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Standardizing urban operations training

With more than half of the world’s population now living in cities, operations in urban environments will continue to be a prominent condition of future combat missions. Through lessons from the Balkans, Afghanistan and elsewhere, the Canadian Army has honed the tactics, techniques and procedures to operate effectively in the complex environments of villages and towns, combating a foe while simultaneously working with the civilian population.

As it continues to refine its Army of Tomorrow operating concept, however, the army will need to upgrade the training facilities and live simulation systems it now employs to prepare soldiers for urban operations.

Across the country, the five force generating bases of Edmonton, Shilo, Petawawa, Valcartier and Gagetown, along with the Canadian Manoeuvre Training Centre (CMTC) in Wainwright, have each developed their own facilities to deliver that training. But as Major Bruno Di Ilio explains, the process for developing the sites has lacked cohesion.

“We have had urban ops training facilities going way back. It has always been a base driven initiative – each base developed its own site, often using sea containers or simple concrete or wood structures. The problem is many of the materials used in the structures do not stand up well to the training and weather conditions. In some locations the structures were built quite substantive, so the project decided to use the same designs elsewhere in the country. The units have always understood the importance of the facilities, but did the best they could to address the issue with the resources available.”

Di Ilio leads Urban Operations Training System (UOTS), a project to standardize and institutionalize training across the six locations. The project is part of what he calls the WES family, a larger upgrade to the army’s weapon effects simulation system.

Since 2005, WES has been key to preparing successive rotations of soldiers for deployment in Afghanistan, but the laser tag-like system has been limited to operations conducted in open terrain. Officially stood up in 2006 and approved by the Minister of National defence in 2012, the UOTS project will create building simulators, allowing the army to integrate WES and other enhancements into the urban operations training environment.

“The soldiers will kit up the same way,” he said, “but UOTS will support a variety of training solutions. WES is typically laser-based. Over the past few years, the training component has identified the need for several different training solutions, paint ball-type ammunition and frangible ammo. Urban ops will now take both into account.”

More important, it will provide units and their commanders the ability to operate in a complex urban environment with the conditions to create scenarios that require difficult decision making.

“UOTS is not just a force on force exercise or the clearing of buildings,” Di Ilio explained. “To create the complex environment, the human element and culture of the inhabitants are needed to understand the challenges. UOTS only delivers the instrumented building simulators. CMTC, for example, has developed scenarios, dealing with access to water for civilians, or sanitation issues, that commanders must work with in an urban environment. The delivery of instrumented building simulators will provide the complex surroundings in which units will need to work to accomplish their missions.”

Instrumented facilities
Though the new buildings will be the most visible aspect of the project, they are only window dressing to the instrumented effects being provided to each village complex. The networked structures reside in a two square kilometre training footprint and will contain variable lighting, the ability to inject odours and sounds, and a camera system to capture events as they unfold. UOTS will employ an indoor ultra wideband network for positional awareness and tracking of both friendly (including civilians) and enemy forces.

“One of the big things urban ops did not have was a digital lessons learned package, an after-action review capture capability that the unit commander and unit could take home and review, similar to what we do with the WES system now,” Di Ilio said. “Now the after-action review process will be automated and digitized, and they will be able to replay that on the spot.”

Infrared-capable cameras will permit not only day and night time operations, they also mean that exercise umpires can focus on soldier skills rather than adjudicating blast damage or the extent of injuries.

“The umpires or controlling staff can sometimes give away what is going to happen by getting in front of soldiers or into a room because they know where a target is or that an explosive device is about to go off – the soldiers see that and prepare themselves,” he noted. “UOTS takes the supervisor out of the loop. He can follow rather than lead or can provide overwatch as the event happens.

“We’ll also be able to integrate all types of explosive devices, from grenades to explosive vests to booby traps. If an explosive device goes off at Wainwright now, a radio signal is delivered locally and, in many cases, does not produce the simulated response and needs to be adjudicated on the ground by an umpire. With UOTS, the indoor software application will employ a higher fidelity system that communicates with the EXCON (exercise control centre) to determine soldier distances from the blast and any protective measures from the building materials such as walls. The overall damage assessment will be addressed at the EXCON and the result transmitted over the communications network to identify casualties.”

The new concrete buildings will range from one to three stories and from 1,600 to 10,000 square feet, arranged as small towns with the ability to use interlocking fencing to create barriers, narrowing roadways and restricting vehicle access. Though the buildings will have a common exterior, each base will have the ability to customize interiors or exteriors to their specific training needs by adding furniture or vehicles to the sites.

“Because of the instrumentation, we can create building properties to be different,” Di Ilio added. “Although they will look like concrete, we can emulate the properties of wood or mud structures so that the resultant effects by rifle fire or explosive devices are patterned to better reflect live fire.”

The heart of each UOTS will be the EXCON. The hi-tech nerve centre will be a joint venture between the army and prime contractor Cubic Field Services Canada. Cubic will also be responsible for maintaining the instrumented systems throughout each UOTS. The buildings, however, will be constructed by local contractors.

Expanded WES
The UOTS project is also connected to a number of other programs associated with the WES system. All new vehicles coming into the army, from the Tactical Armoured Patrol Vehicle to the upgraded Light Armoured Vehicle, will be “WESified” to integrate with the simulation training system, meaning blast effects on their shells can also be integrated into the instrumented urban environment.

Likewise, a recent upgrade to the Small Arms Trainer (SAT) system has made it more of a collective trainer than just an individual skills trainer, and Di Ilio says a midlife upgrade will “explore the possibility of integrating a SAT-type system within the building simulator; a projector could display images of friend or foe that a soldier would either engage or, if they were villagers, could interact with.”

Because of networked capability, there are also plans as part of the WES midlife upgrade to connect with units on other bases and have their actions simulated in a training scenario.

“A lot of soldiers don’t understand how long it takes to get an aircraft or an artillery battery online,” he said. “Before, soldiers requested a call for fire and it was actioned as soon as the operator analyst at the EXCON could simulate the event. Time appreciation was missing. Now the guns have to physically set that howitzer or the system won’t allow them to report ready. The command posts won’t be allowed to send ready or fire because all the guns have to report ready. A digitized system has forced a discipline onto the units to report and carry out their drills.”

Finally, there is the army’s much anticipated Integrated Soldier System Project. Though it shares some commonality with a midlife upgrade to WES, scheduled for the 2016-2018 timeframe, there are no plans to integrate the two projects. But both projects have been co-located and have discussed the possibilities of collaboration on using the same power source.

Canada’s investment in urban operations training is not unique. Over the past decade, the United States and several European allies have opened large, detailed facilities to improve the urban warfare skills of their soldiers; the French Centre d’entrainement aux actions en zone urbaine (CENZUB) is notable case in point. But Di Ilio says the Canadian Army looked closely at what allies were doing, learned from their experiences, and has created what he calls “state of the art; the soldiers are going to be impressed.”

Delivery of an initial operating capability is expected next fall, with Gagetown likely being first to employ the capability. Full operating capability is expected by 2016.

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