Army delivers 3-D training to soldiers

Computer-based training simulators enable soldiers to become familiar with virtually any type of battlefield condition. But the technology isn't useful if troops don't have access to it.

"You do have to go to where the trainers are to use them," said Rodney Long, principal investigator for Advanced Distributed Learning for the Army Simulation, Training and Instrumentation Command. "So if you don't have the time or the budget to travel, then you don't have access."

One solution is to bring the simulations to the soldiers. Long and officials at Fort Benning, Ga., are turning to interactive 3-D and Virtual Reality Modeling Language (VRML) to make training simulations available via the World Wide Web. Although still experimental, the project offers soldiers, armed with only a Web browser, the chance to learn the tactics required for building-to-building urban warfare. The VRML world, a replica of a live-training site at Fort Benning, enables soldiers to wander through the rooms of buildings, fire at the enemy and drop to a crouch, kneeling or prone position. The project is expected to go live next year.

Ultimately, Long hopes to combine the simulation with classroom material. Students would first participate in instructor-led classes about urban warfare, then test what they have learned in a realistic, computer- generated environment.

That's a distance-learning approach that should appeal to any agency, Long said.

"One of the problems with distance learning is keeping people engaged," he said. "It can get pretty dry when you're just reading text. That's not a problem in this environment."

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