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Posted: Wednesday, September 26, 2012 4:30 am | Updated: 8:09 am, Wed Sep 26, 2012.

FORT HOOD — The Army is implementing a new training method utilizing a combination of computer-generated units, virtual simulators and actual boots-on-the-ground troops.

It’s all part of 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.

“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 at Fort Hood for weeks observing 1st Cavalry Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team use 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.

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 simulators. Integration had been used before, but not to this extent, officials said.

In a display for the media Tuesday, 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 with a pair of enemies wearing white robes and Arab headdresses. Real smoke grenades detonated and small-arms fire rang out as both sides fired blanks, but still hit with the laser tag system.

Miles away, soldiers inside battle tank simulators and helicopter simulators engaged targets on the same battlefield, at least a virtual version of it. Back at garrison, soldiers on desktop computers controlled computer-generated units on a collective map of the battlefield, something the Army calls “constructive training.”

Not far away in the command tent, 2nd Brigade commander Col. Robert Whittle Jr. analyzed the situation, directing maneuvers for the brigade’s units. On his end, he couldn’t tell which units were live soldiers or computer-generated.

“It’s no different than what we have on the real battlefield,” he said, adding that training like this is cost-effective because it keeps down fuel and other costs.

The Army is spending $8 million per year on research and development to implement the new training program.

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