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NATO, Partners Sample High-Tech War Games

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 27, 1999 – Training troops in the field costs big bucks. Partnership for Peace and NATO military leaders recently had a chance here to try some high-tech, state-of-the-art computer simulations that may accomplish many of the same goals at far less expense.

The United States and Sweden hosted a Partnership for Peace Computer Network Simulation demonstration during the NATO 50th anniversary summit here April 23 to 25. It showed how commanders can use computers, teleconferencing and satellite communications to practice real-world contingency operations such as those in Bosnia and Kosovo.

British Air Marshal Chris C. Coville, playing the commander, and Ukrainian Lt. Gen. Vitaly Kouksenko, as his deputy, set up a multinational joint task force headquarters at the Old Customs Building in downtown Washington. About 300 officers and senior noncommissioned officers from 25 nations conducted simulated land, sea and ground operations.

They orchestrated ground forces in Hungary, air forces in the Netherlands and maritime forces in Sweden. Their mission was to conduct peacekeeping operations in the fictitious state of Azure, including evacuating a large number of noncombatants and providing security at a uranium facility.

"We live in a very complex world where the exchanges are between a very large number of players, different agencies as well as different nations and different forces," Coville explained to a group of visitors and media April 22. "We have to adopt a far more holistic approach, with more intellectual rigor than hitherto."

"Training is expensive," the air marshal said. "The purpose of using high-technology network training is to reduce that cost and get a better output in the end. That really is what the exercise is about."

The demonstration opened with a videotaped overview. "Training people to coordinate a large-scale peacekeeping operation is difficult enough when everyone speaks the same language and shares a common military culture," said a video montage of international officers blending one into the next.

"But, here we are training people from over 30 nations at sites located in Sweden, Hungary, the Netherlands and the United States," the tape continued. "Here we are integrating land forces, maritime forces and air forces, and now we are coordinating these efforts halfway around the world, across six time zones. You can't do that without sophisticated modeling, simulation and communication systems."

Sweden provided the simulation equipment, said U.S. Army Col. Frank Stech, a reserve officer who escorted visitors through the combined joint task force command center, video teleconference center and a simulated Finnish brigade headquarters.

"Our focus is on training in doctrine, techniques and procedures," Stech said. "Our objective is to improve the ability of NATO and partner forces to work together in operations for peace support, humanitarian assistance, and civil disaster relief. This training can be accomplished remotely, without deploying personnel, using commercially available hardware and communications."

The United States routinely uses simulation training, according to U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Marty Berndt, commander of DoD's Joint Warfighting Center at Fort Monroe, Va., and director of joint training for U.S. Atlantic Command. U.S. military units recently finished an exercise that was run out of Suffolk, Va., and distributed to 13 sites throughout the U.S. and overseas.

"There were 3,000 people in the training audience, but only 1,000 of them were in the facility. Everybody else was at their home station," Berndt said. "Folks are busy enough now on the road, the last thing we need to do is to take them away from home more than we need to do to train. If they can do it at home, why not? It just makes good sense."

For about $14,000, NATO partners can set up a minimum capability that will allow them to play in a distributed exercise similar to the one demonstrated here, Berndt said.

"With a relatively small investment, the partners can become intimately involved in leadership development, and actually doing some planning at home, without having to travel thousands of miles," he said. "I've got a son who plays computer chess online on the Web. He'll play with people all over the world. It's the same exact concept."

Simulation training offers more advantages than just saving money, Berndt pointed out. "You can actually do a better job of training senior leaders using simulation than you can by sending thousands of people to the field to do a field training exercise," he said.

Military officials can simulate a large-scale noncombatant evacuation that would be difficult to replicate in a live exercise, for example. "You can't possibly come up with the number of role players you would need to do that type of thing," Berndt said. Plus, he said, "We can go back and look at what we did, why it didn't go right, or why it did, and what lessons do we glean from that."

Military officials can also rehearse a plan using simulation, Berndt noted. "We can run it through the model and see how it goes. You can guarantee that the model will do exactly what you want it to do to meet the specific training objectives."

Throughout the NATO summit, visitors toured the PfP simulation demonstration, watching over the international staff's shoulders as they conducted the peacekeeping operation. As the picture changed on computer screens in Washington, it also changed on screens in Hungary, Sweden and the Netherlands.

"What I find incredible," Berndt remarked, is that "they've got a PC in the Finnish brigade with a point-to-point video capability, and you've got a guy sitting there talking to his buddy back in Finland -- talking real time. They're probably telling jokes in a language I don't understand, but the important part is that they're communicating."

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