April 17, 2024

Keyboards First. Then Grenades.

General Greene, a senior official in the Army’s research and development engineering command, is among a cadre of high-ranking officials pushing for the military to embrace technologies that are already popular among consumers, like smartphones, video games and virtual worlds. The goal is to provide engaging training tools for soldiers who have grown up using sophisticated consumer electronics and are eager to incorporate them into their routine.

At a time of shrinking budgets, these tools are viewed as relatively inexpensive supplements to larger, costlier training equipment while also providing a surprisingly realistic training experience.

The military is already using some video games for recruitment and to train soldiers, and it has started experimenting with virtual worlds, as well. The tools are developed specifically for military use.

In addition, the Army recently held a contest for soldiers to determine who could develop the best smartphone app.

Among the apps now available on an Army Web site: bugle calls, body fat calculator, Army creeds, sniper awareness and capture avoidance. (Most apps are for both the iPhone and Android phones, but some are for just one system.)

“We have to adapt to where they are,” General Greene said, speaking of the need to appeal to young soldiers and teach them in ways, and on devices, they are accustomed to. “This is something we absolutely have to do.”

But efforts to vastly expand the use of virtual games and everyday electronics have run into a slew of obstacles, not the least of which is a military bureaucracy slow to embrace change.

Security concerns about soldiers using wireless devices on the battlefield are one problem, because transmissions have to be encrypted. Another obstacle is the lingering belief among some high-level officials that games, gadgets and avatars simply have no place in the military.

For now, the budget for video games and smartphones for military training is a relative pittance. For instance, the Army spends roughly $10 million to $20 million a year on licenses, modifications and development of Army games.

“Budgets are always an issue,” said Frank C. DiGiovanni, director for training readiness and strategy at the Defense Department. “What I’m trying to do is demonstrate these are extremely effective.”

Mr. DiGiovanni made his remarks at GameTech, a five-year-old convention that was held here in Orlando in March. It showcases the military’s expanding use of simulators, video games, virtual worlds and smartphones.

Besides the video games that allow soldiers to rehearse for combat, vendors were offering devices that provide cultural and language lessons, medical training and shooting practice.

While GameTech is tiny by convention standards, with just 775 participants and 29 vendors, several participants said they considered it major progress that such an event was being held, given the skepticism military leaders displayed toward video games a decade ago.

“When I started with this in ’99, you couldn’t use the word ‘game,’ ” said James Korris, chief executive of Creative Technologies and a creator of one of the first military video games, Full Spectrum Warrior. “They were training guides, cognitive development tools.”

“GameTech?” he added. “Who would have thunk it?”

The military is partly responsible for the growth of the video game industry. For decades, it has created increasingly sophisticated simulators and computer-based war games.

Some of the people involved in the creation of those products went on to work for video game manufacturers, taking their expertise with them. Then, as commercial video games became more sophisticated, the military began borrowing ideas from them.

For instance, in the mid-1990s, some Marines tinkered with the popular Doom video game, replacing fantasy weapons with real ones and monsters with soldiers. A few years later, the military collaborated with academia and game developers to create Full Spectrum Warrior, which was designed to mimic combat.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=2e91df464426cf35c6f7c0d1f0ddcfc9

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