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Video games used in army training

Video simulation, including commercial, first-person shooting games such as Call of Duty, will play an increasing role in the Canadian military in the coming years.

But a tug-of-war is underway between skeptics who see video as a mere cost-cutting tool, and soldiers who regard the technology as a welcome addition to the existing training regime.

National Defence is examining how computer-generated scenarios boost ordinary training, and for the first time is considering their use in mission rehearsals.

"That's something that's being seriously looked at," Brig.-Gen. Denis Thompson, head of special forces, said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

"It would be complementary. You wouldn't be replacing (rehearsal-of-concept) drills. It would be a complementary asset," said Thompson.

Before almost every major operation, troops carry out rehearsals to test the strengths and pitfalls of various battle plans. It's a practice that goes back at least to the First World War.

Computer simulations have changed preparation to the point where dozens of troops and even pilots can be linked to together in a virtual world, which includes realistically rendered enemies, right down to uniforms and faces.

Thompson stressed the technology does not substitute for the rugged dress rehearsals soldiers carry out before operations, such as commando raids and anti-terrorism missions.

Sophisticated simulators are already familiar within the army and air force, seen in part as a way for units to save on bombs and bullets as the military cuts up to $2.5 billion from its budget by 2015.

"Simulation has been put forward in many instances as a cost saving measure," says a Feb. 1, 2012, briefing note, obtained under the Access to Information Act. "For example, the cost of a 105 mm round is too expensive so we will train in a simulator and drastically reduce live fire practice."

"Simulation must be approached with a view that it speeds the learning process and lends itself to improving soldier performance to conduct actual tasks, not replaces them in a synthetic environment."

Simulators currently in use in Canada's military include the Joint Combined Arms Training System and the Virtual Battlespace 2. In the latter, all the elements of large-scale virtual battles, such as tanks and helicopters, can be linked together.

The technology also teaches lessons of past battles. Just as some video games recreate scenes from the Second World War and other conflicts, military programmers have incorporated at least two scenarios from Canada's five-year ground war in Afghanistan into their systems.

The Canadian Press

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