FORT EUSTIS, Va. –
Players hunched in front of computer screens, intently moving their military uniform-clad avatars to capture objectives and neutralize enemy forces with swift keystrokes and mouse clicks.
Muffled gunfire could be heard through the headsets each player wore, masked only by occasional verbal instructions and warnings into microphones.
At first sight, it seems these "players" are enjoying the latest first-person shooter video game. However, these gamers are U.S. Army Soldiers in combat training using Virtual Battle Space 2, a high-tech simulator designed to teach the vital skills to survive and succeed on the battlefield.
VBS2 is a fully-interactive training system that provides a virtual environment suitable for a wide range of military training. It offers simulated environments and actual topography for practical exercises in leadership and organizational skills required to successfully execute unit missions.
"The goal of simulators is to seamlessly merge the virtual, constructed and live environments into a viable training experience," said Keith Jones, Army Support Activity Training Division simulations branch manager. "VBS2 allows Service members to use customizable missions to create a viable teaching platform, while increasing confidence and knowledge."
VBS2 was designed for federal, state and local government agencies, and is suitable for training small teams in urban tactics and combined-arms operations in lethal and non-lethal environments.
Soldiers can split into two rival teams -- OPFOR and BLUEFOR -- to accomplish a wide variety of mission objectives while simultaneously practicing teamwork and communication skills. The teams can review the mission with after-action reports, summaries and replays to learn from their mistakes and successes.
Military simulations have a long history, dating back as far as 25 B.C., with the rudimentary use of stones and drawings to review battle tactics. Over the course of history, emerging technology paved the way for more realistic simulations.
The Department of Defense introduced modern simulators as a training capability to customize exact needs of Service members while saving money, training space and time.
"Modern simulators give Service members a safe, flexible way to learn skills they wouldn't otherwise have the opportunity to practice first-hand," said Jones. "They give soldiers a sense of familiarity in potentially life-saving skills before their boots hit ground in a deployed environment."
In a constantly changing, technology-driven world, simulators are always evolving and expanding to offer the most realistic and complete training experience. As a testament to this, an updated version of the simulator, VBS2 v2.0, was released March 6.
VBS2 v2.0 offers a major software update and features enhanced graphics, larger terrain sizes, multi-core computer support, terrain modification, improved wounding and medical models, sandstorm creation, adjustment of soldier BMI and height, vehicle-on-vehicle loading, towing enhancements, improved AI, a script debugger, and scuba and sky diving, all to offer the most comprehensive, realistic training experience possible.
Army Support Activity now uses the updated version of VBS2 to accurately recreate elements such as fire-control systems, physics and weapon ballistics, using a "high-fidelity virtual sandbox" where Soldiers can conduct individual or collective training under the watchful eyes of trained instructors.
The simulator gives the instructors the capability to create new scenarios and then engage the simulation from multiple viewpoints. The simulator's squad-management system enables participants to issue orders to squad members, making it tailored to meet the individual needs of military, law enforcement, homeland defense, loadmaster and first-responder training environments.
"In the environments our Service members find themselves in, it's important they are equipped with more than gear," said Jones. "This simulator gives Soldiers the skills and knowledge to accomplish their missions - and survive."