THE STREETS OF BAGHDAD
- Bill Rautenstrauch
- The Observer
There's more than one way to train for a war. Sometimes you can do it without ever leaving your back yard.
Just ask the soldiers from the Third Battalion, 116th Armored Cavalry, Oregon National Guard.
The Virtual Convoy Operations Trainer, a virtual reality system that allows soldiers to experience realistic situations in the streets of Baghdad and other areas, made its first appearance at the La Grande armory recently.
It was set up in the parking lot, and in no time at all, 3/116th soldiers were mounted up and driving Humvees and trucks through enemy-infested territory.
Well, sort of.
"The V-COT lets us train in a virtual environment for real world missions," said Capt. Brian Dean of the 3/116th.
The trainer, built by Daytona, Fla.-based Raydon Corp., is equipped with four crew stations, each representing a wheeled vehicle.
Drivers, gunners and vehicle commanders communicate to each other by radio. Every station is linked to an instructor/operator who controls the action.
Displays, including one that provides a trainee with 360-degree views, simulate up to four terrain databases.
The locales include "Zussman," a small geographic urban area, and "Baghdad," a realistic representation of the Iraqi capital. Other databases depict a generic desert area, and a generic European area.
The training emphasis is on convoy operations, driving vehicles through dangerous territory, encountering and reacting to hostile situations.
The trainer can be set up so all four of its armed-and-ready vehicles operate together, though it can also be used as a gunnery trainer where the stations operate independently.
Dean said that a V-COT mission begins just like any real world combat mission Â— with an operations order put together by platoon leaders.
The order takes into account a range of factors, including the right vehicle mix for the convoy, weapons systems for the vehicles, routes the convoy will travel, and the type and strength of the enemy along the route.
"The op order tells what the mission is, what the situation is, and what support will be needed," said Dean.
After the operations order is complete, soldiers rehearse the mission, said Dean. Then the scenario is plugged into the trainer.
Examples of situations soldiers might encounter during their virtual trip include improvised explosive devices, and ambushes ranging from sniper fire to complex, multi-phase attacks.
During the recent training session, soldiers practiced convoy operations in Baghdad. The missions were full of surprises, said Sgt. 1st Class Alan Schmeits, Baker City.
"Sometimes the car in front would swerve or blow up, all kinds of things," he said. "In every scenario, there were IEDs, and people shooting at us. Of course, we could shoot back."
For reality, the V-COT has it all, down to engine noise, radio traffic and weapons sound effects.
Though he thought some of the graphics need improving, Schmeits said the noise and confusion of battle was convincing enough.
"Some guys said it's too chaotic in there, what with the radio traffic and everything going on. But I think that's the way it would really be overseas," he said.
For leaders like Dean, realism is but one of many pluses for the simulator.
The captain said he especially likes the After Action Station, which allows for post-mission playback and review.
Portability is another thing the trainer has going for it, Dean said.
Everything is contained in a 53-foot trailer that can be pulled behind a commercial or government supplied tractor. The V-COT can even be loaded on a C-5 Galaxy aircraft.
The simulator doesn't require any special site preparation, and can be set up in less than two hours.
That opens up a world of training opportunities that otherwise wouldn't be available, said Dean.
"I think soldiers really enjoy being able to train for the combat mission, and this gives us something beside what we get at annual training. We can haul it anywhere," he said.
The V-COT is kept at 116th Brigade headquarters in Boise. It is making the rounds just as the 3/116th is completing its reorganization into a Combat Action Battalion.
The new 3/116th sports two tank companies, two mechanized infantry companies, an engineer company, a headquarters company with scouts, mortarmen and medics, and a forward support company that includes maintenance, transportation and cook sections.
It's an outfit designed to cope with modern military challenges.
And the V-COT is a very modern training device.
"I think it's great for morale," Dean said. "Anytime you can come to work and play a video game, it's a good thing."