Israel and the United States are building a new instrumented training center in northern Israel (Snir). This one is different in that it consists largely of tunnels, of the type encountered in Gaza and believed also used by Hezbollah in Lebanon. These tunnels have become a favorite with Islamic terrorists seeking to escape UAVs and smart bombs. What is happening at Snir is a continuation of what Israeli and American manufacturers have individually, or through collaboration, been doing since the 1990s to develop new features for NTC type facilities. These include portable equipment that can allow any area to be wired to provide the same effect (constant monitoring, and recording, of everything everyone does). There are also VPUs (Vehicle Player Units) that make Hummers appear as armored vehicles (tanks, infantry vehicles, or artillery) to the monitoring system and save a lot of money (by not using the real thing). There is also a system that releases different colored smoke when a vehicle is hit, indicating if it is damaged or destroyed. Helicopters and warplanes, for example, are being wired to operate as part of NTC exercises.
The United States pioneered the use of instrumented (with computers and other electronics) training areas where troops could engage in very realistic simulated combat. For the ground troops this involved the use of MILES (Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System) equipment that came to be called call “laser tag”. MILES has undergone several upgrades since first introduced in the 1980s. That’s when the National Training Center (NTC), a 147,000 hectare (359,000 acre) facility in the Mohave Desert at Fort Irwin, California was established in 1982. There the United States Army revolutionized the training of ground combat troops with the development of MILES equipment for infantry and armored vehicles and the use of MILES in a large, "wired" (to record all activities), combat training area. Other countries soon realized the importance of these innovations and a growing number have built their own NTC clones.
NTC type training centers are usually built to enable a combat battalion or brigade to go through several weeks of very realistic combat exercises. Ft. Irwin itself has been expanded and the United States has established many similar training centers, all using lots of electronics to assist the trainees in having a realistic experience while also enabling them to see their mistakes and learn from them.
One American innovation is I-TESS (Instrumented-Tactical Engagement Simulation System) which provides more data and realism. Thus hits now caused more realistic damage (to individual troops or vehicles) and all troops and vehicles are tracked (and recorded) in real time. In addition to providing more compelling after action briefing (where lessons learned are absorbed) the real-time monitoring allows the training staff to change the action in the middle of an exercise. This makes the training more realistic and useful. The more realistic damage includes dealing with the impact of grenades, shells, and bombs as well as chemical weapons. The marines phased out their MILES gear as the new I-TESS equipment arrived.
By the 1990s other countries began building their own NTC facilities. Israel has a 39,000 hectare (98,000 acre) Tactical Training Center (TTC) at Ze'elim in the Negev desert. In addition to wide open areas for the training of armor, infantry, and artillery units there are several villages and urban areas wired for training troops to fight in close quarters. Israel has developed a portable version of this technology and many other innovations as well. Major NATO nations, China and even Pakistan adopted the NTC concept.
NTC type training is not only very close to the experience troops get in actual combat, but it also stresses commanders the same way actual combat does. This enables commanders to test themselves, and their subordinate commanders, before they get into a real fight. You can also use NTC type facilities to experiment with new tactics, in addition to keeping troops well trained in whatever the current tactics are. This includes counter-terror operations as well as the kind of novel combat tactics that might be encountered in the future. One of the critical aspects of this type of training is the playback. Instructors can edit the electronic record of who did what when and show commanders and troops where they made mistakes. This feedback makes the troops much more effective in the future.
Israel has found the NTC type training so useful that it now gives new troops a year of it and many other nations that adopted NTC are going in the same direction. .