Artillery: January 7, 2005

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Hollywood has come up with a cost effective way to train forward observers, a training objective long thought to be impossible to achieve. Artillery forward observers (FOs) are extremely popular people with combat troops. That's because the FO can call down enormous amounts of firepower on short notice. But there was always a problem with FOs, they were difficult to train. No, not the technical stuff like radio procedure, recognizing targets and getting the distances right. The problem was that there was no practical way to have FOs actually practice the whole drill (spotting the right target, calling in the right information, and then seeing the effects of the artillery fire.) The only training the FOs got was costly live fire exercises, or actual combat. This led to troops being nervous when in the company of an inexperienced FO. 

The U.S. Army recently came up with a solution by combining video game simulation with set design. The "Urban Terrain Module" is a stage set of a wrecked apartment. Out the window is a large video screen that shows various urban battlefield scenes. The FO trainees use their binoculars and radio to spot targets and call in fire. At the other end of the radio is someone who enters the FOs instructions into the simulation, which shortly shows the effects of the fire outside the window. If the FOs screw up, the shells or rockets will land in the wrong place. The FOs have numerous day and night scenarios they can run through. There is another Outdoor Terrain Module, which has a hummer parked on sand, in front of another large video screen, again showing typical scenes.

To enhance the experience, these two stage sets are equipped with an substantial array of speakers, to provide audio feedback. Just testing and debugging these two modules has enabled the army to train several hundred FOs. Eventually, the modules will be made portable, by fitting all the gear into several shipping containers. The army wants to expand the number of troops qualified as FOs, and these modules will make that possible. The army is also pressing the air force to allow soldiers to be trained as air controllers (FOs that call in bombing missions from aircraft overhead.) The army already has FOs calling in firepower from helicopter gunships, and sees no problem in adding air force bombers. The air force doesnt want to lose control of the air controllers, but the new army simulators may prove to be the final incentive needed to allow army FOs to call in bombing missions. 

 


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