Vikings’ high-tech war games in the heart of Africa
Soldiers from the 1st Battalion, The Royal Anglian Regiment are currently training in the fierce heat and punishing terrain of the African bush. In the third of his special reports from the Vikings' training camps in Kenya, CHRIS HILL explains the amazing battle simulation technology being used by the troops.
Blank-firing manoeuvres are an essential part of the British Army's training regime: they hone troops' fighting skills and tactical awareness.
But, without the threat of a real enemy and the demands of dealing with real casualties, these could feel like little more than a drill.
So, the Royal Anglian Regiment's instructors in Kenya have given these war games extraordinary realism, by introducing a cutting-edge simulation tool that mimics almost every aspect of the real thing. The DTES (deployable tactical engagement simulation) system is used to allow troops to target a mock enemy directly without fear of injuring them.
Up to 900 soldiers in the African bush have been equipped with a satellite-tracked vest and a 'halo' that straps onto their helmet; both contain an array of sensors. They are also given a small arms transmitter (SAT) that attaches to their rifle barrel. It registers when the trigger has been pulled and fires a laser beam in the direction in which the weapon is aimed. If that beam hits an opponent's sensor, it will register that he has been hit and how badly he has been wounded.
As the soldier's life clock begins ticking away, medics will race to give first aid and transport the patient to an aid post within the 'golden hour' – the time-scale on which his survival depends. If the treatment has been timely and correct, the casualty can then be 'reset' and sent back into the fray with a 'God Gun', which gives training marshals the power of simulated life and death over the participating troops; if the wrong treatment is administered, his survival clock ticks down faster.
Logistics and training adviser Glen Snaddon, who spent 25 years in the army with the Green Howards before joining system manufacturer Saab Technologies, said other simulated weapons had also been designed, including artillery and improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
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Simulated IEDs and suicide bombs will, when detonated, spray laser beams out in the same indiscriminate fashion as bomb fragments or artillery shrapnel. That means someone standing close by may be untouched, while a soldier standing 50 feet away could hear the sobering message emanating from their vest: 'killed... killed... killed...'
'It also gives a loud physical explosion which you can see, hear and feel,' said Mr Snaddon. 'After that, the soldier will hear a beep and a voice saying he has been killed or wounded. It is very scary, and it is intended to be in order to prepare them for what may happen.
'But you can stand right next to it without getting hit by the fragments. There is an algorithm that randomly throws the dice as to what will happen. It is very realistic in that sense.'
The advantages of the system reach far beyond adding realism to the training. All the information is captured and fed via five radio masts to a command post, where it is combined into a raft of analytical tools and tables. It includes a real-time, three-dimensional replay of the contining battle, using graphics that would not look out of place in the war-themed computer games played by many of these soldiers.
The screen can be monitored from any angle and zeroed in on particular platoons or individual soldiers to highlight where the attack succeeded or failed.
Statistics show who fired at which precise time: also, whether they hit their intended target or sprayed valuable ammunition aimlessly into the bush. It allows commanders to see at a glance who is the best shot, who led the charge and who took a back seat.
Capt Harry Hinnell, battle group logistics officer, said the DTES system was a valuable command tool for the present-day generation of soldiers.
'For the command, this is fantastic because there is nowhere for people to hide on this system,' he said. 'The boys love it, because they can see who was the best shot and who had the most killed. You have got to remember we are dealing with the PlayStation generation, and these kind of graphics are something they really understand.'
To read more about the family bond between the Anglians in Kenya, see tomorrow's EDP. For more pictures and videos, see www.edp24.co.uk