Virtual urban battlefield tests soldiers

Before the first shots are fired in Baghdad or other Iraqi cities, many American soldiers in Kuwait will have conducted virtual urban battlefield exercises thanks to a mobile training complex that went live last week.

"One of the concerns of our forces is the potential for combat operations within cities, even within Baghdad," said Col. Rob Reyenga, project manager for training devices in the Program Executive Office for Simulation, Training and Instrumentation in Orlando, Fla.

To help soldiers best prepare for those conflicts, Anteon Corp. delivered the first mobile Military Operations on Urbanized Terrain (MOUT) complex to Kuwait March 9. It was operational three days later, and the first live-fire training exercise was held March 15, said Dick Coltman, vice president and general manager of the company's integrated instrumentation division. MOUT sites replicate real-life urban battlefield environments and provide immediate feedback on training via a digital communications system located throughout the complex. Audio and video of the training session is stored digitally, and when the exercise is complete, soldiers and commanders review their performance and amend any missteps, Coltman said.

"This is exactly the kind of facility that soldiers and small units need to practice the skills they have to have to operate safely in those kinds of operations," Reyenga said.

Each mobile MOUT container is 40 feet long by 9 feet high and 8.5 feet wide with movable walls that allow it to be reconfigured to any shape or size required for mission training requirements. Multiple containers can be joined together in different configurations — side-by-side or stacked to create multistory buildings — to create the training landscape, he said.

The mobile MOUT can support an Army platoon of about 30 to 40 soldiers. Although there are no estimates available on the number of soldiers who will go through the complex prior to moving into Iraq, the Army's leadership in Kuwait said the mobile MOUT would be "fully utilized," said Reyenga, who returned from trip to the Middle East about two weeks ago.

"The fidelity of the training they get is very, very high," including a frame-by-frame review of the mission if necessary, Coltman said. Training scenarios include everything from retrieving a stolen weapon to rescuing a hostage, and casualty rates during the exercises have dropped from 80 percent to about 5 percent after repeated use, he said.

In addition to range of physical configurations and scenarios, the mobile MOUT also includes sound effects, booby traps, smoke and other "battlefield effects" that the trainers can add beforehand or on the fly from an after-action review control room in the complex. Special microphones and cameras capture all of the action. Even if soldiers are operating in total darkness, their every word and movement is tracked, Coltman said.

"All the training comes from an [Army] text, but this is live. They're not in a classroom or on a computer," Coltman said, adding that the trainers and program developers intentionally make the exercises difficult because lives would be at stake in a similar, real-life scenario. "This gives them the athletic and cognitive skills so they remember what to do, and what not to do, to cover their comrades."

Anteon was awarded a $6.8 million contract award to produce two mobile MOUT facilities for use in Kuwait and Afghanistan, and the company delivered the MOUTs within 60 days, Coltman said.

The company developed the first permanent MOUT site at Fort Polk, La. The site is known as Shugart-Gordon Village, named after two soldiers who were killed in Mogadishu, Somalia, in 1993, Reyenga said. He added that the Army's goal with the mobile MOUTs is to re-create the Shugart-Gordon Village on a smaller scale.

In the future, the Army would like to make the MOUTs even more realistic by using technologies that can re-create weapons capable of firing through soft walls, supporting mounted units to train on tanks, and even using intelligence of specific targets to create a replica of a building before soldiers actually attack it, Reyenga said.

Anteon is also working on MOUT sites in Germany, South Korea, New York, North Carolina, Alaska and Kentucky, according to the company.


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