For years, the Army has taught soldiers how to operate its vehicles by putting them behind the wheels of tanks and trucks and letting them drive around in the motor pool. But as those vehicles become more technologically sophisticated, they’re becoming less expendable for driver training and even more complicated to teach.
In new vehicles such as the eight-wheeled Stryker armored personnel carrier, drivers sit in a space that resembles more of a cockpit than a traditional vehicle cab. “You can almost compare it to an aircraft because of the numbers of systems he’s got to operate, as well as drive,” said Maj. Dan Gamel, assistant product manager of the common driver trainer at the Army’s program executive office for simulation, training and instrumentation, or PEO-STRI.
Just as the aviation industry has embraced flight simulators to train pilots inside virtual airplane cockpits, the Army is turning to immersive trainers that realistically replicate the driver cabs and motions of its vehicles.
Last month PEO-STRI completed deliveries of 14 simulators called the common driver trainer. Set upon a six-degree-of-motion electromechanical base, the simulator not only replicates the interior of a vehicle driver cab, but it also mimics the vehicle’s performance characteristics.
“The driver gets in the vehicle and gets all the inputs and outputs that he would in an actual vehicle. It acts like a real vehicle, and it acts according to the driver’s inputs,” said Mike Kerrigan, program manager for simulations at Science Applications International Corp., during an Institute for Defense and Government Advancement conference.
The trainer can accommodate different types of vehicle cabs. So far, the team has produced a Stryker combat vehicle variant.
The eight-wheeled Stryker vehicles have an air braking system, so the trainer also contains an air system to simulate the braking, and the motion base reproduces the rocking motion in the cab.
“Stryker drivers told us they could feel the different axles in the simulated trainer,” said Gamel in an interview. “That greatly enhances their driving capabilities. They learn to corner as they climb over obstacles and things like that.”
Computer-based desktop trainers are currently used to acquaint new drivers with the vehicles. But that technology does not go far enough.
“The cues that you need to be able to control a Stryker vehicle in many different environments requires unique training aids, such as motion,” said Gamel. “A desktop trainer is not going to give you the cues you need to keep the vehicle from flipping in real life.”
The system also can replicate how the vehicles handle when they are weighed down with additional armor. Most Stryker unit drivers have deployed to Iraq without having firsthand experience operating up-armored combat vehicles.
The trainer comes with a database of eight different geographical regions that are displayed on three screens, said Kerrigan. Soldiers can practice driving through urban, mountainous, desert or jungle environments in all weather and daytime or nighttime conditions.
“Most soldiers come out covered in sweat,” he said.
PEO-STRI is looking to integrate multiple systems so that a platoon can train together in the same virtual environment.
Gamel said there is a demand for more Stryker systems, but the Army has not yet provided funds.
The training systems office would like to build an Abrams simulator to replace the tank driver trainers currently at Fort Knox, Ky. It also is in discussions with Army leaders about producing simulators of route clearance vehicles, such as the mine-resistant ambush-protected Buffalo and Cougar variants.
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