U.S. Army Turns to Videogames for Training

Geek Culture

Making Training as Complex as the Actual Fight

Tucked away in a nondescript strip mall near Fort Monroe, Virginia are the offices of the Joint Training Counter-IED Operations Integration Center, or JTCOIC. It’s here that the Army has adopted videogames.

Mark Parent, Director of Operations, explains their mission: “In the past, the usual turnaround for training has been long; sometimes it takes many years to make changes. We’re tasked with getting that information out sooner. Our goal is to make the scrimmage as hard as the game.”

JTCOIC began exploring how to best leverage existing information, such as reports and databases, and analyze how to use that information to train soldiers better. As JTCOIC ramped up, it began looking for ways to get training and information out to as many soldiers as possible, as quickly as possible. Technology appeared to be the most sensible solution and the group began pursuing a wide scope of activity.

Under the guidance of former First Sergeant Mark Covey JTCOIC began to really find its way. Covey heads up JTCOIC’s Systems Integration Modeling and Simulation (SIMS). A team of artists, programmers and videographers started to challenge the way the Army thought about training.

“When I joined the army in the early ’80s, most of stuff was canned and scripted and it took weeks or months or years to change training content,” said Covey. “Often it was based on a target that didn’t exist, a made up location like ‘Transnovia.’ Today, we make training based on actual locations, actual villages and actual events. The geographies are accurate and, more importantly, the activity is accurate.”

What SIMS does now is miles beyond the borders of Transnovia. While the team offers a variety of services (machinima movies of downrange incidents, playable scenarios based on battlefield engagements, movies and playable scenarios strictly for specialized training and many more products — if it can be dreamed up, SIMS can deliver, it boils down to training using game software. The team takes a scenario — whether based on actual events or invented by a trainer — and using a variety of software, creates a 2-D or 3-D virtual training event of that scenario. The closest comparison is a last-gen Call of Duty, but with very real consequences.

“I think one of the very first [simulations] we did followed an event that took place in Mosul,” said Richard Williams, Technical Director of SIMS. “There was a five-vehicle convoy. The first vehicle turned the corner around a park, went up about 100 meters and got hit by 400 pounds of deep-buried explosives. Every soldier inside that vehicle died. Following that, there was a complex attack: Insurgents to the east at about 300 meters, insurgents to the north on top of a mosque at 300 meters and insurgents to the south on top of a building, attacking.

“We produced this product, created the terrain … everything … and had it done in four days. When it was done, it was amazingly powerful because what we did was create a transition from the real world of photographs and reports into the virtual world’s polygons and there was a feeling of ‘now we get it.’ Now we can see what the bad guys are doing and what their point of view was, what the trigger man’s aim point was.”

For soldiers in the field to be able to visualize enemy strategy and see the battlefield through the enemy’s eyes, it was a breakthrough. But the SIMS unit was just learning their craft at that point, says Williams. “It was just four of us. It was very rough, we were using Camtasia, we didn’t have hardware capture cards, we didn’t have professional videographers or anything like that. But when we finished, we knew we were going in the right direction. And we’ve kept adding resources, capabilities, components and expertise.”

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