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Finnish Defence Forces invest 3 million in video games for virtual combat training

Finnish Defence Forces have taken on board computer games for training conscripts. So far, Defence Forces have invested some three million euros in computers and a combat simulation environment that will be used in every military unit by the end of the year.

Varusmies pelaa virtuaalikoulutusympäristössä.
Some conscripts are seasoned gamers, others have to catch up. Image: Sakari Partanen / Yle

At the Karelia Air Wing of the Finnish Air Force, conscripts are engrossed in a video game. Their mission is to track down and attempt to detain armed intruders operating in two separate areas. During the course of the game, trainees manage to shoot and kill one of the intruders.

Trainer, Lieutenant Topi Hannula said that this approach to training is cost-effective. If necessary, drill supervisors, can replicate the situation without using real ammunition or other forms of ordnance.

"We can do the kinds of things that we would not necessarily be able to do live in field and terrain conditions," he noted.

Computer games also make it easier to deploy a bird’s-eye view perspective to follow the movement of virtual troops on the ground.

"We can see what everyone is doing at all stages. This allows us to train simple manoeuvres and to take a larger scenario out into the field afterwards, when the basics have been learned," Hannula added.

Luutnantti Topi Hannula, Karjalan lennosto.
Virtual drills are meant to supplement, not replace physical exercises. Image: Sakari Partanen / Yle

Virtual environment based on commercial game

The basis of Virtual Battle Space 3 is a commercial game platform that the Defence Forces have modified for their own purposes. Conscripts who play the game create an avatar or game character that is dressed in Finnish Army regulation camouflage and also carries authentic-looking arms and gear.

It is also possible to add different elements to the suit the purposes of different training scenarios.

"For example I have created these two guys and a building," explained Lapinlahti conscript Sami Jetson, who has been assisting the head trainer.

His role in the ongoing game session is to play one of the targets that the other conscripts have been trying to find and capture.

Three-million-euro investment

Gaming is fast becoming an essential part of conscript training: by the end of this year all military units will be given access to the virtual training environment. The Armored Brigade, which has just one computer class, will receive new simulator classrooms at the beginning of 2018.

Altogether the simulator rooms will be equipped with some 1,200 PCs, representing an investment of three million euros.

"The computers within a garrison can be networked together. So far we have not networked different garrisons together," said Staff Officer Major Tom Malmström of Defence Command’s training unit.

Varusmiehiä tietokoneiden ääressä.
The Defence Force has spent three million euros on virtual training hardware and software. Image: Sakari Partanen / Yle

Boon or bust?

Many conscripts are familiar with video games, but there are also others who are not seasoned gamers. According to Lieutenant Hannula, such conscripts can easily be identified.

"In the beginning it’s a bit challenging for them to get up to speed," he noted.

On the other hand, not all of the trainees are convinced of the benefits of the virtual training approach.

"I don’t know if there’s any benefit in this, sad to say," remarked Vili Laukkanen, a conscript from Tuusniemi.

According to Corporal Jyri Repo, who is leading the virtual mission, heading up a virtual team is different from the real deal.

"For example, paying attention to the terrain is different from in a real forest," he observed.

Hannula agreed, adding that in virtual training it is not possible to practice the skills of disguise and camouflage. Additionally, in a computer game, it is not possible to evaluate how it feels to load up with battle gear and attack in the forest.

Sotilaspoliisit raudoittaa maalihenkilöä taisteluharjoituksessa.
Conscripts eventually get an opportunity to practice virtual drills in real life scenarios. Image: Sakari Partanen / Yle

"I don’t believe that we will exert these youngsters to the point where they get out of breath," he quipped.

All the same, the conscripts will get a chance to practice the manoeuvres they learn in the gaming classroom later on in real terrain. After their practice run in the game, the Karelia Air Wing conscripts will play out the scenario in real life a week later.

The field drills will give them a feel for a real combatsituation, where they will have to make their way through forest undergrowth carrying many kilograms in gear and equipment.

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