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Applications: Soldiers Train for Real Combat Through Virtual Simulation

Photonics Spectra
Jan 2009
Amanda D. Francoeur,

Driving or walking the streets of Afghanistan and Iraq may be nerve-wracking for soldiers who have never before been exposed to combat activity. Ambushes and attacks with improvised explosive devices (IEDs) occur frequently, jeopardizing the safety and performance of the inexperienced soldier especially. However, with the help of computer simulations such as Virtual Battlespace 2 (VBS2), soldiers can prepare for these types of circumstances.


Virtual Afghan and Iraqi towns are depicted in extreme detail. Even soldiers, civilians and press photographers have distinct clothes and features, making them easily distinguishable.

VBS2 is a 3-D military training system developed by Bohemia Interactive that is based on the commercial game engine Armed Assault. Soldiers who have trained on the simulator as well as in the field before being deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq have shown significant improvement in tactical and psychological responses on the battlefield, as reported in the 2008 volume of Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference. This international event promotes cooperation among the armed services, industry, academia and various government agencies to improve military training.

“Current operations in Iraq and Afghanistan highlighted the need for additional training in this area, and [computer-simulated training] is currently being delivered as a managed service by external contractors and military trainers to soldiers as part of their predeployment training,” said Maj. Tom Mouat, who is requirements manager for the program. As of September 2008, more than 2000 troops, some of whom currently are stationed in Iraq, had used the program.

Within the virtual realm

The program, like Google Earth, replicates what soldiers could expect to see in cities such as Baghdad or Kandahar, for example: the exact street routes, the appearance of the buildings and the topography of the terrain. The system includes a selection of weapons and vehicles that are specific to what US, Australian and UK soldiers use and a variety of equipment used in New Zealand, Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic, and by NATO. Operating a vehicle involves working a foot pedal and a steering wheel that connect to the computer, while headsets are available for Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) communication. The program also offers simulated aerial combat while operating an Apache or Chinook helicopter or the Predator, an unmanned vehicle.

These military vehicles – a British Challenger tank (left) and a Mastiff protected patrol vehicle (right) – each can be manned by three soldiers: a vehicle commander, a gunner and a driver. Convoy simulations such as these help soldiers to communicate and work together during ambushes and roadside bombings.

Scenarios are created that incorporate convoys, halts, junctions, press photographers, civilian aggression, roadside bombs, and ambushes and other threats, along with variations in time of day and weather conditions. These types of missions and events can be changed regularly by the instructor, which helps to eliminate a soldier’s expectations of what will happen next. Therefore, response and execution will be determined solely by prior training.

A soldier’s reaction to a particular situation and his performance are monitored to allow for an in-depth evaluation: “VBS2 is currently unique in that no other simulation engine offers a real-time 3-D mission editor and after-action review facility built in,” Mouat said.

Once they have successfully completed a mission, soldiers can create their own scenarios exclusive to their position. “Infantry may wish to do dismounted house-clearing, while logistic units may wish to do larger convoys and route-proving missions.”

Computer-simulated training is less expensive than field training and provides safe preparation for real-life situations. However, live training is crucial for preparedness before deployment. “Virtual training cannot – and should not – attempt to replace live training,” Mouat said. The method simply offers certain advantages over classroom lectures. Under the generic training facility program, he said, the three-year plan is to make every unit capable of individual or small-team software training.

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