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July 20, 2014: The U.S. Army recently introduced the latest version of its video game technology used for training combat troops. This was Virtual Battlespace 3 (VBS3). This version addresses a wide variety of requests from users as well as the renewed activity for training troops to fight conventional, rather than irregular and counter-terror type battles. That need required some new features in VBS and improvements in existing ones. VBS3 can also be modified more quickly, use a larger library of digital maps and portray more action simultaneously. In short, VBS is now easier to use in creating new training scenarios. Troops can even add their own personal capabilities and combat experience. This allows low level commanders to run training exercises where the digital representation of their troops reflect actual personal capabilities (who is a better shot, faster on their feet and so on). Nearly all the troops who tested the VBS3 beta were eager to use the customized avatars that represented what each of them could actually do in combat.

The U.S. Army has been increasingly using video game technology (especially FPS, First Person Shooters) to create training systems to teach combat troops how to be more successful on the battlefield. Since September 11, 2001 many of these simulations were created using VBS, which is basically a toolkit for quickly creating realistic military simulations. Dozens of nations and separate military services have used VBS to create accurate combat simulations for training. Some of these are classified, but most are not. Nearly 40,000 troops use VBS daily for training and the improvements in VBS3 will probably cause that number to increase.

VBS is constantly updated to include whatever new commercial game tech now available and more mundane features that make VBS3 easier to maintain. There are some strictly military features. For example VBS lets troops use foreign languages, and knowledge of the local culture, in realistic situations. This has led to major improvements in the AI (Artificial Intelligence) of the NPCs (Non-Player Characters controlled by software). Commercial games use a lot of AI powered NPCs, but the military needs them more for extreme realism, not dramatic effect. Thus the U.S. Department of Defense is doing a lot of original research on AI (which may then be sold to commercial game developers). The increased military AI requirement means that VBS needs more computing power than even the most ambitious commercial game. Some of this goes towards rapidly creating and putting to use new scenarios. Thus VBS can now more easily import military databases (mainly for terrain). For a long time it took weeks, or months, to spin up new battle scenarios. The army uses video game technology to get that down to hours or less.

The army is also expanding the use of this first person gaming technology to training non-combat troops. That's about 85 percent of personnel. That covers everything from medics to mechanics, interpreters, intelligence analysts and interrogators, and, well, everyone. These simulations also deal with psychological issues, like the impact of an ambush and combat in general, on NPCs and the abilities of the players themselves. Then there is the ultimate goal of having these training game systems everywhere, so that troops can just switch to the training software and use existing computers (or the gear they use for their job) and go through realistic training exercises. This is easy to do for tanks and other vehicles but will need special equipment (PCs), or more computers imbedded into equipment, for everyone to be able to quickly switch to training simulation mode.

 

 


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