Before units are deployed to Iraq, they undergo “close quarter” combat training that is designed to prepare them for the rigors of urban warfare. But after completing their tours, troops have complained that current training facilities fall short in replicating the challenges of fighting in large cities.
Such demands have spurred companies in the training industry to modify the equipment and make it more relevant to troops’ needs.
In recent years, they have managed to package urban training systems in shipping containers that can be quickly transported, configured, stacked and decorated to look like city dwellings. Along with moveable walls, fixtures and special effects equipment to test troops’ abilities, these mobile trainers also are equipped with cameras, microphones, speakers and computers to capture the experience for post-training evaluations.
Industry is trying to insert the latest instrumentation into those training systems to create realistic urban conditions, said Fred Pickens, senior director for business development at General Dynamics Information Technology.
The company developed a mobile MOUT (military operations in urban terrain) training system with simulated human targets that swing out from around corners or pop up from sitting positions to challenge trainees’ firing techniques. In response to troops’ requests, the targets were programmed to fall down only after they had taken multiple hits — a pattern that troops have encountered with insurgents in Iraq, said Pickens.
Additionally, the appearance of the targets have been enhanced so that troops can learn to discriminate them when using night vision goggles and other optics, said Jerry Tussing, vice president and general manager for simulation, training and instrumentation solutions.
In Iraq, troops discovered that gaining access to rooftops typically required climbing ladders that are found behind the houses. At the top, there was usually a trap door.
“A lot of Marines got killed trying to climb up those ladders only to find an insurgent at the top with a machine gun,” said Dick Coltman, vice president for integrated instrumentation. As a result, trap doors are routinely included as part of the configuration of the mobile MOUT.
In training exercises, when troops breach the door to a mobile MOUT, their senses are immediately assaulted by an assortment of realistic sounds and smells, said Pickens, a retired Army colonel.
“The stink of the battlefield is something that’s hard to get used to,” he said. Whether it’s raw sewage, blood, or gunpowder, “there’s a whole host of smells on the battlefield. And you want them to be exposed to that in training, so that when they do it for real, they’re not shocked by the smell or the sight or the sounds, and they’re able to immediately go into combat without losing effectiveness.”
The system produces a range of smells, including gasoline and food, and sounds, including women screaming, babies crying, dogs barking and people cursing. In addition, fog machines can release smoke into a room to create confusion and hamper troops’ senses.
All of these special effects are inserted by an operator sitting in a control room. He monitors a team’s progress through the exercise via a suite of cameras that can be called up at the computer using touch-screen monitors. He can also deploy the targetry and battlefield sensory effects using the icon-based system, which gives users a bigger command-and-control picture, said Tussing.
The company has built software that is impervious to brands, so that a pan-tilt camera built by FLIR Systems and another built by Sony can both be controlled by the MOUT facility’s hardware, said Coltman.
“A person sitting in a control room doesn’t care whose it is. He just wants to make it pop up,” he said.
As urban training facilities increasingly are being incorporated into digital training exercises, and vice versa, the company must work to make its software interoperable with others so that data can be exchanged. Trainees in the MOUT, for example, may participate in a networked exercise with Stryker forces.
“Being able to integrate with other icon-based systems is one challenge we’re taking on,” said Coltman.
In the near future, the company plans to release a new version of the software that will allow better integration of hardware that may come later.
“What we’re trying to do is not have to change software because we have an equipment change,” he said. In the past, the company altered the system six to seven times to accommodate new hardware.
But there is more to be done.
MOUT facilities at the Army’s pre-deployment training sites are but a microcosm of what troops find in Iraq. In cities such as Mosul, which are populated by millions of people, there can be thousands of buildings.
“Most MOUT sites aren’t big enough to realistically replicate the size of a major urban center,” said Pickens. “That’s something we’ve got to get our hands around, because most threat analyses indicate that future adversaries are going to withdraw into major urban centers.”
Retired training officers say MOUT sites help troops learn how to kick down doors, enter and clear rooms and engage targets inside a confined area. But most of the casualties in Iraq are occurring while troops are operating in between buildings and out on the streets.
“There’s just no way you can replicate that in training, unless you go and take over a town somewhere and train inside a town,” said Pickens.
Within the military, officials are discussing how to better capture the immense size of the urban environment so that combat units can train and be better prepared for operations.
A potential solution is to integrate live training with virtual training. If a brigade were exercising at a major range, such as the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., a MOUT site could be built up to accommodate a full division through constructive and virtual simulation. Additional brigades, potentially at other sites, such as the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La., could link into the exercise electronically. From the division headquarters perspective, the multiple brigades would appear to be fighting in the MOUT at Fort Irwin.
While the capability exists to connect such disparate groups together, there are still technical hurdles to overcome, not the least of which is how to support the electronic infrastructure of such a large operation.
“That’s always a requirement and a need, and we’re trying to improve technology to allow that to happen,” said Pickens.
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