In the northern sector of the vast training ground of Fort Hood, an infantry platoon marches down a road while two enemy combatants, clad in white robes and Arab headdress, hide behind a pile of rocks preparing to ambush them. Miles away, in a building full of simulators, dozens of M1 Abrams tankers shout commands and fire at will at enemy targets. In nearby trailers, helicopter pilots fly missions in their own simulators. And back at garrison, soldiers on desktop computers control various units on a collective map of the battlefield.
Nearby, in the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, command tent, Col. Robert F. Whittle Jr., listens to radio and other reports, and issues orders to the units in the brigade. He doesn’t know if the units are real or computer-generated, but in this type of training, he doesn’t need to.
“It’s no different than what we have on the real battlefield,” Whittle said.
“It” is what the Army is calling “Integrated Training Environment,” and the new program is currently being assessed at Fort Hood before it is distributed Army-wide. The Army is pushing the new training method because it keeps down fuel and other costs, and allows for quality unit training at any major post.
Integrated Training Environment utilizes a combination of computer-generated units, soldiers inside virtual simulators and actual boots-on-the-ground troops.
While most military leaders will agree that full-on live training is still the best, it’s not always feasible or affordable. And with the advance of technology, the Army is increasingly using computers, classrooms and high-tech simulators to train troops. But incorporating those types of training with live training hasn’t been done a lot … until now.
“We’re saving time, money and we think it’s better for our soldiers,” said Lt. Col. Shane Cipolla, a project lead at the National Simulation Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., where the new training program was developed. He and about 30 other personnel from Fort Leavenworth have been on Fort Hood for weeks observing as the Black Jack Brigade uses the new program.
The brigade began the training on Sept. 10, and will conclude the assessment in December. From there, tweaks in the program will be made, and other units and installations will begin using it next year.
The Integrated Training Environment is revolutionary in the sense that it brings together various training methods long used in the military, including live training, virtual simulators and constructive training, which involves soldiers on desktop computers controlling various units on a collective map of the battlefield.
Integration had been used before, but not to this extent, officials said.
In a display for the media last week, Army officials displayed examples of each training component in separate areas of Fort Hood. In a northeast portion of the post, a squad of 2nd Brigade infantrymen wearing high-tech laser tag equipment that keeps track of rounds fired and “who shot who” battled the enemy with small-arms fire. Real smoke grenades detonated and rifle shots rang out as both sides fired blanks, but still hit with the laser tag system the wore atop their uniform.
Miles away, soldiers inside battle tank simulators and helicopter simulators engaged other targets on the same battlefield, at least a virtual version of it. And, still elsewhere, soldiers in the constructive training clicked buttons on a desktop computer, representing other units.
Whittle said his brigade was doing well with the training.
“We’re having a great training experience,” said Whittle, adding he has seen a lot of training methods since he joined the Army in 1990. While the final analysis of the new training method is still being decided, Whittle said it could prove to be very effective.
“We are working on a major milestone,” he said.
Home station training
Col. John Janiszewski, the director of the National Simulation Center at Fort Leavenworth, said a development plan of the training method goes out to 2018, and could potentially involve every major Army installation in the world.
When asked by a reporter if the new training method, which will be run by a mix of military and civilian employees, will result in more jobs, Janiszewski said … maybe.
“I think it has the potential for more jobs,” Janiszewski said, adding that if does bring more jobs to Fort Hood, it wouldn’t be a huge amount.
Janiszewski said he was speaking with the secretary of the Army recently about the need for more “home station training,” and the Integrated Training Environment fits into that plan.
Why Fort Hood?
Fort Hood has a reputation for highly effective Army training, both live and virtual, officials said.
“It’s kind of a leader in simulated training,” Cipolla said.
Integrated Training Environment scenarios can last 96 hours or more. Some 600 Black Jack troops from 2nd Brigade are being used in the training assessment.
The Army is spending $8 million per year on research and development to implement the new training program.