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My Thoughts on the Virtual Combat Convoy Trainer

When my platoon returned from downrange, we had a new toy to play with. It was a new simulator at our post to help units train for future combat patrols, specifically mounted convoys. The Virtual Combat Convoy Trainer (VCCT) is an excellent tool to train future units; but unfortunately, the capabilities of digital training remain mired in the same problems as past attempts at using virtual reality to train soldiers.

The VCCT impressed me and is probably near the top of what the Army can offer in virtual training (I have a feeling it is still costs the Army much more than it should). Sitting in two large mobile trailers were four open HWMMV shells. My guys and I donned headsets that covered our eyes with a virtual reality screen for each eye. The driver had a steering wheel and three screens mimicking the front windshield. Each soldier also had a weapon linked to the system to fire at the enemy (attempting to do so, however, would prove futile).

For our training, we used scenarios based realistically on Iraq. For our first movement, we moved forward on a bridge, made a left hand turn and pulled security. Taking a left hand turn may sound simple, but in a convoy in a foreign country on the ground for the first time, it can rapidly become a chore of immense difficulty. On this occasion my platoon aced our movement.

Acing the bad guys, well that was a different story. In our scenario, RPG gunners would pop out windows almost invisibly to annihilate our trucks. They fired quickly and accurately. Returning accurate fire proved difficult.

Quickly in our first engagement, the first truck went down. The fog of war crept in and the true training began. Every unit since the dawn of drilled infantry regiments in the sixteenth century have had two unique experiences when it comes to war: the parade ground and the combat zone; what is easy on the former quickly descends into chaos in the latter. The VCCT, unlike live fire maneuver exercises designed to make us feel good, challenged the communication abilities of the trucks maneuvering under my command.

In that particular scenario, we ended up losing a few trucks, but we learned several lessons about communication and coordination. For those particular lessons--communication under confusing circumstances and the diffiulty of coordinating elements--the VCCT succeeds in its mission. Having said that, the system still needs improvement.

The catch-22 of the VCCT is that it’s success in training soldiers in convoy operations was not designed into the system: the problems with communication and confusion on the battlefield are more due to poor graphics than design. Intentionally or not, the VCCT drastically limits your field of view, has malfunctioning communication equipment and an unwieldy .50 caliber machine gun that can barely hit targets. Fortunately, these are all good things and make training much more realistic. Radios malfunction all the time, weapons miss and inside a HWMMV you can barely see outside of the armor, let alone move. The fog of war, whether from poor programming or designers intention, lives in the VCCT and that breeds excellent training.

The most glaring flaw in the VCCT is the poor Artificial Intelligence of its enemy. The simulated bad guys move slowly and deliberately in straight lines; no matter how frequently you fire at the people in the simulation, including the civilians, they continue on their pre-designated track. Simply put, this trains soldiers in expecting to face mindless enemies on the battlefield. It trains us to think about enemies as if they were ducks on a carnival style shooting game: targets to simply plink down and move on. In Iraq, in Afghanistan, in 4th Generation war, and in political war, the enemy will think, move cautiously, attack with speed and vanish. For our scenarios and virtual reality, we need to face this new enemy, not a computer on a track.

eight comments

Good topic- one that needs much attention by the military. I’ve had a little experience with the convoy trainer and I vaguely recall getting my platoon kicked off of it for telling the civilian that he was wasting our time and we would rather be playing call of duty. But it’s the truth…graphics, AI and even the user interface are more intuitive and realistic on many modern console games. I find it disgusting that the military hasn’t done more here, specifically with mmpogs being so popular with soldiers.

The only army simulation I gained anything from was JANUS, but it was simulating a manuever engagement at BN level. Plus there was no AI, the ‘red’ team were professionals who did these simulations for a living. The graphics weren’t anything to speak of…we were essentially using FBCB2 as an interface. It also did nothing for any position below PL.

Maybe the army should boot raytheon (and their retired flag-level execs) and work with EA or Sony.

Jon and Michael, I think you are right to think there is a lot of potential in using simulators to train troops for deployment, but like all technological advances, it takes a couple iterations to work all the kinks out. I think this is probably an area worth more research in.

I think Jon hit the nail on the head: we need to boot raytheon. Or from my perspective, we need to refine the way Army procurement works. Clearly, video game designers have designed better games. But video game companies don’t have lobbyists…

Procurement…that is a frightening topic.

Check out – http://warisboring.com/?s=Simulation&..

it’s an interesting blog, but that’ll take you to several things posted about simulators.

I find the lack of realism in the simulator disturbing considering the amount of time, money, an resources spent on the recruitment video game America’s Army, which boasts unparalleled realism compared to other 1st person games. One would expect the same quality and effort in continued training programs. I know there was a great deal of contrversy when the game was made available, but that’s enough of a topic for its own post.

Yeah, in a brief defense of the system, it was insanely more complicated than a mouse and keyboard or controller. Having said that, you probably could learn more from tactics in Call of Duty 4 than some virtual reality simulators.

After graduating IOBC my biggest thing was simulator like Command and Conquer style for Platoon Leader just to practice planning more missions. The key would be having video game companies design it and not Raytheon or Lockheed Martin.

The VCCT is done by Lockheed Martin. Cost: 9.6 million US dollars for the first 2 trailers, and more the Army will be leasing.


I know a Wii is expensive, and developing M240b, .50 caliber, M-4, and M-16 controllers is expensive, as are flatscreen tv´s, but I´m quite sure this contract isn´t worth 9.6 million.

How much does a Wii zapper cost, and could you just change the shape and find someway to simulate recoil? Maybe you should play Duck Hunt to practice for your M9 qualification?

@ Chris C – Literally laughing out loud. Why is defense spending so absurd?