encourage teamwork and promote its core values. But now the action game is morphing beyond its original mission, becoming the platform for numerous other military and government training simulations.

"Before we even launched the public game, we knew from development that this type of technology was pretty powerful for training, especially small units-small intantry teams, special forces teams," said Christopher Chambers, deputy director for America's Army, in an interview with National Defense.

The game's technology has been incorporated into a number of virtual training applications already, including embedded trainers, in which America's Army software runs on the computers that drive their respective weapons systems, such as the Bradley, the Javelin and the CROWS, or common remotely operated weapons station.

At the Serious Games Summit in Arlington, Va., Michael Bode, a software engineer for the Army's Redstone Arsenal, demonstrated the prototype of a Tube-launched, Optically-tracked, Wire-guided (TOW) anti-tank missile system trainer-one of the newest simulations that was built with America's Army software.

"We're turning it around incredibly fast because of the high re-use factor" of America's Army, he said.

But the game's applications stretch beyond individual weapons training.

"What we can do is connect our visualization to real lessons, real vehicles and other simulations, and now we have a more complete set of training levels, from the team up to the division," said Chambers.

The project's next goal is to leverage the service's simulation centers, which utilize computer technologies to prepare soldiers for battlefield scenarios.

By linking up the individual game-based virtual trainers with large-scale training operations, the Army can have multi-level tiers of virtual training going on, he said.

"The training need that we can service well is the live, multi-player interactions in a distributed fashion," said Chambers. For example, the game could assist the training for National Guard units, which are scattered across a state and throughout the country. "The America's Army product is designed, by its nature, to be Internet-capable and very easy to connect to across the country or around the world. So that allows us to do distributed training and secret training" without having to bring everyone together in one place, he said.

At the games summit, Jerry Hleiter, of Anteon Corp., gave a demonstration of how the technology is being incorporated into the Army's simulation centers via a 360-degree immersive environment.

"The environment becomes the training medium, and that's where America's Army plays in," he said. "We use America's Army as the visual system."

Inside such a simulation, soldiers can train on foot or in mock-ups of vehicles and aircraft. They wear vests with audio systems embedded in them that send out signals to the simulation's location system, enabling a virtual player to interact with the live player and vice versa.

"By leveraging game technology and having that feedback, we can have consequence to an action," said Hleiter.

In a convoy trainer simulation demonstration in which six vehicles are tasked with hunting down a bomb maker, the first vehicle, controlled by a live player sitting at a desktop computer, is engaged by snipers firing from a building. The second vehicle, manned by four live soldiers riding in a Humvee mock-up inside the simulation center, provides supporting cover. …

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