Fires | Simulation: A Viable Alternative

Simulation: A Viable Alternative

By CW2 Jim Verschueren


This short paper highlights the use of the Virtual Battlespace Simulator (VBS) as an alternative and low-cost training solution in support of a brigade-level fire support coordination exercise. In a period of fiscal constraint, the VBS provides commanders and leaders an opportunity to maintain the band of excellence with little to no expenditure.

The past 13 and a half years has found the Army decisively engaged in combat operations in two different theaters. As a result, many core competencies found themselves taking a back seat to more infantry based duties: the Field Artillery, long known for its ability to deliver accurate and timely Fires in support of maneuver was one of those branches tasked outside of its normal mission essential task List (METL). Now, as combat operations are waning, the pressing need for a return to ‘the basics’ is at the forefront of many Field Artillery commanders’ decision and training cycles.

In specific terms, the ability for the Field Artillery to integrate and synchronize Fires in support of combined arms maneuver (CAM) is tantamount to overall mission success. Here in 2nd BCT, 10th Mountain, that ability was recently tested with the execution of Operation Commando Phoenix, a fire support coordination exercise for all maneuver company and troop commanders and their fire support officer (FSO) counterparts. This exercise was the culminating training event for a three-week long series of mini-exercises designed to reinforce the principles of fire support. Beginning with the Fires Academy, a week-long seminar hosted by 2nd Battalion, 15th Field Artillery (ALLONS), artillerymen and maneuver commanders were presented with a myriad of both classroom and hands-on instruction in all aspects of the Field Artillery: from fire planning to AN/TPQ-36 radar operations to the M777 and M119 howitzer, this event was crucial for two reasons. One, it provided a comprehensive overview of Field Artillery Operations, reinforcing those core competencies and affording young Field Artillery officers and noncommissioned officers (NCO) an opportunity to get ‘back-to-basics.’

Second, for the maneuver commanders, the understanding of just how fire support integrates into the maneuver plan helped solidify the relationship between the company/troop commander and his fire support officer; the level of trust and confidence in this relationship is the lynchpin for successful mission accomplishment.

With fiduciary constraints being applied across the board, training is no exception. Units are constantly challenged with the delicate balance between training objective achievement and budgetary discipline. The fire support element (FSE) of 2nd BCT, 10th Mountain Division, in conjunction with assistance from the XVIII Airborne Corps and Fort Drum Simulation Center, developed a comprehensive and workable solution to help not only prepare units to execute Commando Phoenix successfully, but to apply reinforcing principles in a no-cost, low-impact environment designed to hone the fire support coordination skills necessary for a successful live-fire exercise. That vehicle was the Virtual Battlespace Simulator 3 (VBS3), designed to replicate battlefield conditions from the fire team to the battalion level and beyond. Located right on Fort Drum, N.Y., the VBS eliminated the need for large-scale vehicle movement and provided a ‘one-stop-shop’ for a solid and comprehensive rehearsal.

Virtual Battlespace Simulator History

According to Lee Power and Derald Wise of XVIII Airborne Corps, the VBS suite is not new to the Department of Defense (DoD) arsenal. Adopted formally by the Marine Corps in 2006 and by the Army in 2009, the VBS assists units through the use of realistic terrain and equipment models in simulated combat scenarios. From logistical patrols (LOGPACS) to company live-fire situational training exercise lanes to a complex environment like Commando Phoenix, VBS is a highly versatile and practical training solution. For example, Fort Drum weather often runs the gamut of unpredictability and as a result, many training events are placed at risk. Yet the VBS is a climate controlled structure possessing the ability to virtually replicate weather conditions, i.e. snow, wind, rain to increase the realism of the simulation. With many Army installations geographically situated in less austere climates, this capability allows commanders the flexibility to practice field craft under various weather conditions.

Why Choose VBS?

For Commando Phoenix, an accelerated execution timeline forced planners to seek out a solution by which to conduct rehearsals and to vet fire plans. The VBS, over a six-day period, allowed the Commando Brigade to accurately assess company/troop-level teams on their ability to synchronize and execute echeloned Fires, integrate close air support (CAS) and close combat attack (CCA), and use organic mortar systems as part of a movement to contact to seize an objective. The use of the VBS not only provided familiarization for the participants with the task, conditions and standards for Commando Phoenix, but also afforded the participants the opportunity to stop and re-evaluate their progress as necessary. This was a large advantage for the Commando team, as the refinement of fire plans in the virtual world expended no live rounds, afforded the company commander a chance to adequately convey his intent for Fires, and gave the opportunity to ‘push the reset button- if he so desired.

One of the key advantages of the VBS is its ability to modify to suit the end user’s needs. In the case of Commando Phoenix, this was no exception. Here on Fort Drum, the Range 48 live-fire complex was the stage for the live fire portion of the exercise: the Fort Drum VBS team, led by Bruce Halloran, worked with the Commando FSE to accurately build the terrain, including the observation posts in order to increase familiarity. While no model is a perfect representation, the end result was a perfect launch point for the company/troop teams, who were able to gain a comprehensive understanding of the requirements for the field support command exercise, give their fire plan a solid rehearsal, and make modifications either during the simulation or shortly thereafter.

The maneuver companies and troops were not alone, however. A multitude of enablers were also able to simulate operations and provided key support to the FSCX. The brigade air liaison officer was on hand to serve in his assigned role, receiving air strike requests and processing them accordingly. The VBS administrators constructed an air strike package to mimic what a company would receive in a live fire/combat scenario, and rotary wing aviators from the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade were on hand to provide close combat attack support in conjunction with several members of the VBS staff. This helped the after action review, as feedback from actual subject matter experts provided pointers to increase the efficiency of the live-fire exercise.

The Way Ahead

As 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division units look to the future, training will remain the forefront of every commander’s vision and subsequent training guidance. With that being said, the ability to maintain the momentum of readiness coupled with fiscal constraints undoubtedly presents a significant challenge; the use of simulations, namely the VBS will provide that critical ability to train, conduct rehearsals, and to put operational plans to the test without the need to expend training funds. While a simulation cannot completely represent the rigors of combat, it can put those essential Soldier skills to the test quickly and easily and afford leaders an environment from which to accurately develop more comprehensive training opportunities. This clearly nests with the responsibility for all Soldiers to remain good stewards of Army resources and the VBS is clearly an untapped resource that brings another element of technology into the training realm.

The author would like to thank the following organizations and individuals for their contributions: LTC Kevin Jackson, Commander, 2nd Battalion 15th Field Artillery; MAJ Johnny Fry, brigade fire support officer, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry); Lee Power and Deran Wise of the XVIII Airborne Corps simulations team; Bruce Halloran, VBS lead for Fort Drum, and to the Assassins of A Troop, 6th Battalion 6th Calvary of the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade for their support.
Chief Warrant Officer Two Jim Verschueren is the brigade targeting officer for 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry). His previous assignments include liaison targeting and plans officer to the Third Republic of Korea Army (TROKA) and brigade targeting officer and chief of operations for the 525th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade, Fort Bragg, N.C. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in Pre-Law from American Military University and a Master of Arts in Diplomacy from Norwich University.