The student interface for the VBS2 Land Navigation Trainer features the essential tools required for land navigation, including pace count, pace beads, notebook and compass. The United States Military Academy (USMA) recently received Version 1 of the Land Nav Trainer, customized to USMA land nav course terrain and training requirements. (U.S. Army)
The U.S. Military Academy will start testing a new land navigation training system within the next month, one year after a cadet collapsed and died during a land nav exercise held amid a heat wave.
The trainer was developed by the Training Brain Operation Center (TBOC), part of the U.S. Army’s Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC).
The new computer simulation, formally called the VBS2 Land Navigation Trainer-West Point Course v1.0, will be tested with cadets for the first time during the summer training course. The program runs on the Army’s standard battlefield simulation system, Virtual Battlespace 2, and renders a world where students walk through terrain to reach a series of points.
The goal is to teach them to correctly plot points, use a compass and map, keep an accurate pace count and navigate to specific spots — all before the cadets ever set foot on the live training course.
“We were looking for a safer, more practical way to enhance the skills of the new cadets coming in with varying experience from high school,” said Maj. Dan Kidd, director of the West Point Simulation Center. “West Point terrain is not the standard Fort Hood or Fort Lewis or anything like that, where it’s kind of a flat, forgiving terrain environment.”
The West Point land navigation trainer is based on the flatter VBS2 Land Navigation Trainer-Fort Lewis Course, which TBOC developed last summer. It has been used by more than 1,300 students at Fort Hood, Texas, alone.
Fort Lewis, in Washington state, was consolidated in 2010 with McChord Air Force Base to become Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
The West Point trainer was developed, TBOC said, because students struggled to shift from instructor-led classes to the live training exercises, especially with limited practice time.
“There is no walk level currently, that I can think of, that teaches you land nav to get you from that crawl level to the run level,” said Jeffrey Bittel, acting director of TBOC Systems Integration Modeling and Simulation. “That was the gap that we saw simulations able to do for land nav training.”
Instructors can monitor students and capture their movements during the program, meaning they can walk through after-action reviews with students. They also have the power to change the weather in the simulation or run the students through a night course.
Kidd, one of few people who has tested the West Point beta version, said the six simulated training areas based on West Point’s courses are “amazingly on target” and incorporate recognizable real-life features. If students are paying attention during the training, they will be more familiar when they navigate the actual field.
Kidd said he expects two or three platoons of students (about 90 people) to run the West Point land navigation trainer this summer. If it proves successful, the simulation will roll out to TBOC’s other customers.
“I think, either way, this is a system that we’re going to continue to refine and integrate into the cadet training,” Kidd said.
Working on the West Point trainer also inspired a series of upgrades that are evident both in the West Point beta version and the newest version of the VBS2 Land Navigation Trainer-Fort Lewis Course, version 1.6, which was released on July 6.
Instructors can now sort students by name, number, points identified, points correct/score, and time spent stationary — which turns red after the student is motionless for five minutes.
“You will be able to identify quickly who needs additional training,” Kidd said. “Most of these guys are competitive by nature, and they don’t want to say, ‘Hey, I don’t know what I’m doing.‘”
The newest iterations can support 60 students, more than double the initial capacity of 27. To help instructors manage the larger number of students, there is a notification window that displays significant student actions as they happen — such as when a student identifies a point or drops a reflective belt to conduct a methodical search of the area.
While the focus is on beginner cadets, the trainer also could be used to help troops maintain skills even when they can’t make it out to a training range. Developing and sustaining skills at home station is a focus for the U.S. military as troops draw down in the Middle East.
While the current land navigation trainers are tied to VBS2, Bittel and his team believe later generations of the training system could be platform-agnostic and Web-based, running on persistent servers that students or instructors could access from anywhere.
“There could even be a system established where TRADOC gathers up the very best land nav gurus,” said Brian Hall, the senior scenario developer for TBOC’s land navigation trainers.
Those specialists could then “log on during specific times to provide remedial training or even just to provide positive feedback.”
Lauren Biron is editor of Training & Simulation Journal.