Army installs IT to bring mock village to life

During the past two years the Army has constructed a mock Third World village in Fort Polk La. to train soldiers heading into war-torn or unstable sites such as Somalia and Haiti where the environment and rules of engagement are very different from the traditional battlefield.

The Army added a key piece to its Military Operations on Urbanized Terrain (MOUT) program this month when it awarded a $10.4 million contract to Signal Communication Systems and Supply Inc. to install advanced audio-visual equipment and a central audio/video control center at its training site.

The equipment - installed throughout the 29-building enclave - will generate special effects that help create a realistic battlefield environment such as the noise of an exploding hand grenade or for a hostage situation the sound of someone screaming. Such sounds might be programmed to occur when a soldier trips a motion sensor as he or she rounds the corner of a building.

The system also will enable the Army to monitor and record action throughout the site and create "after-action reviews" (AARs) for debriefing soldiers shortly after they finish their exercises.

The concept of building a mock environment for training is nothing new said Steve Milburn deputy product manager for combat support training systems at the Army's Simulation Training and Instrumentation Command (Stricom). But for the first time the Army will have "an automated capability to provide the simulation and to capture troop reaction so we can feed that into the AAR " Milburn said.

The MOUT is part of the Army's Joint Readiness Training Center for training the kind of light-infantry forces used in contingency operations such as air-assault soldiers Special Forces and the Rangers. However the center also accommodates heavily armored units which often play a role in contingency missions.

Such missions have become much more common in the years since the end of the Cold War when the Army had extensive bases in Europe and other critical sites. Now the department expects most military operations to resemble recent "force projection" operations in Haiti and Somalia more than the full-scale battles of the Persian Gulf War.

In contrast with the Gulf War Haiti and Somalia shifted the battlefield from the desert to towns and cities. The battlefield also was populated with civilians as well as soldiers.

"Fighting in the city is one of the deadliest things we can talk about " said Lt. Col. Stephen Kessinger product manager for combat support training systems. The mock Third World village gives the Army a place to train its troops for this environment or even to rehearse operations before deployment Kessinger said. Effects such as explosions screams and approaching helicopters are important for enhancing the realism of the training site and "all this takes a fairly good computer system to make the special effects all occur when they need to " Kessinger said.

The system also will record all the action with cameras and hidden microphones spread throughout the training site. When an exercise is complete all videotapes will be reviewed and edited for the AAR presentation so the soldier "learns from his errors " Milburn said.

After a training exercise Signal Communication has only a couple hours to come up with a briefing videotape which will be shown in the AAR theater said Elmer Baugess vice president of business development at Signal Communication Greensboro N.C.

The company is using primarily off-the-shelf PCs and audio-visual equipment. In fact a similar process is used by a National Football League team to review game tapes at halftime Baugess said.

"The trick is the engineering design and integration of all this dissimilar equipment into one cohesive system that will function as a training network " he said.

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