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Land Nav for the Masses

Jun. 19, 2013 - 03:45AM   |  
By LAUREN BIRON   |   Comments
The web version of the land navigation trainer allows students to toggle various parameters for the course, such as daylight, night vision and weather.
The web version of the land navigation trainer allows students to toggle various parameters for the course, such as daylight, night vision and weather. (TBOC SIMS)
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The land navigation trainer is a type of microsimulation, a program that focuses on a particular skill such as making a call for fire or honing vehicle recognition. Developers are seeking additional areas where microsimulations would benefit the military. / TBOC SIMS

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Tired of getting lost in the woods? The Army released a web-based version of its land navigation trainer last week, and it is available to anyone with an internet connection.

Previous versions of the game run on Bohemia Interactive Simulations’ Virtual Battlespace 2 platform, which must already be installed on the computer. In contrast, the new version runs on a Unity game engine in the web browser itself.

“The reason why we did a, essentially, complete rebuild of land nav on the Unity game engine was to reach a far broader community, when and where they need it,” said Bill Bohman, deputy director of simulations at the Training Brain Operations Center System Integration and Modeling Center (TBOC SIMS), a group within the Army that has built several versions of the Land Navigation Trainer. “It ties into the concepts of the new Army learning model, which is a distributed, student-focused learning model.”

While the information is public, the intended recipients are members of the National Guard and JROTC and ROTC programs. ROTC cadets are a particular focus, especially those on the cusp of attending Warrior Forge or the Leadership Development and Assessment Course. Those students have limited training opportunities once they leave school for the summer.

“They have no access to Army assets to do any sort of training,” said Brian Hall, the senior scenario developer for TBOC’s land navigation trainers. “The only thing they have is the internet. So by giving them a way to train land nav before they go to LDAC, we’ve given them an extension of Army training that they can get to wherever they are.”

The land nav course is a pared back version of the Land Navigation Trainer — West Point Course version previously released on VBS2. It has many of the same features, such as the ability to plot azimuths, pull up a map to help navigate the terrain, or drop a reflective belt to do a search for a point – but the graphics aren’t quite as good, according to Shawn Farris, the lead developer for the Unity version of the land nav trainer.

Because of the independent nature of an online course, the simulation is designed to be intuitive. Developers made three iterations of the program. First, a proof of concept, then a version that was tested at Old Dominion University in March, and a final version just released and incorporating feedback to make the controls more natural.

One other difference is the lack of an instructor station, though developers at TBOC SIMS plan to introduce one by September. An instructor would then be able to run training over the internet without VBS2 or a government computer.

The trainer is available on the military gaming site and through TBOC SIMS — and has already been posted to the popular website Reddit in hopes of reaching more gamers. Developers are seeking feedback from as many people as possible.

“We hope that it drives demand not only for improvement, but also recommendations for additional areas where we can use this approach of what we are calling, tentatively, microsimulation,” Bohman said.

Microsimulations could be used to solve “discrete training problems,” typically at an individual level. Already in development with TBOC SIMS is a version of call for fire training, and there is potential for other basic tasks such as vehicle or aircraft identification.

Developers are also considering a mounted land navigation trainer that would teach students using the VBS2 version how to give commands to a driver on an urban and desert route. While the artificial intelligence in earlier versions of VBS2 wasn’t able to support TBOC SIMS design goals, the new release of VBS2 2.0 may get the project rolling.

Three courses have been reworked with the new VBS2 (Fort Lewis, Fort Jackson, and Sandhurst), and are available on the MilGaming website. Hall also noted that the land nav developers have reworked the VBS2 version to make it easier for sim center technicians and trainers to build their own terrain and maps, rather than having to go through the TBOC itself.

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