Support: Avatars To The Rescue


July 27, 2011: Damage control on ships, especially warships, is the most dangerous work the crew can engage in. Training for this work is difficult, and, according to those who have had to deal with the real thing, never realistic enough.

The Australian Navy has a solution for this. In order to train the crew of its new LHD amphibious ships, the navy is having a 3-D, multi-player, first person game created to help sailors deal with a wide array of damage control situations. Up to a hundred sailors can participate at a time, in a very accurate computer based representation of the LHD. Each sailor controls an computer generated sailor (an avatar) representing himself, and has to make all the right damage control moves, in cooperation with other sailors, to succeed.

The new LHD simulator is using the most realistic 3-D commercial game engine (CryEngine 3) available. A game engine is the basic computer code for a game. Add your own graphics and scenario information and you have a game. Most commercial games either built their own engine, or, more frequently, rent one from someone else. The CryEngine 3 was developed for Crysis, a first person shooter (FPS) wargame acknowledged as the most graphically stunning ever. Crysis 2 just came out, and it is even more visually striking than the original Crysis, that appeared four years ago.

This is not the first such simulation. Two years ago the U.S. Navy began using its DCT (Damage Control Trainer) for recruits. But the Australian Damage Control Trainer is much more ambitious, and many other navies are eager to see how well it works. Combining a high-end simulation engine with a rendering of a specific ship class may well prove to be a major contributor to damage control skills.

The new Australian LHD is based on the Spanish Navantia class LHD. This is a 28,000 ton ship that is very similar to the U.S. San Antonio class LPD. The Australian version is the Canberra class. These ships are 230.8 meters (757 feet) long, have a crew of about 243 and can carry up to 1,100 troops, 150 vehicles, two landing craft and up to 24 helicopters. The Canberras are twice the size of the two amphibious ships Australia is replacing, and has a ski-jump flight deck that will enable it to use vertical takeoff warplanes like the Harrier or F-35B. The two Canberras will cost about $1.2 billion each. Australia will receive the first of the LHD hulls, for the Canberra, next year. The hulls are built in Spain, then shipped to Australia for the addition of the superstructure and installation of all other equipment. The Canberra is to be ready for service in four years. But long before that, many of the crew will already be familiar with the internal layout of the ship, both with or without combat damage.





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