The U.S. Army has long used visual modifications to fashion make-shift enemies that look like real world foes, but Army Guardsmen are taking that a bit further.
To develop new visual modification kits, the National Guard Bureau contracted a Hollywood special effects company called Westefx that has worked on movie sets such as “Taken” and “James Bond," according to an Idaho Army National Guard release.
The new kits provided by Westefx take Humvees and make them look like Russian T-72 main battle tanks and BTR-90 personnel carriers.
A total of 60 kits will ultimately be installed over Humvees at the Orchard Combat Training Center, a 143,000-acre set of ranges located 18 miles south of Boise, Idaho.
T-72s are exported around the world and have seen action everywhere from the Syrian civil war to Ukraine’s war in the Donbass.
Training ranges at the Orchard CTC regularly host Army tankers, Air Force JTACs and A-10 Warthog pilots — all of whom are examples of troops who need to be able to identify enemy equipment quickly and accurately.
“Taking a look at how VisMods [visual modification] are done across the Army, I think these are the best I’ve ever seen,” Maj. Aaron Ammerman, program manager for the Guard’s Exportable Combat Training Capability, said in the release. “They will provide an exponentially more realistic threat signature for troops to train against as they do force-on-force exercises.”
The contract aims to make training more realistic for brigade combat teams participating in the National Guard’s XCTC — a series of training exercises between active-duty and Guard brigades.
The Guard contracted Westefx in 2018 to improve XCTC exercises and its 21-day combat training exercises that ready units for mobilization, according to the release.
Westefx owner and lead designer Erick Brennan said in the release that the new kits will help soldiers learn to identify enemy vehicles through both auditory and visual cues.
The kits, which weigh roughly 1,700 pounds, also offer gas-operated systems that mimic the firing of the T-72′s huge 125 mm gun, as well as the sound of .50 caliber machine guns. Laser sensors and a smoke generator on the kits will also allow soldiers to practice acquiring targets.
Those additions help soldiers train in a more realistic environment, according to Sgt. 1st Class Clinton Doramus, Idaho Army National Guard VisMod fleet manager.
“These kits aren’t going to look and act like a Humvee. They are going to look and act like T-72s and BTR-90s," Doramus said in the release.
It’s obviously more cost-effective for the Army to buy modification kits than to buy entire tanks from a foreign manufacturer that would also have to come with replacement parts and maintainer training.
It’s also more cost effective to put the kits on Humvees than on Abrams tanks or Bradley fighting vehicles.
"A Humvee costs approximately $30,000 plus another maybe $5,000 to maintain for the year, whereas an M1A1 tank costs a lot more,” Doramus added in the release. “Plus the Army doesn’t just have 60 spare tanks sitting around somewhere.”
Idaho Guardsmen helped Westefx contractors install 12 kits at the Orchard CTC already, the release said.
The team has 60 Humvees in total primed and ready for the next 48 kits that will be assembled and sent out over the course of the next three years.
Kyle Rempfer is an editor and reporter whose investigations have covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed in 2014 to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq.