The “virtual military simulation experiment” uses software ideas from the gaming industry to put soldiers through their paces.
As part of it, this week members of the 2nd Battalion, The Royal Welsh, have taken part in a virtual military operation that can include simulated technical advances such as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and PDA (personal digital assistant) communication systems.
The £1m experiment, at the Land Warfare Centre in Warminster, Wiltshire, allows soldiers to test possible technical advances the Army does not yet physically have, and to train in a range of environments, from urban to rural, inland or coastal.
Set in a 3D virtual battlefield, it has some similarities to the computer game series Call of Duty.
It also draws parallels with Prince Harry’s revelations that his love of gaming may have contributed to his skills as an Apache gunner.
As part of the experiment, soldiers’ actions and reactions, and how they are influenced by each new technical capability, is monitored by experts from the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) and Niteworks, a partnership between the MoD and industry, which helped develop the simulation programme.
Their findings will provide scientific evidence of what new capabilities are needed for the battlefield of the future.
Major Mark Davis, Officer Commanding C Company, 2 Royal Welsh, said the exercise soldiers have been taking part in replicated one they did in December in a “3D Call of Duty type way”.
“There are differences obviously,” he said. “Call of Duty is a game, so it’s quite fun, whereas this is an experiment so it doesn’t have the same effects.”
He said the virtual world was not as realistic as real-life exercises, but was useful for commanders who are receiving reports and directing troops based on the information.
“There is also the advantage that in the virtual we can do things that we couldn’t do in a real exercise – for example we couldn’t reduce a building to rubble. But in the virtual you can, so the soldiers can see the effect of that.”
Lt Col Charles Barker, from the Army’s Directorate of Force Development, said: “The other advantage of a virtual operation is that we can place soldiers anywhere, be it an urban or rural environment, inland or coastal, using vehicles and equipment capabilities that aren’t even off the production line yet.
“Overall this experiment is giving us the right evidence to make the right decisions for the future.”