Support: July 2, 2004

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The army is getting sixteen new combat simulators this Summer, to train troops in Iraq on how best to deal with ambushes and roadside bombs. These actions cause about a third of the casualties in Iraq. The U.S. Army has been working overtime to get the troops in shape to deal with the threat. These efforts include more armor for hummers and trucks, more weapons on vehicles and new tactics and training to deal with these brief, actually quite rare, but violent and often fatal encounters. A new training course for drivers and gunners was set up in Kuwait. But most of the drivers and gunners are stationed in Iraq. The training center in Kuwait is used mainly to train people new to the area, and headed for Iraq. So last year, the army began looking into getting a rush order of new combat simulators. It normally takes several years to get a new simulator designed, tested and delivered to the troops. The new ambush simulators were done in less than six months. Using existing simulator technology, two different ambush simulator designs were created. Lockheed-Martin is delivering eight simulators based on large video screens, that surround the trainees and replicate the sights and sounds of an attack. Weapons equipped with special sensors allow the troops to shoot back from mockups of vehicles, and they also receive feedback if they are hit. These simulators cost $1.2 million each and can be run 20 hours a day, or more (needing only occasional downtime for maintenance.) These simulators can be moved by air and truck to anywhere they are needed. Another eight simulators from Raydon Corporation, costing $700,000 each, use helmets fitted with video visors. Cheaper, and more portable, this relatively new technology has been used before, but not as much as the older, big screen versions (which are based on the much older air force flight simulators.) Both simulator designs use images from the routes and neighborhoods that American troops drive through, so that troops training on the devices will also become familiar with some of the actual territory they will be moving through. 

One problem with the ambushes and roadside bombs is that not every soldier driving around Iraq will encounter one, but if you do, your chances of survival go up enormously if you quickly make the right moves. The troops know this, and realistic training via the simulators is expected to be popular. Such simulators have been in use for over a decade, for everything from operating an M-1 tank, to manning a road block in hostile territory. The heavy use of PC based video technology means it is easy to quickly add new video and new scenarios to the trainers. This is important because the Iraqi attackers have been quick to develop new tactics as American troops come up with countermeasures. For the simulators to be effective, they will have to show all these enemy changes as soon as they are known. 

One advantage of getting these simulators into service as soon as possible, is that this will demonstrate just as quickly if these simulators work at all. Similar types of simulators have been effective, but this is a case where new simulators have been rapidly created and put into action while combat is still going on. It's a rare opportunity to see just how much of a life saver combat simulators are. The troops will be quick, and quite blunt, in providing a verdict. 

 


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