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Realistic Battlefield EffectsIs it combat or is it Hollywood? The answer is that it’s both and neither. Live training seasoned with Hollywood-style special effects is giving troops a taste of the sights, sounds, smells and chaos of battle.

Sometimes the training is intensely physical, with plenty of pyrotechnics and role-players who could have stepped off the set of “The Hurt Locker.”

Strategic Operations Inc. (STOPS), on the lot of Stu Segall Productions, is a San Diego based company, a full-service TV / movie studio, provides Hyper Realistic Tactical Training services and products for military, law enforcement, and other organizations responsible for homeland security. STOPS has trained over 600,000 personnel since 2002.

Stu Segall is the president of STOPS and a Hollywood producer who trademarked the term, “hyper-realistic training,” defined as, “such a high degree of fidelity in the replication of battlefield conditions in a training environment that participants so willingly suspend disbelief that they become totally immersed and eventually stress inoculated.”

The company employs state-of-the-art Hollywood battlefield special effects, combat wound effects, medical simulation systems, role players, subject matter experts, virtual reality, digital gunmen, Combat Training Coordinators, and training scenarios to create training environments that are the most unique in the industry.

“The company has developed a range of gear to further enhance the “realism of hyper-realistic” training,” said STOPS Executive Vice President Kit Lavell

Surgical Cut SuitOne is the “Surgical Cut Suit,” an apt name for what is essentially a prosthetic human body worn by a live person over his torso like a surgeon’s gown. Weighing just more than 30 pounds, the suit has fake skin and organs, as well as reservoirs of fake blood. Soldiers practicing combat casualty care cut into the suit or treat a cut that is already made into the suit, while the actor wearing it moans and screams without suffering so much as a scratch.

With interchangeable organs, and a mechanical heart and blood flow that can be adjusted to beat at different rates, the Cut Suit can be used for numerous procedures, including tourniquet application, hemorrhage control, surgical incisions and suturing. The suit, which costs about $25,000, is reusable and can be restored to its original state in a few hours.

Ballistic Unmanned Ground Vehicle (BUGV-Target)

For vehicle checkpoint training, STOPS has also developed the BUG-V -Target, a robotic truck that allows soldiers at checkpoints to practice their rules of engagement and escalation of force procedures. The device consists of a WiFi-controlled vehicle chassis, sheathed in a half-inch-thick shell of AR500 ballistic steel, which in turn is covered by a foam body that can be shaped to resemble any vehicle from a taxi to a truck. Trainees can blast away at the vehicle, which has armor that can withstand up to a .50-caliber round, and a foam case that can be easily reassembled.

Re-Locatable Habitat Unit (RHU)

With tighter funding, the trend is toward home station training. That is why STOPS has developed the Re-Locatable Habitat Unit (RHU), which Lavell describes as “built like Lego kits.” Weighing less than 100 pounds, the RHU breaks down into 4-foot x 8-foot panels.

Re-Locatable Habitat Unit (RHU)“You can build a multistory building of thousands of square feet with one nine-millimeter hex tool,” Lavell said. The RHU can be quickly configured to create a variety of structures for a given scenario. “We can make something that looks like mud over brick for Afghanistan, cinder block for Iraq, bamboo for Southeast Asia, straw and wood buildings for Africa and so on,” Lavell said.

Hollywood-esque special effects are a cutting-edge concept, but there are still plenty of old-fashioned ways to enhance immersive live training. One is simply to add real equipment. “At the U.S. Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC), live exercises include Biometric equipment,” said Bill David, program manager for the JRTC mission support contract at Cubic Corp., which provides the center everything from pyrotechnics to logistics and after-action review capability. At the JRTC, soldiers have the opportunity to use iris scans, digital fingerprinting and photographs.

Biometrics is the science of using physiological features, such as fingerprints or irises, as a method of identification, said James Langston, the class instructor and JRTC field support engineer.

In the field, said Langston, one of the key pieces of biometrical equipment is the Handheld Interagency Identity Detection Equipment (HIIDE), which debuted in 2004.
Handheld Interagency Identity Detection Equipment (HIIDE)The HIIDE can scan two irises, 10 fingers and take a facial portrait, he said. This information, along with personal data, goes into an identification file called a dossier. The HIIDE system can hold 10,000 of these records.

The data is then downloaded to a larger database that can help identify patterns of individuals moving around an operational area.

“The good thing about using biometrics…is that it’s real time,” said Langston. “That means if you’re scanning someone, it will give you an answer within a couple seconds.”

Joint Readiness Training Center“There is a huge database of biometric taken from in-theater.” said David “The biometric data of about 200 live role-players that are here. So we may have a role-player that’s playing a bomb maker or a financier. The rotational unit finds or captures that guy and takes his biometric data. If they are smart enough, they’ll get a match.”

“If there is a match, the suspect will be handed over to the civil authorities, which is another recent change at JRTC,” he said. “There is more emphasis on planning and coordinating operations with the JRTC elements that are playing Afghan or Iraqi soldiers.”

BOEING – Integrated Immersive Training Environment (I2TE)

Strategic Operations is part of a team led by Game Production Services, headquartered in Albuquerque, N.M., which developed the Infantry Immersion Trainer (IIT) (Like a haunted house for Marines). The IIT is a Marine infantry training facility at Camp Pendleton, Calif., that essentially combines mock Iraqi and Afghan villages, Strategic Operations’ elaborate system of pyrotechnics and role-players, and a virtual reality through avatars of village elders projected on walls.

While STOPS may be the most well-known contractor for this kind of hyper-immersive training, Boeing is joining the hyper-realism game. Better known for its aviation expertise, the company stood up its ground forces training division in 2009. Boeing has developed the Integrated Immersive Training Environment (I2TE), an internal research project that was recently demonstrated for a squad-level exercise at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.

I2TE is similar to the IIT as both environments combine physical effects and virtual reality to create a mixed reality training system.

“However, I2TE is designed to be transportable and brought to the customer’s home station, rather than built in a permanent location. This makes cost the key difference between the two concepts,” said David Irwin, Boeing’s director of ground forces training. “With fixed sites, the user doesn’t have to pay for building the infrastructure but does bear transportation costs. With I2TE, the user pays to outfit his home station, but once done, will be spared transportation costs.”

“I2TE may not be economical for a user that does very sporadic training,” Irwin said, “but it would be especially useful for National Guard and reserve units whose members would appreciate immersive combat training near their homes. For the Fort Leonard Wood demo, Boeing temporarily wired the base’s military operations on urban terrain range with sound, cameras, radio frequency identification trackers and other gear.”

I2TE uses compressed air explosions, sophisticated audio effects and role-players, as well as a virtual mission board, an iPad-like device about the size of an average flat-screen television, which allows controllers to track students and control the props. AVATARS IN THE MIX I2TE also uses virtual reality, though in a limited way. Avatars appear on big-screen displays but only at a distance. “We found that if you put virtual characters up close, it doesn’t look very real in a face-to-face setting,” Irwin said. “But if your virtual characters are in the windows of buildings, that works fine because at a distance they look more real.”

Students get only glimpses of the avatars, so they are less likely to discern that their foes are digital. “Instead of a role-player in a balcony 200 meters away, we flash this virtual character for 10 or 15 seconds, to provide the visual cue that a soldier is looking for,” said John Chicoli, Boeing’s program manager for ground forces training.

A few simple props can hide the virtual nature of the role-players, at least enough to fool anyone at a distance. “What you do is camouflage them very well,” Irwin said. “So if I’m putting a big-screen in the window, I’ll put curtains there.”

Controllers can also change the avatars on the spot, depending on how well the students are performing. “[The avatar] could be a lady hanging laundry one moment, and a guy with a weapon the next,” Irwin said. “If an exercise controller sees they are not paying attention, he can take away the woman hanging laundry and replace it with a guy with the weapon. So it forces the folks walking through the areas to pay attention and use their situational awareness.”

Boeing touts I2TE as a lower-cost approach for training. One cost-saver is to slash the number of live role-players by casting them in multiple roles and enabling them to do quick costume changes, like cast members do in theme parks. “We had three role-players playing 12 different people in an under-30-minute exercise,” Chicolo said. “One minute a role-player can be a town elder, but if he is not needed, he can go into or behind a building, change his wardrobe and become someone else.”

Sophisticated audio effects are also a key component of I2TE, said James Korris, president of Creative Technologies Inc., which partnered with Boeing on the project. “Research shows that on the battlefield, soldiers who can register the time interval between the sound of a bullet passing overhead and the subsequent crack of the weapon being fired, as well as the direction that the fire is coming from, can effectively respond to the threat,” Korris said. “Detonating firecrackers or playing sounds over a loudspeaker isn’t going to do that. So I2TE used a highly directional audio field that simulated weapons sounds from various directions and at various distances.”

Another component was accurately simulating the sound of particular weapons. Strategic Operations’ Lavell estimated that hosting a battalion of Marines at the company’s San Diego facility for 12 days would cost about $35 per day per Marine. When asked for the price of I2TE, Irwin could not elaborate beyond saying the cost of the Leonard Wood Demonstrates was less than $1 million.