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New software comes to Army gaming site

Dec. 11, 2010 - 08:50AM   |   Last Updated: Dec. 11, 2010 - 08:50AM  |  
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Gamers, get ready. The Army on Dec. 1 released a host of new gaming products to include an improved version of "Virtual BattleSpace 2."

Old soldiers: This is not just fun and games. The releases are designed to help individuals and units train for full-spectrum operations. They provide scenarios ranging from ethics training and exercise planning to battle command operations.

Scenarios can be changed for specific mission sets, and after-action reviews give soldiers and leaders the opportunity to rapidly exchange ideas and lessons learned.

The games are hosted">on the online portal. There, Common Access Card holders will find new entries such as:

ELECT BiLAT: A 3D software simulation in which gamers assume the role of a virtual officer to conduct meetings with local leaders necessary to achieve mission objectives.

Operational Language & Culture: A self-paced, interactive course designed for rapid and sustained learning of foreign languages and cultures.

Moral Combat: A first-person training program that uses scenarios to enhance ethical awareness.

Vignette Planning and Rehearsal Software: Users can rapidly design scenarios that represent the asymmetric aspects of conflict. It features friendly and enemy tactics, techniques and procedures.

UrbanSim: An application to hone the art of battle command in complex counterinsurgency operations. This will be available in April.

The upgrades and expansion are the result of a collaborative effort between the Combined Arms Center-Training's National Simulation Center and the Program Executive Office for Simulation, Training and Instrumentation.

Soldiers can expect to spend more time playing games, particularly in predeployment training. The games are also getting more use in leadership training.

Game training is treated as an elective. Units can choose to incorporate the games into aspects of their training.

"Gaming is probably the most significant improvement to training in the past five years," said Col. Anthony Krogh, director of the National Simulation Center. That is because decades of constructive training at the staff level have now come down to situational training at the soldier level.

The Army did this, in part, by using the thousands of game technologies available in the consumer world. Soldiers are familiar with these programs, Krogh said.

"They are digital natives who have grown up in a digital world," he said.

Krogh and his team use that world to expand soldiers' experience. Through repetition in playing the games, they can see the ramifications of decisions and try different approaches to determine the best solution.

This is done not only in scenario-based training, but also in battle recreations that provide "visceral lessons for soldiers," he said. And such lessons are not confined to Iraq and Afghanistan, but span the full spectrum of operations and even Army history.

Krogh recently ran a simulation of the Battle of the Bulge the last major Nazi offensive against the Allies, which the Germans lost. His simulation had the same outcome. But he re-ran the simulation and changed one detail: He allowed the German army to capture key bridges on the Meuse River. In that simulation, the Germans prevailed.

"That is a critical lesson," he said. "The Germans had picked an unprepared battalion commander to lead that mission. It goes to show that even small decisions made will have large impacts."

When he is not fighting the Nazis in the forests of the Ardennes mountains, Krogh is fighting what he calls the "parent effect."

"It is hard to walk past a soldier on this site and not associate it with your 18-year-old playing Xbox when he should be doing his homework," said Krogh, a FA57 (simulation operations battle command officer) with 11 years in the simulations field. "The hardest part is to see this as valid training enablers, and not just playing a game."

To overcome this prejudice, the Army is highlighting this training in various schools including pre-command courses. And, Krogh said, the Army is embracing the technology as leaders see the benefits.

More than 12,000 service members have logged more than 10,000 hours on the portal since its February launch.

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