Saturday, August 27, 2011

Russia Looks to Match US on Virtual Battlefield

by Richard de Silva

The Russian military has declared its objective of having its own serious gaming platform for training its troops by 2013. General Nikolai Makarov, Chief of the General Staff, announced the move to modernise methods by investing heavily into new technology based on popular video game technology but in a form that is far more reflective of the realities of frontline combat.

"We must adopt quickly,” he said, “…and figure out as soon as possible how to train our soldiers and the military as a whole.” Makarov also claimed that the final system will, in some respects, be “superior to those implemented in countries with the most advanced military forces."

The reference is to the US military’s Virtual Battlespace platform – now ‘VBS2’, its second incarnation – designed by Bohemia Interactive Australia, with initial input from the Australian Defence Force and the US Marine Corps. The simulator works as a first-person shooter (FPS), boasting user-defined real time scenarios, customisable vehicles and weapons, and detailed environments, taking into consideration factors such as varying weather, light and tides.

Virtual BattleSpace 2 Screenshot [image: Bohemia Interactive Simulations]

Since its first trial in 2004, the Virtual Battlespace software has been used by militaries worldwide, including the Israeli Defence Force, UK MoD, and Royal Netherlands Army, as well as training a range of services, including law enforcement, first response, and homeland security. More recently, VBS2 has been tailored to support large-scale multiplayer sessions for joint training, and the ability to import geographical replications of any terrain and area.

According to Colonel Tony Krogh, Director of the US National Simulation Center at Fort Leavenworth, Florida, the soldiers themselves help to develop the platform with regular recommendations, given that younger troops are not just generation X, but “generation Xbox”.

In the last month, China’s PLA has followed suit, unveiling its own platform entitled ‘Glorious Mission’. The Chinese government also announced the likelihood of releasing the platform to the public, in the hopes of boosting soldier recruitment. However, the FPS has raised eyebrows in the West for its use of the US military as the apparent “enemy”.

Last year, at the 2010 Joint Simulation and Training conference, Graeme Duncan, the CEO of Caspian Learning, developers of the Thinking Worlds platform, discussed with Defence IQ the success of serious gaming for the likes of the UK Royal Navy. “Realism is constantly evolving,” he revealed. “We are constantly trying to keep up with it. We have ray training software that is being launched. You have more powerful chips that are being launched, so from a 3D point of view, we try to go as far as we can.

If the Russian military is looking for recommendations on where to focus development in order to overtake those other nations already active in serious gaming, Duncan has his own opinion. “I think cloud-based approaches are certainly going to come to the fore more and more. As a precursor to that I think that we are going to see a lot more thin client delivery…[enabling] us to deliver what the military want, which is bite sized chunks, delivered rapidly, wherever the guys are.”


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