Training by gaming, is a very serious matter at the Belgian Defense Forces: « The fatalities are the direct result of your mistakes. »

21.12.2019

Belgian soldiers play a new advanced simulation system with SWORD

War is not a game, but in the barracks of Leopoldsburg commanders and other soldiers are prepared with a kind of game that is for real. Thanks to SWORD, a new advanced simulation system, this is now reality with more efficiency and faster than ever. The weapon systems, the vehicles, the terrain… everything is simulated. « From the Flemish coast to Afghanistan, it’s all possible ».

Somebody’s calling out orders on a crackling radio. Large screens show complicated maps with pawns and lines. « We’re being shot at, we’re wounded, we need reinforcements, » someone is screaming in English. Soldiers are calling and walking back and forth. Tacticians discuss the next steps. « Our scout hasn’t come back, » says the commander of the Regiment Ardennes Hunters. « We’ve come under fire faster than expected and we’ve lost an entire platoon. 40 men. Many wounded, unfortunately, there are also many killed. »

Another soldier is focusing on some kind of futuristic tablet. He’s diligently giving commands to the men around the gunfight, but the reinforcements do not come. A division of tanks is stuck in a river. It’s deadly serious. The tension is unbearable. Everything is for real.

Much more efficient

« Training by gaming » is the slogan of the Center for Simulations (CSIM) of the Belgian Defense Forces. « But we don’t play here, » says Major Kurt Vanderheyden, who runs the training centre. We used to perform this kind of training with a kind of RISK board or Stratego. Our plans and tactics were tested with large-scale military exercises in the field. « Those exercises are still valuable, but they are time-consuming and extremely expensive. For a live simulation of an offensive battle, we need to mobilize thousands of troops. »

Thanks to a new system, MASA SWORD (Simulation and War-gaming for Operational Readiness and Doctrine), and artificial intelligence, all command posts can virtually and fight a realistic conflict in a digital war room. « Including IT personnel, about 80 people are involved in such a simulation on battalion level. This way, commanders can train much more efficiently and cost-efficiently. »

Artificial intelligence

The equipment and radios are real, but the battlefield is a series of screens with maps. « From the Flemish coast to Afghanistan, we can do it all, » says the major. « Everything’s on these screens. Even a creek of 10 cm deep you’ll find on such a map. It’s not based on reality, it’s reality. »

These digital maps show pawns and cubes representing regiments and divisions. They get missions – go to point x, open fire, withdraw… – from the commanders via computers and tablets. Those pawns, controlled by artificial intelligence, follow the orders dutifully, but rationally. Give a mission to a tank to drive into the sea and it will stop.

« It’s much more than moving and shooting. If contact is made with the enemy, this will be reported to the commander. The program itself can even simulate the presence of a war journalist. »

The system takes (almost) everything into account. For example, all vehicles and equipment of the Belgian army were meticulously recorded, tested and imported. « How fast can this truck go through swampy terrain? What is the maximum water depth before a dingo (a type of army truck) can no longer cross a river? What slope percentage can our tank divisions cope with, and how fast can they go? »

In the background we can in the meantime see the troops on the interactive map maneuvering with military precision .The Major doesn’t want to share what location is being simulated. « Confidential. We only practice on real situations or situations that might occur. Our enemies also read the newspaper. »

Source: Nieuwsblad (Arthur De Meyer)

 

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