19 March 2010

COIN Games

Despite my recent rants against the futility and obsolescence of AKO, I have to acknowledge that the Army does well when it uses or modifies commercial software. Nowhere is this more apparent than in gaming systems, such as the smash-hit First-Person Shooter (FPS) America’s Army, and a training simulations known as the Virtual Battle Space System (VBS2).

Released in 2003,
America’s Army was designed as a recruiting tool, featuring realistic combat action. Surprisingly, the game was a smash-hit, with GameSpy consistently ranking America's Army among the top ten FPS games online. Featuring authentic military tactics and video documentaries of real Soldiers, America's Army was credited with having a greater impact on Army recruits than all other forms of Army advertising combined in 2008.

Another First-Person-Shooter, Bohemian Technology's Armed Assault, serves as the basis for the US Army's Virtual Battle Space System (VBS2), a program seeing service in the US Marine Corps, Australian Army, and the Army of New Zealand. Typically installed on networks consisting of over forty computers, VBS2 is used by troops to rehearse convoy ops and to take part in role-playing scenarios. After a brief tutorial, a platoon of Soldiers can plan and execute a mission in a virtual world similar to Iraq or Afghanistan. Troops can either fight as dismounted infantry, or they can hop into any one of a number of armored vehicles--HMMWVs or MRAPs--and serve as a driver or turret gunner. A seperate exercise control room contains operators who control enemy forces, US Air Force A-10 attack jets, and NATO medevac helicopters. Some installations have even hired linguists to portray civilians on the battlefield, speaking to Soldiers over a headset.

According to Voo Tatico, a blog run by a helicopter pilot in the Brazilian Army, VBS2 is also used to train crew chiefs--the enlisted crewmembers who man the door guns on helicopters like the UH-60 Black Hawk and CH-47 Chinook. Using virtual reality goggles and a few special controllers, crew chiefs can practice gunnery without ever leaving the ground.

While simulations can never fully replace real training, they do offer a few notable advantages. Simulators are relatively inexpensive and can be used when poor weather or maintenance issues prevent actual flying. They require minimal set-up time and are a safe way for novices to practice dangerous maneuvers, such as emergency procedures. VBS2 was recently released for home use for US service members at Military Gaming (CAC login required--which means you need a US government computer to download it).

First-Person-Shooters aren't the only commercial "off-the-shelf" products the US military has taken advantage of. Communication software such as mIRC—an Internet Relay Chat application—and Ventrilo—a Voice Over Internet Protocol program—are staples in modern-day tactical operation centers. However, it comes as a shock to many Soldiers that the mIRC they use to battle-track missions in Iraq and Afghanistan was originally a popular chat program in the mid-1990s. Likewise, Ventrilo is infamous for planning combat of a distinctly different nature:

(The most awesome combat mission ever planned over Ventrilo)

Modern video games are often designed to be easily modified, and many games might have great military application. A modified Command and Conquer: Generals might be a better wargaming simulation than the US military's JANUS computer system, nearly thirty years old. Microsoft Flight Simulator is an easy way to practice a few instrument approaches before a check ride.

Could Civilization IV be used to replicate the complex political, economic and military situation of Iraq in 2007? It might not be too far-fetched. The US Air Force has already begun looking into using Second Life, holding a Town Hall meeting yesterday.

Focus: There are plenty of other games with military application. What wargames would you want to play? Sound off in the comments section.


Anonymous said...

Vbs is a modified version of operation flashpoint cold war crisis, a game of the year like 2000ish time frame, it was unforgiving war simulator, I loved it in highschool, it influenes my tactical descions to this day( in the USAF), the fact that you do anything blew my mind.

Anonymous said...

*Can do anything: as in you could be conventional infantry, sf, armour, helo, or CAS, and a sandbox enviroment not seen In 3d untill GTA3. The level where you get shotdown and have to reach a extraction point in a certain time frame, while dodgeing enemy patrols,(you get captured eventually then freed by friendly gorillas In transit prior to your return to us military forces) When I did SERE all I thought about were the paralles between this mission and my (then) current situation.

Starbuck said...

Thanks for the comments, but just a minor quibble--Bohemian Software (creator of Op Flashpoint and Assault) claim that the engine was based on Assault, although the two games are pretty much similar.