August 23, 2011: The U.S. Marine Corps is spending $50 million to begin upgrading their infantry combat training gear. This means that their laser tag (MILES) gear will be replaced with more capable stuff, which means more reliable and able to simulate grenades, RPGs and other rocket launchers.
More realistic training systems, starting with MILES and paintball in the 1980s, have led to a demand for more and more of this stuff. This kind of training was found to be real enough to save lives and the troops want more of it. It's become obvious to professional soldiers worldwide that the more realistic training gear delivers a very real edge in combat. This makes troops trained this way much more effective. Even armies of poor countries are trying to get this gear, because it is seen as more valuable than many other types of military equipment, or even additional weapons. But it's been true throughout the history of warfare; better troops are more useful than more troops.
But even with MILES, Infantry training still suffered from the inability to accurately simulate the use of grenades, rocket launchers and artillery. Gradually, however, solutions appeared that provided electronic grenades, rockets and missiles to give the troops a realistic way to train using these weapons. These solutions generally involved using grenades, lower velocity 40mm projectiles and RPGs that would, when they hit something, set off a loud noise and flash of light, then send an electronic signal that would indicate that troops within a certain range (unblocked by anything that would stop fragments) that they are hit. This is basically an extension to the original MILES (laser tag) gear that troops have been using with rifles and heavier guns for over two decades. The new “electronic projectiles” were still dangerous, even with all the troops wearing helmets, goggles and protective vests. But it's been found that the more realistic the training experience, the more effective the troops are in combat. This means defeating the enemy more quickly, and taking fewer casualties. The new marine gear also makes for more realistic urban warfare training.
One item that is still missing, when using MILES, is the lack of physical damage. In combat, troops will use rockets, grenades and automatic fire to blast through doors and walls. When fighting inside buildings, firing through floors and walls is common. Experience doing this is very valuable. For the moment, the best way to demonstrate these weapons effects frequently, and at affordable cost, is with the photo-realistic simulation games. The army is also working on more immersive type games of a type that have not yet reached the commercial market. These involve wearing video glasses, headphones and movement sensors and literally acting out the operations. You get visual and aural feedback via the video seen on the glasses/goggles and headphones.