Military Training Technology
Written by Peter Buxbaum
MT2 2011 Volume: 16 Issue: 1 (February)
Harnessing training techniques to
increase awareness and survivability.
United States and coalition forces have faced improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Afghanistan and Iraq for some years now and the use of roadside bombs by insurgents shows no sign of abating. Insurgents’ use of IEDs in Afghanistan rose by 22 percent between mid-2009 and mid-2010, according to published reports and the rate of effective attacks increased by 45 percent.
The effects have been devastating. A quarter of the two million Americans—500,000 warfighters—who have seen combat in Southwest Asia have been victims of multiple IED blasts. More than half of all combat fatalities have been victims of IED attacks.
So it comes as no surprise that counter- IED training has emerged as a military priority.
“There are three lines of operations that we pursue, each equally important to defeating the IED threat,” said Army Colonel Jeffrey Jarkowsky, division chief, at the Joint IED Defeat Organization (JIEDDO). “The first is attacking the network of bomb builders. The second is detecting and defeating the devices through tactics and technology. The third involves training the force to enable the other two lines of operations.”
JIEDDO facilitates the training process by monitoring and analyzing the latest threats and investigating and investing in systems and technologies to meet those threats. When devices, products and systems are ready to be fielded, JIEDDO transitions these to the training organizations within the armed services.
Jarkowsky examines the gamut of live and virtual training techniques, technologies and systems. “My knee-jerk reaction is to prefer live training as the way to go,” he said. “But in the last few years technology has advanced and there is a powerful role for simulated training. Live training is desirable if it can replicate the right conditions. But some units don’t have the time or space to perform live training.” Over the long term, simulations can save money over live training, Jarkowsky noted. “Units don’t have to repetitively deploy to live training areas,” he said. “Some simulated systems are able to present the terrain where warfighters will be deployed to in theater. If a unit is deploying to Kandahar, that is the terrain that will be displayed on the simulator.”
Training the force is an essential part of the overall counter-IED effort, Jarkowsky said. “It is a direct complement that enables us to attack the network and defeat the device,” he said. “You can’t do that without training and there is a wide range of live, virtual and constructive systems, from individual training to the collective, that is being applied to the counter-IED fight.”
The Army’s Program Executive Office for Simulation, Training and Instrumentation (PEO STRI) sponsored the development of a project called IEDES, or Improvised Explosive Device Effects Simulator, under contract with Lockheed Martin.
“The skills we’re trying to train involve detecting a device and predicting where devices may be located,” said Nicole Coeyman, a PEO STRI engineer on the project. “If a device does go off, soldiers learn how to neutralize the effects, how to report the incident, and how to protect personnel and equipment and from explosive hazards.”
IEDES training is performed on a range. The equipment used can be packed in six crates for transport for one facility to the next. The equipment, which includes nonexplosive IED-type devices and control units, is hidden in terrain and allows trainers to set up a variety of scenarios for the detection and response to IEDs.
“They hide the devices in rocks, sand or dirt, whatever is available on the training terrain and the soldiers are training to observe what is not looking quite right,” explained Coeyman.
IEDES comes in A-kit and B-kit varieties which correspond to devices that are nonpyrotechnic and pyrotechnic respectively. The non-pyrotechnic A-kit uses CO2 and talcum powder to produce audio and video effects in the case of an IED blast training scenario. The B-kit uses M30 and M31 cartridges to a produce a fireworks-like effect. A controller unit is the brains of the system and allows trainers to vary the scenarios being presented to the trainees.
IEDES has been in development since 2008. The Army has been fielding A-kits since December 2009 and B-kits since April 2010.
“We are starting to get some feedback from users and they are generally satisfied,” said Coeyman. “As with any first generation system, there can always be improvements and we are responding to user requirements.” Improvements in the works include more rational packaging of the equipment as well as a more dramatic effect for the non-pyrotechnic version.
Non-explosive IEDs from Inert Products LLC in Scranton, Pa., have been supplied to counter-IED and explosive ordnance disposal training systems in all the branches of the armed services. The company also markets a variety of kits that can be incorporated into counter-IED training scenarios.
The inert weaponry is fabricated to look, feel and weigh like the real thing, said Donald Buza, the company vice president of operations.
“The devices are made of inert polyurethane and are virtually indestructible,” he said. “The devices have no effect but can be combined with pyrotechnics to produce an effect. The products are designed to allow warfighters to detect the existence of IEDs.”
Inert Products’ IED Threat Recognition and Awareness Tactical Trainer Kit is equipped with faux items such as mines, switches, booby traps, simulated explosives, igniters, blasting caps, timers and fuses, and is “designed to assist tactical trainers with IED threat awareness and explosives hazard mitigation training,” said Buza. Another of the company’s kits, the Jihadi Bomb Builder Simulated IED Workshop Kit, contains “what is needed to set up a complete simulated bomb making workshop,” Buza said. “The improvised work bench sets up and breaks down easy and is portable.”
On the other end of the training spectrum are those that are entirely computerized. Bohemia Interactive Simulations Group, best known for its Virtual Battle Space 2 (VBS2) which was adapted from computer gaming, provides capabilities that allow trainers to incorporate counter-IED training.
“VBS2 is like a virtual sandbox,” said Pete Morrison, the company’s chief executive officer. “It allows the military to develop scenarios and simulated events that soldiers will play through.” The U.S. Army has committed $17 million to acquire some 3,500 copies of VBS2.
VBS2 comes equipped with various IEDrelated components which can be incorporated into war fighting training scenarios. “The classic use is to train soldiers in how to react to an IED blast,” said Morrison. “The components can also be used to train in avoiding IED strikes.”
It takes an hour or two to create a scenario within VBS2, according to Morrison. “The scenario can also be changed on the fly,” he said, “as the soldier is playing through.” Warfighters play on VBS2 on individual computers but as many as 256 computers can be networked together to practice teamwork.
Another type of simulation uses computer technology as its puts warfighters in an actual vehicle from which they can observe virtual terrain and react to simulated events.
“We recognized that we could build a simulator that could do two things,” said Richard Lindheim, president of RL Leaders in Los Angeles. “Soldiers have situational awareness to see small but critical signatures that could indicate the presence of an IED and to create the equivalent of being caught in an IED event without putting anyone in harm’s way.”
RL Leaders accomplished this feat by combining technology from the entertainment and theme park industries to simulate the feel of travel on Afghan terrain in an actual HMMWV, as well as the trauma of being hit by an IED. The HMMWV is equipped with a 270-degree high definition, high resolution video screen through which the trainees view the virtual terrain as well as a surround sound system.
Because the video system is completely digital, the virtual training environment can be easily changed to suit requirements. In that way the system can simulate different theater locations as well as adapt the system to reflect new types of threats and threat signatures. The footage for RL Leaders’ IED Battle Drill System is shot in California in areas experts have identified as being similar to locations in Afghanistan.
“All you have to do it shoot the new footage and put it up on the screen,” said Lindheim. “You don’t have to write a whole new program. New devices and signatures can be inserted in existing footage.”
Simulated IED events can generate eight Gs of force in the HMMWV, although only four Gs are actually used. Trainees experience real disorientation as a result of the simulated blast and can then be tested on their ability to follow post-blast procedures.
“The entire session is recorded on video,” said Lindheim, “so that you can then go back and do an after action review with trainer and trainee.” The RL Leaders system has been in use at Fort Campbell, Ky., for the last several months.
A virtualized training system where trainees operate not in front of a computer screen, but out in the field, was acquired by the United States Marne Corps and provided by SAAB Training USA. A form of glorified laser tag is played with laser mounted weapons, an electronic vest and base stations. The vests are equipped with a GPS receiver which communicates locations of participants to the base station.
“All events are being captured and displayed on the base station,” said Ken Polczynski. “That way, trainers can watch the action and play it back later for after action review.”
For counter-IED training purposes that equipment is supplemented with simulated booby trapped IEDs that contain CO2 or compressed air capsules which emulate the concussive effect of a blast and emit smoke. “A transmitter senses the concussion and sends out a radio signal,” said Polczynski, a program manager at the company. Depending on how the training is configured the system determines whether a given trainee is killed, wounded, or experiences no impact depending on the proximity to the blast.
Another option is to equip the ersatz IED with a GPS tracker and an antenna to enable trainers to watch how those playing the insurgents hand off and emplace the IED. “When critiquing the exercise later, they can point out to trainees where they might have intercepted the operation,” Polczynski explained.
The available counter-IED systems and programs are undergoing continual development and innovation. IEDES is in the process of introducing pyrotechnic devices of various sizes including a very small device that will be used for military operations on urban terrain training. “We are also looking at a device that has been approved to simulate under vehicle explosions,” said Coeyman.
Enhancements to RL Leader’s IED Battle Drill will enable the incorporation into the video material of the latest intelligence on threats faced by warfighters. “That way, the video material that soldiers are training on will include observables and signatures that reflect what is happening in theater today, not three months or six months ago,” said Lindheim. “We have the ability to do this now so it is inevitable that training will move in that direction. This capability can really change training and will make a difference to warfighters. It will make them much more capable and secure.”
Jarkowsky foresees an increased emphasis on training in enhanced biometrics and forensic capabilities as it relates to the counter-IED effort. “We need the ability to train on what we call weapons technical intelligence,” he said. “These are things we learn from intact IEDs that we recover or pieces of IEDs from post-blast analyses. This type of training would allow individuals, small units and leaders to understand the process of collecting, analyzing and employing intelligence from forensic and biometric material.” ♦