The growing role of simulation in training has yielded numerous benefits for the Army — the approach saves millions of dollars while cutting down on Fort Benning’s operational noise, Maneuver Center of Excellence officials said.
Statistics reflect how heavily Fort Benning relies on simulators for all facets of Infantry, Armor and weapons training, said Ken Mullins, chief of the G-3 Simulations Training Division. Between February and December last year, more than 47,000 Soldiers were pushed through some type of virtual device or system. Last month, that number reached almost 18,400.
“Twenty-five years ago, the only folks using simulations to a large degree were aviation-related,” he said. “However, simulations back then were designed to teach procedures and were not immersive in nature. Graphics were not good, and collective training was nonexistent.
“Today, we still use simulations to teach procedures, but it is much more realistic. The graphics are much better, and most devices are network-based.”
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Mullins said other advantages to simulation include unlimited repetition and immediate visual feedback. And there’s no concussion, recoil or sound signature when a Soldier fires a computerized simulation round.
“We can do all this in a controlled environment at a fraction of the cost,” he said. “You can fire a weapon live, even a pistol, or just turn on your computer. Which creates the least amount of noise?”
The Armor and Cavalry Basic Officer Leader Course is conducted by 2nd Squadron, 16th Cavalry Regiment, 316th Cavalry Brigade. About 720 lieutenants come through the course annually, and each could shoot up to 10 live rounds over 19 weeks.
The average cost of a live tank round is about $900 — it’s $1,115 for an Armor-piercing sabot training round and $750 per heat round, said Staff Sgt. Raymond Whitener, the environmental coordination officer for 2-16 Cav. ABOLC classes average 72 students. Without maximizing simulation, the Army would spend $7.9 million in live fire alone to complete each cycle, he said.
“We’re a big fan of simulators. We have to be,” said Lt. Col. Sean Barnes, the squadron commander. “Through simulation, we can also start training at a higher level instead of burning up range time. It provides us a way to rehearse and practice so we’re not wasting resources when we do go live. The Armor officers get to learn from their mistakes in a threat-free environment first, which improves safety.”
Barnes said it also costs about $300 a mile to operate an Abrams tank. Simulation provides a “steppingstone to training live” on the weapons systems and machine tactics.
“It’s very expensive to run tanks. We use simulation to build a solid foundation of learning before they even step foot in one,” he said. “It advances the whole training process for us. The lieutenants can learn their craft quicker and operate at a more effective rate through simulation. They’re better prepared when they get out on a range and do it for real.”
While a massive amount of weapons training is done in simulation and even with non-explosive rounds and blanks, live fire remains an integral part of preparing Soldiers for the battlefield, officials said.
“The first time you want to pull the trigger is in training, not combat. We owe that to America and the people we protect,” Barnes said. “They’ve got to get those skills before they go out. I can’t put a young lieutenant on the battlefield who’s never tasted what that tank can do live. We still have to train and still have to make noises in order to get our Soldiers ready.”
He said Fort Benning has struck a solid balance between simulations, noise conservation and understanding the tricommunity’s concerns over sound signatures coming from installation training areas.
“The MCoE is doing a great job of mitigating our noise,” he said. “We understand the responsibility we have to the community we also live in, while fulfilling our obligations to defend the nation’s freedom.”