Army's New $13 Million
Urban Training Center
Ultra Realistic
By 2nd Lt. Julie Eilerman
AFPN (excerpt)
HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. (AFPN) - The sun set over the small Kentucky urban town hours ago. The chill from the late September morning penetrates its residents. The quiet area awakens to the sound of a blast cutting the power lines, engulfing the city in darkness. The shadow of a helicopter looms over the embassy dispensing dark figures to the ground. Rounds from a gunship frighten and confuse local civilians, and the only light comes from a firing machine gun.
This scene appeared realistic. But instead of disrupting a town while evacuating five hostages from an enemy area, members from the 16th Special Operations Wing recently joined Army Rangers and Army forces to train on the Army's newest and most refined military operation urban terrain training site.
The newly constructed $13.2 million site at Fort Knox, Ky., is considered to be "heads and shoulders above anything the Army (already) has," according to Andy Andrews, range manager at Fort Knox. The 26-acre facility began in the minds of Army trainers more than 10 years ago, and after two years of construction the site is now more than 97 percent complete.
The makeshift town has 22 buildings, including an embassy, chapel, an underground tunnel system, soccer field, stop signs, bridge and fire hydrants. The object was to make this site as realistic as possible. Universal Studios, MGM and Disney assisted the Army with special effects. Cars exploding on street corners, bridges collapsing and elevators wedging between two floors represent a few of the challenges facing the trainees.
The sound system used in this MOUT site was modeled after the one used in the movie "Jurassic Park." It's a computerized operational sequential sound system and allows participants to hear desired effects as if they were real. Voices can be produced and heard throughout a given building. Machine gun fire resounds with real volume and sound dispersion. "All the special effects bring realism and stress to the environment. Bringing in all the elements of the fight is critical," said Andrews.
Instead of walking into an empty room, having a figure pop out and making a decision to shoot or hold fire, the room in every building contains complete furnishings. And additional distractions were also thrown into the picture. Rangers on the ground react to stressful situations such as a sniper in the church bell tower, media requesting information, doctors demanding help for injured people, the blackout of certain neighborhood blocks and mysterious gases pouring out of rooms. "When soldiers are deployed they should be equally trained in urban areas as well as the wooded and open areas. That way we know how to measure their readiness," Andrews explained. "This is a very intense environment, and we turn up the stress levels so commanders will know how their troops react in an urban combat area."
The possibility of injury exists in such a realistic combat situation, but measures to avoid a preventable accident have been taken. The Armored Branch Safety Office has been part of the team since the beginning. Impact mats and sawdust pits are in place where there's a high possibility of falling. All the players and participants are briefed beforehand of the current situation and necessary safety precautions. The players are reminded before the situation begins that in the end, the players are all on the same team.
The same philosophy holds true for the different military branches. Bringing in all aspects of the fight also makes the scene more realistic. "Having (Air Force Special Operations Command) come in and do what they do makes it realistic. We're bringing all the elements of the fight together so we can train as we would fight," Andrews said. Col. David Scott, 16th SOW commander, visited the site during the two-week training period. "The MOUT site at Ft. Knox allows our troops on the ground and in the air to practice as they'd perform. It offers realistic training in an urban environment, enabling our people to train without disturbing civilians. It illustrates special operations' commitment to jointness," he said.
Once the lights are cut and the helicopters bring in the players, it's up to the people on the ground to accomplish their objective, including dodging enemies who are firing simulated bullets. Role players are positioned in key places and the scene is recreated as if it could happen for real. After the objective is completed, the military forces must evacuate. In some scenarios, the helicopter is simulated to crash and search and rescue crews are called in. The purpose is to keep trainees on their toes and ensure they're ready for the unexpected.
Richard Davis, consultant for opposing forces, develops the enemy forces' reactions to the trainees. "I try to put together a realistic opposing force to help units prepare for operations other than war," said Davis. He's in charge of researching the country or area of conflict and getting the necessary role players. He educates the players of their simulated life style and how they should react to the scene. He's also responsible for helping determine the objective of the mission and altering it for each group. "We take intelligence and put the profile of the group to it so it's realistic," Davis added...."