U.S. hosts allied simulation demo

In an effort to enhance military cooperation between allied nations and to better prepare NATO for operations like Bosnia and Kosovo, the U.S. Atlantic Command late last month hosted the first NATO computer-based battle simulation.

The NATO Partnership for Peace (PFP) Simulation Network Demonstration, held in conjunction with NATO's 50th anniversary summit in Washington, D.C., linked six multinational command posts through a global simulation network and involved personnel from 27 nations.

In such a network, participants sitting at computers at the different command centers learn how to coordinate a coherent strategy based on computer-generated events. Although the battlefield is virtual and the area of operations is fictional, the simulation exercise, like a field exercise, tests the ability of participants to respond to scenarios that might occur in a live battle.

Large-scale field exercises involving thousands of troops are a strain on the budgets of militaries around the world. Computer-based simulations make it possible to conduct multinational exercises without the expense involved in live field exercises, said Air Marshal Chris Coville, of the United Kingdom, who commanded the allied effort during the simulation.

"What we're really trying to do is achieve the best possible training at less cost," Coville said. "The big difference is that we can prepare people far better before they deploy" for major exercises, which can cost upwards of $1 billion, he said. "With a simulation network, we may be able to scale [those exercises] down."

Col. Heikki Holma, the commander of the Finnish brigade taking part in the exercise, said the relatively low price associated with taking part in this exercise is key to enabling many of the smaller PFP nations, particularly those from Eastern Europe that may be strapped for cash, to take part in major NATO exercises.

The goal of carrying out lower-cost exercises is not just to save money but to carry out more exercises and get more training, participants said.

"We aim at enhanced interoperability, and that can only be done through training and more training," said Brig. Gen. Swen Persson, commander of the Swedish Defence Wargaming Centre, which has taken the lead on the PFP simulation network.

The high-tech war game was designed to foster the development of common practices and greater systems interoperability. For example, many NATO countries lack the high-tech sophistication of the U.S. military and find it difficult, at best, to share and receive information from U.S. and other NATO systems.

In addition, because each nation brings different ways of doing business to the table, the simulation exercise is a good way to iron out the wrinkles and develop a common, integrated process for command and control—one that benefits even the most technologically lacking country.

The exercises also give smaller countries an opportunity to practice overcoming the language and technical barriers that exist in multinational exercises, Finland's Holma said.

NATO pledged $660,000 for the computer hardware and another $300,000 for the global communications infrastructure to help kick-start the PFP simulation network, according to Col. Frank Stech, of the U.S. Army. The baseline equipment cost for a nation that wants to take part in any PFP simulated exercise is about $15,000, he said.

Following the exercise in Washington, D.C., the NATO forces are gearing up for Exercise Viking 99, the first large-scale war game simulation to use the technology demonstrated in Washington, according to Lt. Col. Ilkka Jappinen, director of the information systems department at the Swedish Defence Wargaming Centre.

Under the terms of a five-year memorandum of agreement between the United States and Sweden, the Swedish Defense Forces are developing the building blocks for future distributed simulations between PFP nations. According to Swedish military officials, the goal of the U.S./Swedish effort is to develop the systems, software and communications architecture for a future computer-assisted exercise support program specifically designed for PFP.

Although last month's demonstration used the Joint Theater-Level Simulation software tool used by the U.S. Atlantic Command, Sweden has signed a contract with a Swedish simulation software developer for the Viking 99 simulation engine. Simulation software, or "engines," automatically generate crisis events and move opposing military forces against which NATO commanders must make decisions.

Sweden also will put in place a communications backbone for the exercise, providing e-mail and standard telephone and fax services.

The communications network is designed to be simple because NATO wants the simulations to involve the kinds of resources available to participating countries, Persson said. "Although these systems may be commonplace in the U.S. military, not every nation has videoconferencing [and other] capabilities."

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The lay of the land

War game simulations originating from the Swedish Defence Wargaming Centre near Stockholm, Sweden, and the U.S. Atlantic Command's Joint Training and Simulation Center in Suffolk, Va., supplied simulated events to the Combined Joint Task Force Command Center, located in the Old Customs Building in Washington, D.C., where Air Marshal Chris Coville of the United Kingdom commanded the allied effort.

Twenty workstations and several large-screen displays and videoconferencing systems provided Coville with a bird's-eye view of the simulated operations area, known as the country of "Azure," where a civil war had broken out, causing a massive refugee problem and threatening the security of nuclear material.

Other staff components linked to the exercise via a secure satellite communications network included an air component located in the Netherlands, a maritime component in Sweden and a land component in Hungary.

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