What's different about all this is that shipping containers, equipped with doors, windows, some paint and contents, are being used to represent the buildings. Like Legos, the containers can be joined together, or stacked, to make larger buildings. More importantly, the entire "town" can be rearranged to represent a different kind of environment. The training town now being built represents what the marines are currently encountering in Iraq. But in a few years, the marines may be fighting somewhere else, and they want their training town to reflect that, quickly, when the need arises.
Based on the many urban battles marines have fought in Iraq, most notably Fallujah, the new training center allows troops to experience urban warfare in a less lethal environment. Learning this stuff on the job can be deadly for the trainees, so the $110 million put into the center so far is worth it in terms of lives saved.
The marines have been carefully studying urban warfare since the early 1990s, and have used their experience in Iraq to develop new tactics, and training methods. The U.S. Army has nothing like the marine training center, and is negotiating for some time to get army troops into it. The marines are using the center heavily, but they are always ready to deal.
The most serious shortcoming noted, especially by combat veterans of Iraq, are the smaller number of civilians present in the training area. In actual urban battlefields, there are lots of civilians running, or scurrying, around. For the Mohave Desert training area, local civilians have to be hired to act as extras, or off-duty marines found for that work. There are never enough civilians available. But aside from that, marines who have trained among the tricked up shipping containers, report that the experience was most useful once they reached real urban fighting in Iraq.
Inspired by Legos, and other children's toys like building blocks, the U.S. Marine Corps is building the world's largest urban warfare training area out in the Mohave Desert of California. There are currently some 400 structures, from private homes, to large government building complexes, erected in the training area. When more money arrives, the "town" will expand to as many as 1,500 structures.