Web Extra: Marines' virtual training offers varying trade-offs
Live training and full-scale war games are ideal ways to test physical reflexes and give military trainees hands-on experience with equipment in the real world. However, increasingly various forms of computer-based training, including desktop software applications and full-room simulated environments, provide alternative learning opportunities.
"We really believe there are certain skills you can train at each level of fidelity," said Denise Nicholson, director of the Applied Cognition and Training in Immersive Virtual Environments lab at the University of Central Florida. UCF is conducting research on the next version of the Marine Corps' Deployable Virtual Training Environment (DVTE).
The corps has a simulation program called the Infantry Immersive Trainer that allows Marines to practice tactics in a soundstage-like mock-up -- a Baghdad street corner, for example -- featuring live role-players and computer-simulated effects, such as explosions projected on the walls. It's something like a serious version of laser tag blending computer simulation with physical action.
An advantage of DVTE and other laptop PC-based training tools is their relative low cost, portability and versatility. People can train with DVTE at pre-deployment staging zones or in the field. At other times, it can serve as a fallback trainer when a scheduled live-training exercise is canceled, Nicholson said.
The tool's versatility lets officials use it in conjunction with live training. For example, soldiers might use DVTE to act out a scenario in the virtual world before they are asked to do it in the real world, Nicholson said. "Marines have a limited amount of time for training, so you'd hate to have the first hour, half-day or even day wasted on the basics."
The Marines have created detailed terrain maps in DVTE for locations such as their Twentynine Palms, Calif., training facility. Soldiers can get to know its layout in the virtual world before going there in person, said Maj. James McDonough, the Marines' DVTE program officer.
More important, maps of places in Iraq such as Fallujah can be loaded into the system. "You'd like the street corner to look exactly like the one that guy is going to be patrolling," McDonough said.
There are routines and procedures for Marines to train on, such as the order in which members of a squad should enter a building controlled by hostile forces or the list of things to do after being hit by an improvised explosive device. Such actions might include applying first aid and calling for evacuation.
"Decision-making is absolutely key, and if they go through that decision over and over, they should be able to come to the right decision much quicker," McDonough said.
David F. Carr is a special contributor to Defense Systems.