Saturday, March 13, 2010

The virtual battles where soldiers can't die: MoD trains Army to fight using sophisticated video games
Post content here By Claire Bates

Captain Terry Newton from the Royal Tank Regiment shows how the training system works at the MoD centre in Bristol. It can simulate a variety of terrains faced by troops in the Middle East

Poised with his rifle in the searing heat of the Afghan desert, a British soldier suddenly has to dive for cover as he comes under enemy fire.

However, despite the bullets whizzing all around he is in no real danger ... because he's sitting in an Armed Forces base in Bristol 3,500 miles from the front line.

Although this might seem like fun and games it is a serious part of the pre-deployment training for troops heading into the combat zone.

Called Op JCOVE, the virtual system made only for the Armed Forces runs on PCs and laptops and allows soldiers to experience a wide range of scenarios both in patrol vehicles and on foot.

JCOVE at work: Soldiers roam around realistic terrain and can work in teams using a multi-player option

Out on the frontline: Royal Marine Commandos on the ground in Helmand, Southern Afghanistan

Before they 'head out' into the computer combat zone on their laptops they are briefed on the scenarios they might face.

The system simulates various types of terrain found in the Middle East and arms the 'gamers' with virtual versions of the latest British equipment. Each player has a life bar and face enemy characters that are responsive and 'free-thinking'.

The soldiers interact with each other during the game and if one of them 'dies' during the exercise the others will carry on. Once it is over their mistakes are examined.

Captain Terry Newton, who fought in Afghanistan last year, said: 'JCOVE is a fantastic tool to build up the basics for going on operations.

'The verbal communications we would use and the drills we would do for example to call in a rescue helicopter can be mimicked on this system.

Soldiers from 1 Rifles try out the training system that lets them practice various drills they will need to know once they get sent to the frontline

Concentrating hard the soldiers try out the gaming system. After each exercise they talk through what they can improve in how they tackled the situation

'One of the main benefits is that the modern generation of soldiers are very used to computer consoles so they pick up on the simulation and treat it like a rehearsal very quickly.

'And for the younger soldiers who may not have been on operations before it is a relatively relaxed way to build up their confidence, build up their verbals.'

The JCOVE system even has characters dressed as Afghan civilians who enter a building, pick up a weapon and come out as Taliban.

Captain Newton said: 'This obviously reflects reality. When you're in Afghanistan the Taliban don't wear a uniform. You can only distinguish them once they have a weapon and are firing at you.

'We let a soldier run through the scenario, pause it and if he's made a mistake take him back let him redo it again. So when he gets on operations he can do things instinctively.'

John Brookes, JCOVE project manager, added: 'Originally this system just looked a vehicle convoy operations, now with the upgraded VBS2 software we can focus on more dismounted operations.

'We made sure as much UK kit as possible was represented within the software.

'It can do foot patrols, section attacks, 'call-for' fires, almost anything you can think of as a military exercise can we represented within the system.'

The system is also used by the U.S Army and Marine Corps and other Nato members.

The software manufacturer Bohemia Interactive, have developed a pared-down version of the game called JCOVE Lite for the British public.

It was paid for by the Ministry of Defence to give people, particularly potential recruits, an idea of how the British military trained for combat.[endtext]

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