NAVAL SUPPORT ACTIVITY NORTHWEST, Chesapeake, Va. — At one of the Marine Corps’ largest live-fire training facilities here, a new surveillance system is helping to provide military and other security forces with better evaluations following close-quarter battle exercises.
Inside the two-story, 5,300 square-foot shooting house, posters of gunmen line the bullet-riddled walls and 55 surveillance cameras and 36 microphones perch in the corners of its rooms and hallways. Designed to train security forces for both land and water missions, half of the building’s interior is modeled after a generic home, with rooms containing sparse furniture such as couches and cardboard televisions. The other half resembles the interior of a naval vessel, with narrow hallways and doorways, ladders and staterooms outfitted with wooden bunk bed frames.
In a nearby building, Staff Sgt. Samuel Townsel sits in a spacious, darkened room normally used for virtual firearms training. Using a wireless keyboard, he punches up a green video of Marines training inside the shooting house. As he follows the eight-man team through the building, the footage rarely breaks and the transition between cameras is smoothed out.
He is using a new surveillance technology called Praetorian, a Windows-based software system that takes various sensors, such as cameras, and consolidates the resulting video streams and data into a single, three-dimensional picture through which operators can navigate.
“You can watch so many scenarios,” says Townsel, who has served three tours in Iraq so far. He is one of two operators within the Marine Corps Security Force Training Company based here who monitors these exercises. During his time in Fallujah and other areas, he saw plenty of close-quarter battles and says this type of training in the shooting house will help to better prepare Marines for what they will encounter in Iraq.
Onscreen, an eight-man team of Marines discovers an improvised explosive device in one of the doorways. Townsel toggles quickly between several cameras to see how the Marines around the corner are reacting to the scenario.
Instructors can pull up the footage and do the same thing during a review, he says. Not only does it provide trainees with more comprehensive evaluations, but it also speeds up the training process itself.
The training exercises eventually will be recorded and shared with Marines who come through the course, he says. The recordings also will be sent to their respective commands.
Before Praetorian, the shooting house relied upon a surveillance system that was installed as the building was being constructed in the mid-1990s. The video would feed directly into a command and control center equipped with seven television screens displaying snippets from the network of cameras.
“The limitation of the existing system would be that I get a one-point view off the video tape,” says Phil Grasty, a retired Marine officer who is now in charge of the firing range facilities on post. “I see the guys come in, but I don’t know what they did in the hallway, from the camera.”
The new system, on the other hand, gives observers the flexibility to watch the action from multiple perspectives, he says.
“It works very well for what we have in that facility,” he says.
He hopes to fully incorporate Praetorian into the shooting house and install fiber optics within the next year or so, if he gets funding, he says.
Townsel is eager to make the transition to the new system. “It’s going to give us a lot more freedom,” he says. — Grace Jean