Putting boots on ground in a virtual world

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Ryan Whitney
  • Nellis AFBPublic Affairs
One of the biggest concerns and dangers many deployed Airmen face is being a convoy member. This is especially true for security forces Airmen, who are now finding themselves leading many convoy operations--operations that are often the target of insurgent attacks.

To better train security forces Airmen before they deploy, the 99th Ground Combat Training Squadron, one of seven regional training facilities, has incorporated the Air Force's first 360 degree convoy training simulation, the Warrior Skills Trainer Program, into their pre-deployment training curriculum.

"This program presents an accurate depiction of escalation of force and fits well into the crawl, walk, run type curriculum that we offer here," said Capt. Garland Wilmoth, 99th GCTS director of operations.

The first phase of training is primarily in a lecture format where students learn the basics of what to do and when. During the "walk" phase of the course, the $2 million dollar equipment comes into play. The cadre will aid the students and make sure the students are doing everything correctly.

The simulator is comprised of 10 projector screens, projectors and infrared cameras, a High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle replica, three M-4 rifle replicas, and a M249 Squad Automatic Weapon replica. All replicas are life size and weigh the same as their actual counter-parts used in the field.

"The internal setup of the weapons is all electronic, but the weapons still perform like they would in real situations. Each weapon has an accurate amount of ammo and when depleted, Airmen have to reload it," said Staff Sgt. David Popp, a 99th GCTS integrated base defense instructor. "When the weapon is fired, it emits a laser that is then read by the IR system that registers if Airmen hit or miss their target," he said.

The Humvee sits in the center of the screens and is wired into the projectors, so whenever the driver makes a turn, the image will rotate across the screen.

"If the driver takes a turn too fast, then he could pop the [Humvee] up on two wheels, or even flip it, in which case the squad in the vehicle would have to proceed on foot, and the screen would be controlled with a joystick the trainer has at the computer system," said Staff Sgt. Rene Flores, a 99th GCTS Integrated base defense instructor.

All of the equipment is routed into a computer system, where the cadres sit and monitor the scenario, which usually lasts 15 minutes. Each scenario can take anywhere from one to four hours to create, depending on the level of detail the scenario goes into.

"We have currently created five scenarios for testing to help us get a feel for the things we could potentially do with this equipment," said Staff Sgt. Bruce Thompson, 99th GCTS integrated base defense instructor.

In order to maintain effectiveness of the equipment, the 3-5 students who are using the simulator per scenario are monitored by cameras to make sure they are doing everything correctly and safely.

"Just with the initial testing we've done so far, the potential that this system is showing is really amazing. We're really looking forward to the training we will be able to give the students using this new equipment in the upcoming months," said Sergeant Thompson.

The new training curriculum is scheduled to come online in the late spring of 2008.