Wednesday, May 21, 2003

Fort Knox unveils future virtual reality war tactics

The Associated Press

FORT KNOX, Ky. - A weeklong experiment using virtual reality in future combat was unveiled this week at the Armor Conference at Fort Knox.

The new tactics gave a glimpse of the Army's possible future battle command technology that is being designed to give commanders a quicker, more accurate picture of the battlefield.

Fort Knox's Maneuver Battle Lab is playing host to the endeavor, a simultaneous integration of battle lab experimentation in a virtual environment with 10 other installations from across the United States.

Soldiers from the posts are using the technology this week to team up for mock combat.

The $15 billion project was announced and approved by the Pentagon on Monday.

The command network, part of the initial testing and development phase, allows units from different installations to jointly practice war-fighting techniques through a virtual reality system, saving money and honing skills before troops travel to joint force-on-force training. It also allows a more cost-effective way for engineers and soldiers to test possible weapon systems and work out problems before the government commits large amounts of money, officials said.

"What's different about this experiment is the ability to bring together various war-fighters and the science and technology community through a virtual network from dispersed locations throughout the country," said Lt. Col. Michael Aycock of the battle lab staff working on the experiment.

The project involves the installations collectively using more than 200 computers that handle a continuous exchange of data from up to 30,000 war-fighting elements, such as tanks and soldiers, on one network. That allows the Army to lessen joint multisite training costs and decrease the chances of injuries through virtual vision.

"What we're doing here is providing the commander a picture where he can see everything," said Henry Hughes, maneuver battle lab deputy director. "It gives the commander a real-time feel for what's going on," Knox Commander Maj. Gen. Terry Tucker said.

Post officials say the battle command technology that will be tested at Fort Knox and other installations could be the most significant change to the Army force structure since World War I. The technology is such a departure from the current concept of operations, officials said, that the only way to work on it is through simulation.

"What you saw in Iraq last month was a glimpse of the potential of what we're doing, fighting over great distances, very rapidly with forces that are dispersed," said Brig. Gen. Robert W. Mixon, one of the Unit of Action's primary architects. Mixon said the Army's virtual experiment will enhance those capabilities.

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