Combat Sims: Half Life Goes to Afghanistan
These days, soldiers deployed abroad consider video games almost a necessity of life. In the Royal Gloucestershire Berkshire and Wiltshire Light Infantry (RGBW LI) that was deployed to Afghanistan earlier this year, so do their commanders.
The realism of modern video games is allowing commanders to use these simulations in new ways, and incorporate new levels of subtlety. The British have grabbed on to the concept, and their experience is illustrative – but they are not alone by any means.
DIVE 2 (Dismounted Infantry Virtual Environment) is a PC-based concept demonstrator based on the hit computer game Half Life. Following discussions with Tim O’Leary of the Ministry of Defence’s Operational Training Advisory Group, the UK government worked with a small private software company and semi-private R&D firm QinetiQ to give Half Life a new life. The characters were put into uniform and given recognizable weapons, such as under slung grenade launchers, mouse hole charges and smoke and fragmentation grenades with realistic effects. Then the whole thing was dropped into a simulation of the urban warfare training ground at Copehill Down, with scenarios like house search and clearance, foot patrol – and networked play, which includes the ability to assign other soldiers to play enemy forces.
“You are training guys to look out for the unusual,” said O’Leary. “How to spot combat indicators such as a trail of sand possibly disguising a firing cable or a piece of red tape on a lamp post. The threat from suicide bombers is real and I’m sure that DIVE 2 can be developed to augment Peace Support Operations training very effectively.”
These kinds of applications help to counter “skills fade,” and are also useful for getting some level of practice and training in aspects that are expensive, difficult, or dangerous to simulate in exercises.
To augment that effectiveness, the commanders aren’t afraid to play dirty. After all, the enemy does, too – just not with the capabilities the commanders have.
“At first the guys can be a bit flippant if DIVE 2 is not used in a structured manner, and there’s still an ‘if it’s not raining, it’s not training’ attitude,” said Dave Williams of the QinetiQ War Fighting Experimentation team. “As they go through the scenario, without telling them, we take a God’s eye role and start picking them off. Pretty quickly they realize there’s an organized threat and they sort themselves out as a section and start taking it seriously.”
After that, the game becomes a debriefing tool, with the ability to run through the entire mission and assess the decisions made.
Ongoing development is planned for DIVE2, incorporating new scenarios and training roles. Meanwhile, the Royal Gloucestershire Berkshire and Wiltshire Light Infantry Regiment will test the concept in theater, and report back on what they think. There has already been one good indicator, though – soldiers from the Royal Scots who were introduced to DIVE2 started playing the game on their own time.
As the UK MoD release notes, the training is all part of ongoing MOD research into exploiting commercial games technology for military use.
The British certainly aren’t alone in these efforts. The US Marines adapted DOOM as a training device several years ago. Meanwhile, organizations in the US like ICT are taking it to a whole new level, and dedicated military gaming companies like Zombie Games (America’s Army) are even creating games based around future military systems – vid. Future Force Company Commander, based on the US military’s $120+ billion Future Combat Systems program.
Meanwhile, DefenseTech reports from the Serious Games Summit on a few other options. Including a game called “Foreign Ground” developed by the Swedish National Defense College, in which the goal is to use as little force as possible to solve the challenges involved on a mission in a foreign culture. The Swedish government’s related site “defensegaming.org” is also recommended as a resource.