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British Army Trains with Video Game (Nov 8)

When the Royal Gloucestershire Berkshire and Wiltshire Light Infantry (RGBW LI) deployed to Afghanistan earlier this year they took with them a new training concept that they had been testing as part of their pre-deployment training.

The Regiment will test the concept in theatre and report back on what they think of it. The training is all part of ongoing MOD research into exploiting commercial games technology for military use.

DIVE 2 (Dismounted Infantry Virtual Environment) is a PC-based concept demonstrator centred originally on the successful computer game 'Half Life', described by many as the game of the millennium in an industry that generates £1.1Bn for the UK and employs over 20,000 people.

Working with a small private software company, in association with QinetiQ, this commercial, off-the-shelf technology has been reshaped initially for operational analysis and experimentation and, more recently, to address military requirements.

"Experience has shown us that more and more fighting is taking place in buildings and built up areas," explained Major George Kohler of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, currently working for the Directorate of Analysis Experimentation and Simulation. "This has produced specific training needs. The DIVE 2 concept can help inform the solution."

To tailor the computer game to answer military operational needs the characters were put into uniform and given recognisable weapons, such as under slung grenade launchers, mouse hole charges and smoke and fragmentation grenades, with realistic effects. The whole thing has been dropped into a simulation of the training ground at Copehill Down.

The first scenario concentrated on house search and clearance. Each PC is networked so that soldiers go through the game as a section against an 'Opposing Forces' threat using real tactics and techniques. Enemy forces are controlled by team-mates and some computer generated forces are also included. Captain Chris Pawlowski of the RGBW was keen to get hold of the kit to take back for the troops to practice on.

Following discussions with Tim O'Leary of the Operational Training Advisory Group, a new, bespoke application was prepared to assist in the Peace Support Operations (PSO) pre-deployment training that the troops receive before deploying to Afghanistan.

"This has a lot of utility. It can reflect PSO as well as war environment training, and as an operational tool it is outstanding," O'Leary said.

For foot patrol training the approach is different. For house clearance and combat training, troops enter the scenario knowing that they will engage the enemy and are on alert to start firing their weapons.

"You are training guys to look out for the unusual," said O'Leary. "How to spot combat indicators such as a trail of sand possibly disguising a firing cable or a piece of red tape on a lamp post. The threat from suicide bombers is real and I'm sure that DIVE 2 can be developed to augment PSO training very effectively."

To make the training as real as possible the intention is to drop the scenario into an Afghan specific terrain, and include more computer generated civilians.

"We've already tried out the house clearance scenario on a number of experienced units and the Royal Scots have particularly embraced it," said Major Kohler. "The guys not only used it as part of their formal training, but in their own time too."

"At first the guys can be a bit flippant if DIVE 2 is not used in a structured manner, and there's still an 'if it's not raining, it's not training’ attitude," said Dave Williams of the QinetiQ War Fighting Experimentation team. "As they go through the scenario, without telling them, we take a God's eye role and start picking them off. Pretty quickly they realise there's an organised threat and they sort themselves out as a section and start taking it seriously."

Through deploying the concept demonstrator, even the sceptics are soon made to realise the potential of the system. Reviews show that DIVE 2 can have a big impact in highlighting skills gaps and can help counteract 'skills fade', a problem according to troops returning from Iraq. It is particularly useful for allowing troops to do things that they can't attempt in real training, such as experiencing shoot-through, suppressive fire and the use of grenades.

"Troops can enhance their live training experience by practising their skills using this sort of system beforehand," said Major Kohler. "With DIVE 2 we can run through the scenario in detail, explain how and why things are done and they can quickly see why they need to be in the positions they've been given."

Another valuable feature is its use as a debriefing tool. It is possible to re-run each exercise from any conceivable angle so that very detailed feedback on performance can be given.

"You'd be amazed how many times the soldiers run into the rooms and forget what they've been tasked to do. The replays offer no hiding place from criticism," said Dave Williams.

Although the system is still in the development phase, the flash-to-bang in establishing the DIVE 2 concept as a low cost piece of training kit could be very quick. It has already proved valuable in terms of team-building and low level tactics training; the next challenge is to develop the concept for new training roles.

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