Fort Riley soldiers integrate new virtual training

By Brady Bauman

The concept of “war games” has taken a new — and very literal — turn at Fort Riley. This week the Army’s 1st Infantry Division has integrated a new training system that not only cuts cost, but readies its troops and commanders faster.

The new training tool is called “Live Virtual Constructive Integrating Architecture” — they promised trimming costs, but no, the military can’t quite make itself trim names or titles.

Once you get past the tongue-twisting introduction, though, this new software has a short and serious goal: merging what happens live on the ground with the tools of virtual reality.

With this technology, a pilot in a helicopter simulator that’s miles away from live exercises (yes, those involve real people) can be a part of the action and in real time.

Virtually part of the action, in other words.

The technology involved isn’t anything out of another century, exactly, but this type of application by the Army offers an entirely different and efficient kind of training.

FOR THE first time, commanders have a much bigger picture of any exercise they want to run.

Looking at a wall of computer screens, commanders can pull up the computer-generated terrain of Fort Riley training grounds, and add in or subtract as many tanks or other computer-generated vehicles as they need.

The key in this system, though, is not just the fact that commanders have a virtual Fort Riley at their disposal. In this system, that pilot in the helicopter simulator is also there on the commander’s computer screen – and can be a part of the exercise.

The pilot may also be joined by live soldiers in tank simulators in the large space behind the command post, a room away.

But that’s not all.

In another location on post, a live exercise – as the one commanders showed off on Friday – included multiple Humvees performing a resupply mission that was interrupted by a fake roadside IED (improvised explosive device).

Visitors saw the vehicles and soldiers in the flesh react appropriately within the make-shift village, while commanders in a room elsewhere on post saw their virtual representations – both on screen and by the way of live icons on a map above the screens.

The real, live soldiers and vehicles carry GPS tracking devices, which allows the system to follow them on the virtual map.

MEANWHILE, the helicopter pilot in the simulator can access the same view, and listen to the commander running the exercise.

If the pilot were ordered to help, the computer- generated helicopter could travel to the virtual village and provide assistance.

All in real time, the helicopter’s virtual presence can be communicated to those living, breathing troops on the ground and tactics can change on the fly.

Predictably, soldiers already have a name for the new system that bears no resemblance to the Army’s long-winded terminology – yet it conveys the awe they’re already experiencing by using such tekkie tools.

They call it the “God Box.”

Staff Sgt. Jesee McElfresh, who was the battlefield commander in front of the computer screens Friday morning, said the new technology is an important step forward, and that not much is lost when it comes to its virtual aspects compared to real-world training.

“We can all talk, fight and simulate training together,” McElfresh said. “And there’s actually not a lot of difference (between real-world and the virtual world) other than out there you’re in the field, so you can be hot, wet, rainy, while in here you’re in a nice building.

“But other than that, the training exercise is pretty close to the training out there.”

Translation: Actual troops being trained CAN be “hot, wet, rainy,” but the exercise can go forward because a huge portion of it is happening in that comfortable command center. McELFRESH said the use of manpower is far more efficient with the new technology.

“Here we have 12 men in the (simulators) along with myself, compared to the 300 people that it would take to take this amount of equipment and vehicles out to the field.”

Fort Riley is the sixth post to receive this new technology, and officials said it is a part of a national push.

“For years, the Army used three independent training systems – live, virtual and constructive,” Maj. Martin O’Donnell said. “The systems were not designed to work together.

“The integrating architecture validated here this week allows our training systems to now work together.”

O’Donnell said upgrades are in the works, allowing soldiers — along with their vehicles — to interact even more with the virtual environment through a helmet that will double as a computer- screen display.

Overall, O’Donnell said the system helps expedite commander’s ability to think strategically.

“Everything has a crawl-walk-and-run phase,” he said. “This helps take care of the crawling and walking.

“It hasn’t been without its challenges, but it is working.”

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