Military Training Goes Hollywood

Military Training Goes Hollywood

To better prepare its troops for tough counterinsurgency warfare, the U.S. military is investing in super-realistic exercises that combine traditional live-fire training with sophisticated cultural instruction and Hollywood-style special effects that blur the lines between training and combat.

At the start of the so-called Global War on Terrorism, the military's combat training infrastructure reflected an entrenched Cold War mentality. At the sprawling National Training Center (NTC) in California's Mojave Desert, armored brigades maneuvered against an Opposing Force equipped with mock Soviet tanks. At the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) in the Louisiana bayou, light infantry battalions trained on simulated battlefields based on Vietnam War experience. Meanwhile, the Marine Corps prepared for combat the way it had always trained: storming beaches, digging trenches and firing countless live rounds at sand berms and pop-up targets. U.S. ground forces were focused on "kinetics" -- that is, firepower -- and maneuver rather than on the soft skills and cultural interaction that are vital to countering insurgencies.

That was then. Five years later, NTC and JRTC have transformed into high-fidelity simulations of Iraq and Afghanistan, complete with mock towns, Iraqi expatriates portraying restive natives, "insurgents" played by highly trained soldiers and sophisticated scripting and assessment that ensures U.S. troops are prepared for the latest challenges in evolving conflicts. The Marines, with a much smaller training establishment and less money, have launched their own small-scale realistic exercise while also sending units to the Army's events.

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