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United States Technology

The Pentagon's Ultimate Home Theater 242

Steve Silberman writes "I was the first reporter to see the inside of a new battle-simulation system designed by the Institute for Creative Technologies, a 'military-entertainment' think tank sponsored by the Defense Department. Starting in September, Marines, infantrymen, and Air Force pilots will train for war in Matrix-like rooms in Oklahoma simulating urban and desert environments, with surround sound and photorealistic rendering of bombing runs and other scenarios. It may or may not be the future of military training, but it's certainly the future of home gaming. My article, 'The War Room,' will appear in the September issue of Wired."
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The Pentagon's Ultimate Home Theater

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 21, 2004 @08:00PM (#10034931)
    That's military code for "Doom 3."
    • That's military code for "Doom 3."

      It probably is, too. I remember reading in Wired back in '97 or so about a unit that was training Marines using a Doom 2 mod they'd written. They've probably moved over to UT in the mean time, but I think they might consider moving back...
  • Wait (Score:5, Funny)

    by Luigi30 ( 656867 ) on Saturday August 21, 2004 @08:00PM (#10034935)
    If they lose a life in the simulation, do they die in real life too?
    • Re:Wait (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Ieshan ( 409693 ) <ieshan@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Saturday August 21, 2004 @08:09PM (#10034974) Homepage Journal
      Heh. No.

      But it's a good point.

      Simulations can be designed to train soldiers to take unneccessary or life-threatening risks so long as they involve a high amount of simulated payout and little or no punishment for simulated failure.

      I seriously wouldn't be surprised if this is the way simulators are used to train soldiers.

      I'm not trying to say that the Military has no regard for human life, but it's no secret that military operations are often valued in terms of numbers of soldiers killed per objective gained. Convincing young kids that they're supposed to risk their life for any intermediate goal is difficult, but not impossible (note that it's now "the country" young men risk their lives for, not "securing the powerplant" or "capturing person X". No one wants to be told that they're giving their life for a small piece of the puzzle.).

      Making it easier to convince these soldiers by pre-simulating rewarding scenarios based on risk-taking may make soldiers more compliant.
      • Re:Wait (Score:5, Informative)

        by Daniel Dvorkin ( 106857 ) * on Saturday August 21, 2004 @09:12PM (#10035232) Homepage Journal
        FWIW, pretty much everybody on the battlefield understands that he's fighting for a specific objective, and more importantly, for his buddies. "The country" is what makes idealistic kids enlist, but in a war zone, it's very far away; the guy to your left, the guy to your right, and the hill you're supposed to take are right there.
        • Re:Wait (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward
          "FWIW, pretty much everybody on the battlefield understands that he's fighting for a specific objective, and more importantly, for his buddies."

          And, all too often, against his buddies. About [cbsnews.com] half the persian gulf [aol.com] war casualties were friendly fire, not even counting murders and self-inflicted casualties. And sometimes they buddies you're fighting against are high on speed [go.com]

          Back on topic -- training soldiers in a video game will just make them that much more careless in this regard. You lose somethin

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 21, 2004 @08:01PM (#10034938)
    This is the real FPS game.
  • by MichaelSmith ( 789609 ) on Saturday August 21, 2004 @08:04PM (#10034947) Homepage Journal

    Gentlemen this is the war room, you can't fight in here

  • by Anonymous Coward
    I'm glad to see them put my taxes to good use ...
  • Realistic (Score:5, Funny)

    by LordHatrus ( 763508 ) <slashdot AT clockfort DOT com> on Saturday August 21, 2004 @08:05PM (#10034952) Homepage
    So realistic, you'll leave with sand in places you've never thought possible!
  • by MrDomino ( 799876 ) <mrdomino@NOsPAM.gmail.com> on Saturday August 21, 2004 @08:05PM (#10034953) Homepage
    But the REAL question is, "where can I get one?"
  • by GoofyBoy ( 44399 ) on Saturday August 21, 2004 @08:06PM (#10034959) Journal

    Bunny hopping their way to victory!
    • Re:Future solders (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      The moderator who modded parent post "Overrated" obviously haven't played and/or watched multiplayer Quake I/II/III/QuakeWorld matches.

      Bunny Hopping is a movement technique that appeared when players found out that they could use a design flaw in the Quake/QuakeWorld physics engine to increase their movement speed, by continiously jumping and strafing from side to side, while adjusting the view accordingly.

      Players continued bunny hopping in Quake II and III, even though the physics engines were modified t
  • How long (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Lanzaa ( 761994 ) on Saturday August 21, 2004 @08:09PM (#10034973) Journal
    How long will this take to get to home gaming though?

    Or will these leave millitary use and get sold to private companies to have people pay to play in them?
  • by freedom_india ( 780002 ) on Saturday August 21, 2004 @08:11PM (#10034983) Homepage Journal
    The goal of the punishing routines and endless drills was to replace thinking with instinct so that at the sound of gunshots, a soldier would automatically return fire.

    Intution is of no use when there are snipers hidden in a street to kill you and you panic. That is the army tries to replace intution with training.
    As a man under fire, my friend used to say how many times training and automatic reflex saved his life instead of intution. if pentagon thinks they can replace training with intution they are building a bad army.

    • by ashkar ( 319969 ) on Saturday August 21, 2004 @08:16PM (#10035004)
      By instinct, the author probably meant the instant reflex of which you speak. The situation given was only one out of many that the military would train in. Most likely, they would attempt to get soldiers to the point where they could instantly analyze the situation, decide upon the best course of action, and act upon it. So, no, I don't think that this kind of training is a bad idea at all.
      • There are already many video-game type training methods being employed to train infanty riflemen (and police). These include reaction-time scenarios (with friendlies mixed in) and some decision making scenarios.

        I remember one particular scenario that showed a group of shadowy figures running toward the user's position through the forest. Gunshots are heard from the forest and many riflemen will open fire before they properly identify the target... which is a group of women and children running from their

  • by Bruha ( 412869 ) on Saturday August 21, 2004 @08:13PM (#10034995) Homepage Journal
    It's called Snow Hall I believe and it's at Ft Sill in Lawton, OK. I have friends up there that work at the place but they've never mentioned any signifigant upgrades. But being the military it does not mean that it didnt happen and they were probably not allowed to tell anyone at the time. I'll have to visit sometime to check it out hopefully.
  • Training for what?! (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 21, 2004 @08:13PM (#10034997)
    "That's a high-payoff target, brother," says Tyrrell. He gets approval to deliver a "limited lethality" fragmentation bomb to the hospital roof.

    Jesus christ, this is the sort of training they get?!
    Limited Lethality my arse. Nothing dropped from a fighter-bomber can be considered "limited lethality" - Kinetic energy alone does a good job of eroding that particular definition
    • At the point in the article when I say that the Prado character tells the major that the hospital is off-limits for targeting, a colonel who was also watching the simulation interjected, "If you drop a bomb on a maternity ward, CNN's gonna wanna hear about it."
    • Nothing dropped from a fighter-bomber can be considered "limited lethality"


      Actually, everything dropped from a fighter-bomber is "limited lethality", otherwise the first bombing run would have destroyed the universe.


      Or to put it another way, limited != small.

    • The phrase "limited lethality" refers, I believe, to the fact that it is only lethal within a small range of where it hits. Not that is unlikely to be lethal at all, or anything like that.
  • by xactuary ( 746078 ) on Saturday August 21, 2004 @08:14PM (#10035000)
    Anybody know of a peace simulation?
    • There's no money in it.

      Take a look at games now. It looks to me that the biggest genres are 1) first person shooters 2) some variation on military or war and 3) the remainder make up only 10% of the market, it seems.
    • Pardon the cynical viewpoint, but as long as war (any war) is profitable, there will be no peace.
    • One of the main objectives of simulating wars is to know how to avoid war in real life. Are you trying to say that we should avoid peace in real life?
    • I'm sure every sociology (and economics, political science, or psychology) department in the country would love to come up with this, but unfortunately normal human interactions are infinitely harder to simulate than modern battle tactics and military technology. Although our current administration makes it seem even more difficult than necessary.

      But seriously, the point of all this high-tech military wankery is to figure out how to inflict very brief and intense moments of horrific violence with the obje
    • Yeah, it's called playing the pacifist in a Civilization game. You do end up fighting, because people will attack you, although it's amazing what you can accomplish with foresight and diplomacy. I'm no master of the game but I've managed to win the game on the third difficulty level or so without ever attacking anyone but barbarians.

      Granted that's not as peaceful as one could be in a perfect world, and in the real world those "barbarians" are people with their own ways of life. However in Civ the Barbar

  • 4 Years too early!! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Big Yak ( 441903 ) on Saturday August 21, 2004 @08:22PM (#10035032) Homepage
    I joined the Air Force as an officer 6 years ago, and just left a few months ago. When I originally went to Carnegie Mellon University, I took multiple classes in Virtual Reality. Unfortunately, the AF would not allow me to take the time off to pursue a Masters in Virtual Reality there... as they needed my computer skills immediately.

    I guess I was just 4 years early... those skills are in very high demand, now.

  • Conventional War (Score:5, Insightful)

    by orthogonal ( 588627 ) on Saturday August 21, 2004 @08:24PM (#10035039) Journal
    Hmm. Can they use all that nifty technology and virtual reality to make sure Military Police and Military Intelligence units understand the Geneva Conventions?

    Seriously. The leadership failures that allowed (or even encouraged) the US military atrocities at Abu Ghraib have cost us far more than any VR simulation, and will continue to cost us as a nation for decades, in both world respect and in the recruitment of America-hating terrorists.

    Perhaps the miltary should shelve some of this gee-whiz "VR-tainment" favor of simple classrooms with wooden benches and a blackboard and high-ranking instructors who state unequivocally that torture is un-American, repugnant to our values, and will not be tolerated at all in the US military.

    Paraphrasing the Christian Bible, Mark 8:36,for what shall it profit an army, if it shall defeat the whole world, and lose its own soul?
    • by Flower ( 31351 )
      Go back and read the article and note when the officer talks about making sure they present the right stories in the simulations.

      The ethics debate about interrogation is very high level and complex. When I was on vacation last week I think there was an article in US News and World Report which discussed the differences in interrogation methodologies used by the FBI and CIA. They are about as 180 degress from each other as you can get. The FBI goes for a hearts and minds stategy and the article made note th

    • by Pomme de Terre! ( 69783 ) on Saturday August 21, 2004 @11:12PM (#10035669)
      Hmm. Can they use all that nifty technology and virtual reality to make sure Military Police and Military Intelligence units understand the Geneva Conventions?

      I am a military policeman for the Air Force. (For the record, in the USAF, we're called Security Forces.)

      Troops are briefed on the Geneva conventions every time we mobilize to deploy. We're briefed everytime we get to a foreign nation. We're briefed every time we simulate deployment. Practically any time someone mentiones mobilization... the briefing comes. Further, every year we are required to take tests verifying our understanding of the conventions. In simulated exercises, we have to abide by the rules. In every briefing, we're told what we can and cannot do and we're told what the consequences are for breaking the rules.

      Those soldiers at Abu Ghraid knew the rules. This wasn't a case of ignorance of the law. Further, they knew quite well that only lawful orders are to be followed. So the "My commander made me do it!" excuse is laughable.

      More training isn't needed. And as we're seeing from the many investigations and courts martial, Geneva Convention rule violations are not tolerated.

      The prison abuses aren't an institutional problem, they're a humanity problem. They're a byproduct of war, and nothing will change that reality. As members of the armed forces, we strive to be better than that; in the overwhelming majority of cases, we are. But, unfortunately, we'll see the darkness of man again when the next conflict breaks out.

      War is ugly, and it brings out the worst in humanity.

      Pomme de Terre!
  • play military spec Battlezone [ataritimes.com]?
  • Since the VR is so realistic, why not use it instead of sending the pilots up in tin cans to get blown to pieces by the enemy? Actually, for the bombing runs, you wouldn't need any simulation - program the plane with a target, press the big red "Go Bomb" button and sit back to watch the wacky results. Same goes for the tanks - in fact they're even more simple (much like the people who usually drive them I guess).

    Why are the machines of war still designed to carry meat-sacks around inside them?!
    • Why are the machines of war still designed to carry meat-sacks around inside them?!

      You ever seen "Darkstar"?
    • by YrWrstNtmr ( 564987 ) on Saturday August 21, 2004 @09:09PM (#10035219)
      So that you can recall them
      So that the pilot, upon seeing the target is not quite as imagined, can abort the mission
      So that you can have an accurate, in person, assessment of the actual scene. There are quite a few videos floating around from Iraq that show last minute targeting changes only possible by an onscene human.

      program the plane with a target, press the big red "Go Bomb" button

      We have those now. They're called cruise missiles. Or in the ultimate sense, ICBM's.

      But they're working on mutiple types of UCAV's. I expect we'll see a scenario whereby a few of these are slaved to a piloted control A/C (F-22 or AC-130 maybe). Give the UCAV's a simple AI for the flight to the target area ("Stay next to Mother"), and then the human aircrew can designate one or more targets to each. ("#1, these coordinates, #2, that truck, #3 circle until further notice)

      Finally, it is MUCH harder to hack or jam the control system of a human piloted vehicle. You really don't want your unmanned vehicle to be captured in flight and turned against you.

    • There are lots of reasons, but two which you should be intimately familiar with as a computer professional are:
      Latency and DoS attacks.

      Even if the soldier is within 10 miles of the UAV, even if they use hardware instead of software, even if they reduce latency to the absolute minimum possible with today's technology, the soldier is still milliseconds behind in the actual action on site, and the equipment is milliseconds behind the soldier's reaction time.

      Secondly, even with super secure communications, spread spectrum, frequency hopping, multiple parallel channels, etc there still exists a significant possibility that someone else could adversely affect the operation of the UAV with a fairly simple and cheap electronic circuit. Even if it only increased the latency by a few mS as the systems try to cope, employed at the right time in a battle, it could easily give the opposing force the window they need to disable the UAV. It wouldn't be easy to track down and bomb like the GPS jammers Iraq used in the beginning of the war since it would only need to be on for a few seconds at a time and could be carried.

      -Adam
    • "Why are the machines of war still designed to carry meat-sacks around inside them?!"

      The technology doesn't exist to remotely control them yet. At least not safely.

      Don't you remember the unmanned drones used in Afghanistan?
  • Warning! (Score:5, Informative)

    by doc modulo ( 568776 ) on Saturday August 21, 2004 @08:49PM (#10035140)
    Spoiler alert!

    The last paragraph of the article gives the main surprise away of one of the best science-fiction books on Earth: "Ender's Game"

    I recommend Ender's Game, easy to read and great, and recommend against reading the last paragraph of the article if you haven't already.
    • "I recommend Ender's Game, easy to read and great, and recommend against reading the last paragraph of the article you haven't already."

      Actually, that wasn't that big of spoiler. I know this because I recently read the book and figured out what the spoiler gave away halfway into it. When I got to the reveal, I was like "uh yeah, figured". Fortunately, I think the author anticipated this and provided more to the ending unrelated to what the article mentioned that was far more interesting.

      My point?
  • by AndroidCat ( 229562 ) on Saturday August 21, 2004 @09:21PM (#10035259) Homepage
    After Flatworld, the sight of Oklahoma senator James Inhofe buckling on a virtual reality helmet at ICT headquarters seems positively old school. A technician shouts "Load the flying bats!" and the senator is transported to a damp tunnel near a farmhouse that may be an enemy hideout. Insects whir and water trickles in surround sound while digitized bats swoop and dive overhead. Inhofe is impressed. "It's the closest thing to reality that I've ever experienced," he says. "My feet felt wet."
    "Janitor team report to the simulation room."
  • Toys for Boys (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Ars-Fartsica ( 166957 ) on Saturday August 21, 2004 @09:40PM (#10035331)
    Meanwhile in the rest of the Western world, a startling tactic for maintaining homeland security has been in use for decades - do not screw over people in foreign lands for fun and profit and you will tend not to make enemies.

    I am tired of the miliporn covered on /., its getting to be like Popular Science. Not one of these billion dollar toys could prevent twenty halfwits armed with boxcutters pulling the US economy down to its knees and dragging the entire nation into a paranoid delusion that is likely to last decades.

    • Heh, the US military (nor any other military) isn't a solely anti-terrorist force. They have parts that do CT work and parts that don't. I imagine this training sim might help the latter.
    • do not screw over people in foreign lands for fun and profit and you will tend not to make enemies.


      That's a good, cheap, cost-effective strategy. Much too cost-effective, in fact. If we didn't have enemies, how could we convince the American taxpayers to give $500,000,000 of their money to our military every year? Defense contractors gotta eat too, ya know.


      If we ever did run out of enemies, we'd have to create some more, just to keep the machine fed...

    • do not screw over people in foreign lands for fun and profit and you will tend not to make enemies.
      Well, what do you propose to do with Israel? That's the main thing they hate us for. Even if creating Israel back in the 40s was a clear-cut case of interventionism, what do you propose to do about it now?
  • Wow. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Azureflare ( 645778 ) on Saturday August 21, 2004 @09:46PM (#10035354)
    If this setup eventually becomes popular and widespread, and we as a nation are playing these videos games...which soldiers play to get trained for fighting in battle...

    How does that make you feel? Knowing that you are playing the same games that are used for training for soldier's in the army?

    Am I the only one that is scared by that thought?

    Is our nation a nation of war and destruction? Are our future young children going to grow up being trained to kill?

    I know it's a bit of a stretch to say that playing one of these games makes you suitable to the army. But it's still kind of frightening. Aren't we as civilians supposed to be spending our time actually building our country? Does anyone else think that we should be thinking about this?

    I value the future of our country; and I do not want us mentally to be become hardened killers... I honestly hope I am not alone in this.

    By the way, did anyone else think of Bradbury's short story "The Veldt" [veddma.com] when this article came up?

    P.S. Strange that this short story is available on the web... Hmm, google is great, what can I say... Buy one of Bradbury's books if you haven't, he's a great read.

    • How does that make you feel? Knowing that you are playing the same games that are used for training for soldier's in the army?

      Am I the only one that is scared by that thought?

      Is our nation a nation of war and destruction? Are our future young children going to grow up being trained to kill?


      I feel about like I would if my son were into martial arts. In teaching self-defense, they usually teach you how to break bones, shatter knees and elbows, and often how to kill. My kid would be safe from bullies, and
  • NYT Article... (Score:2, Informative)

    by codefreez ( 241042 )
    Coincidently, New York Times Magazine is also publishing a story about ICT in this weekend's edition:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2004/08/22/magazine/22GAMES .html [nytimes.com]
    • Re:NYT Article... (Score:2, Informative)

      by digaman23 ( 807313 )
      It was, by the way, really a coincidence. I was invited down to ICT last year after writing a story about The Matrix, in part because Paul Debevec, who I mention in this story, developed the technology used to create the "bullet time" sequences in the original film.

      I didn't know that the Times was also working on a story until about three days ago -- the kind of "coincidence" that gives journalists heart attacks. In his fine piece for the Times, however, Clive Thompson focused on the console videogame as

  • That's the header I thought to read but it was early morning :-)

    and half a dozen Windows and Linux boxes down the hall
    Reading the article showed me it was not an all Linux shop.
    Makes me wonder what the Windows boxes are for, to inject some realistic unpredictability or the DRM?

  • This is quite different from 'Ender's Game.' Unless there were some sort of multiplayer mode (more than one room?) it would be just one person, in one room. Networking the rooms, though... awesome.
  • In the FA: pilots will train for war in Matrix-like rooms

    Right. They'll have sockets embedded in their heads to jack in, and if they get killed in the sim, they really die. And the whole system is powered by their bodily heat.

    Probably "Holodeck" is what he's thinking of.

Little known fact about Middle Earth: The Hobbits had a very sophisticated computer network! It was a Tolkien Ring...

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