Preparing For Battle

This is an article published in our April/May 2017 Compendium.

small arms training systems
Meggitt provides small arms training systems to improve soldier’s reflexive skills thanks to unlimited rounds. (Meggitt)

Alongside their reliance on ever-improving technology, individual soldiers need to be trained in an environment where the vast majority of the fighting takes place in built up areas with actions often occurring at squad, or even individual levels.

As Frédéric Chamaud and Colonel Pierre Santoni indicated in their book L’Ultime Champ de Bataille: Combattre et Vaincre en Ville (‘The Ultimate Battlefield: Fighting and Winning in the City’), published in 2016, MOUT requires: “shooting with an individual or collective weapon, loading ammunition under fire, moving as a group, applying safeguard procedures for parking in hostile areas, applying first aid procedures and calling for fires from Close Air Support (CAS) and artillery.”

In the course of the second half of the twentieth century, a number of countries have built MOUT training sites. First amongst these was the United Kingdom which, during the conflict in Northern Ireland between 1969 and 2006, built a number of villages replicating the operational conditions the British Army met in Northern Irish villages, towns and cities. Based in different locations, such as Folkestone (southeast England), Seenelager (western Germany) and Ballykinler (southern Northern Ireland), the training grounds were regularly updated to reflect the constantly changing conditions of fighting on the ground, including significant changes in the landscape and the latest weapons and ambushing techniques used by insurgents. Today, the British Army trains primarily for MOUT at the Copehill Down Village, part of the Urban Operations Wing of the British Army Land Warfare Centre, Warminster southwest England.

Other MOUT training centres exist for the Heer (German Army) at Hammelburg in south-central Germany, at the Urban Warfare Training Centre at the Israeli Defence Force base of Ze’elim, southern Israel, for the Singaporean Army at the Murai Urban Training Facility, and for the Ejército de Tierra (Spanish Army) at the Paracuellos de Jarama Centro de Instrucción de Combate en Terreno Urbano (Paracuellos de Jarama Urban Combat Training Centre) in Spain, to name but a few.

US MOUT Training

The US has two main training locations for MOUT: the Joint Readiness Training Centre (JRTC) at Fort Polk, Louisiana; and, the National Training Centre (NTC) at Fort Irwin, California. According to Sean Page, a senior associate at Avascent, a consultancy based in Washington DC: “military forces undergo training in one of these two centres if they are required to deploy overseas in missions that will include MOUT.”

Centre of Medina Wasl
The Centre of Medina Wasl, a mock Iraqi village used to train troops for MOUT at the US Army’s National Training Centre. (US DOD)

The JTRC focuses primarily on preparing light infantry brigade task forces for low-to-mid-intensity combat, that is, mostly peacekeeping exercises. Exercises for infantry brigades may be done as a rotation or Mission Rehearsal Exercises (MREs). While MREs are shorter than rotations, respectively running for twelve and 18 days, they include most of the scenarios that are confronted by brigades participating in full rotations. A rotation generally has three phases: an insertion and counter-insurgency operation; defence in response to an insurgent attack; and an attack into a state-of-the-art MOUT complex. The scenarios are conceived to prepare soldiers for as many of the potential difficulties that they could encounter on the ground as possible. This is particularly the case regarding scenarios where they may need to work closely with civilians, and as such number of scenarios that involve dealing with evacuations of civilians, gathering intelligence from civilians, and dealing with civilians that are sympathetic to the adversary force are rehearsed. On this point, Mr. Page adds: “one of the most difficult tasks when carrying out MOUT operations is dealing with a population speaking a foreign language, so in order for soldiers to be prepared for this eventuality, interpreters are also part of the scenario while role players posing as civilians pretend they do not speak English.”

US Army’s National Training Centre
The US Army’s National Training Centre includes a number of reproductions of different villages modeled after Iraqi and Afghan urban areas. (US DOD)

The exercises also aim to train infantry brigades to plan and undertake combined arms manoeuvre in the urban context. As such, mechanised and armour units, special operations forces, US Air Force Air Combat Command units, US Navy elements and US Marine Aviation and Marine Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company units are regularly involved. Observers/Controllers, who are part of the JRTC staff, follow the exercises closely to provide support to unit chiefs and help them improve their abilities to plan, coordinate and respond to unforeseen challenges. After Action Reviews (AARs) and exercise conclusion reviews are performed at the end of each operational phase.

The NTC’s mission, according to its website, is to: “prepare (US Army) Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs) and other units for combat.” The NTC includes several mock villages, modelled on towns and villages in Afghanistan and Iraq. Similar to the JRTC, a rotation at the NTC lasts 18 days and includes a number of scenarios intended to prepare the BCTs for the worst possible case scenarios during MOUT, such as the detonation of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), rocket attacks and suicide bombings. It also includes situations that involve crowd control, interacting with locals who do not speak English and providing aid as well as ensuring evacuation of civilians and armed combatants.

Mr. Page indicated that the types of scenario as well as the choice of the specific environment for the exercises are at the discretion of the BCT commander, depending on the mission they will deploy for. In terms of capabilities, he indicated that BCTs and infantry brigades undergoing training at the JRTC or NTC generally bring as much materiel as they can themselves including not only individual soldier equipment but also helicopters. Main battle tanks (MBTs) and armoured vehicles, on the other hand, are provided by the centres: “these used to be transported by the units on training via railway, however it proved too time consuming and too costly, so it was decided it would make more sense to have them ready at the centres,” adds Mr. Page.

French MOUT Training

Away from the United States, France’s MOUT training site is located at Sissonne in northeast France. Following the deployment of the Armée de Terre (French Army) to theatres in Afghanistan; Bosnia and Herzegovina; and Mali, where it regularly experienced MOUT, the military training ground of Sissonne opened its Centre d’Entraînement aux Actions en Zone Urbaine (CENZUB/Urban Zone Action Training Centre) in 2004. The CENZUB includes Beauséjour; a reproduction of a village with low-income settlements and a defensive hamlet; an urban area firing range where soldiers can exercise in confined environments as individuals or in group formations and the Jeoffrécourt urban complex.

Jeoffrécourt, the construction of which began in 2008 and was completed in 2012, is the reproduction of an urban environment designed for 5000 inhabitants. It includes four different environments: an outlying industrial area with a recycling centre, a supermarket and other industrial buildings; a core periphery area, with a nursery, a hospital and a fitness centre, as well as seven storey residential buildings set up around a wide street reminiscent of the infamous ‘sniper alley’ in Sarajevo during the Bosnian War: see the first article in this compendium for a discussion of Sarajevo as a case study for MOUT. Also to be found at Jeoffrécourt is a residential sprawl and the city core, with a mosque, a city hall and a few narrow streets. The urban area also includes other features meant to reproduce some of the challenges soldiers are likely to encounter in urban environments such as a small river over which two bridges have been built, with only one able to withstand the weight of a main battle tank or armoured vehicle, and a sewage system to simulate the challenges posed during MOUT by underground passageways.

At the CENZUB, the Jeoffrécourt village includes an outlying industrial area, a core periphery area, a residential sprawl and a city core. (French Army)

A rotation at the CENZUB lasts two weeks: “the first week, the company on rotation, whether infantry, cavalry, artillery or engineers, takes both lectures on MOUT doctrine and workshops to learn specific tactics, such as how to deal with IEDs for instance,” says Lieutenant Charlotte (French military policy allows only a single name for individual personnel to be used by the media), a communications officer at the CENZUB: “During the second week, the simulation exercise begins at Jeoffrécourt,” Lt. Charlotte continued. On the first day, Monday, the company begins by preparing the manoeuvre on a large reproduction of the city on the ground. This is meant to recreate the conditions for preparing a manoeuvre on the battlefield. They then move to Jeoffrécourt and begin their first manoeuvre: launching an attack on the city, which is meant to last until Tuesday evening. On Wednesday, the company deals with a stabilisation scenario, which includes a tripartite meeting in the town hall between international forces and the two civilian groups at war with each other, as well as a riot erupting in the city, which the company is then tasked to contain. On Thursday, the company faces a counter-attack from insurgent forces attempting to reclaim the city and is meant to stand its ground defending the city.

The CENZUB has a permanent staff of approximately 400 people, both civil and military, who role-play during these exercises: “Depending on the scenario of the day, the staff can play the adversary force (FORAD), whether as military forces, insurgents or civilians,” continues Lt. Charlotte. There are also instructors on the ground and in the CENZUB operation centre, who follow the exercises very closely to provide detailed feedback at the end of each day, and a film crew, which records the most complicated manoeuvres, or scenarios where the instructors have informed them beforehand that the company will meet unexpected obstacles. At the end of each day, company commanders sit down with the instructors for their AARs.

At the CENZUB, the staff prepare for a simulation exercise where they play the adversary FORAD. (Alix Valenti)
FÉLIN system
During training at the CENZUB, the FÉLIN system is equipped with sensors in order to detect fire and simulate injuries. (Alix Valenti)

During training at the CENZUB, French soldiers are equipped with the Safran Defence Electronics/Sagem FÉLIN (Fantassin à Équipement et Liaisons Intégrés/Integrated Infantry Equipment and Communications) ensemble, and their GIAT/Nexter FAMAS-F1 5.56mm assault rifle, as they would be during a mission. The FÉLIN system is equipped with an Cassidian/Airbus STC-AL (Simulateur de Tir et Combat Armes Legeres/Shooting and Light Arms Simulator): with the helmet and the vest covered with laser light sensors that react when hit by lasers equipping opposing forces’ weapons for the purpose of the exercise. The exercises are performed without live ammunition, however in order to simulate the firing noise, the FAMAS-F1s shoot blanks. The aim is to accustom soldiers to the noise of shooting in confined spaces, and the stress that can come with it. Moreover, in a similar fashion to MOUT training in the US (see above), French Army companies coming to train at the CENZUB bring their own equipment which can include Aviation Légère de l’Armée de Terre (French Army Light Aviation) reconnaissance helicopters such as the Aérospatiale/Airbus Helicopters SA-342 Gazelle or the Eurocopter/Airbus Helicopters EC-665HAP/HAD Tigre attack helicopter. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) such as the French Army’s Cassidian/Airbus Survey Copter and Tracker UAVs, can also be included in the CENZUB training exercises.

The CENZUB, on the other hand, equips the FORAD with old French Army vehicles such as the GIAT/Nexter VAB four-wheel drive armoured personnel carrier, and the GIAT/Nexter AMX-10P amphibious infantry fighting vehicle (being retried from the French Army) and GIAT/Nexter AMX-30 family MBTs.

Captain Martin, an instructor at the CENZUB, says that the exercises: “are meant to replicate as many of the conditions that the soldiers are likely to encounter as possible.” This includes not only potential conditions and scenarios, but also how they deal as a squad, platoon or company with their casualties. Indeed, the FELIN training system built around the STC-AL is also equipped with a screen which informs the soldiers when they have been hit and lightly injured, seriously injured or have died. In the latter case, they either lie on the floor for five minutes waiting to be evacuated by their comrades, or remove their helmet to signify that they are dead and should be left behind: “The evacuation of armed combatants is a key determining factor for the tempo and success of an operation,” continues Capt. Martin: “ultimately, exercises at the CENZUB are developed to prepare commanders for combined arms manoeuvre and to coordinate large companies in complex environments,” he concludes.

Virtual MOUT

Conducting live training is expensive and companies only have a limited amount of time available to prepare for their deployment in MOUT training centres. Military training, however, remains an ongoing task as adversaries evolve their , and as new technologies make tactics that worked yesterday redundant tomorrow. Moreover, not all combined-arms scenarios can be replicated within the confines of a MOUT training ground. It is particularly difficult, for instance, to train JTACs (Joint Terminal Attack Controllers), which form of vital part of the provision of CAS, in places such as the JRTC, NTC or CENZUB. Nevertheless, advances in virtual training technology over the past decade have had a significant impact in this sense.

MOUT requires tactics that not only demand sharp soldiers reflexs, but also necessitate a lot of ammunition. It would be far too costly to train individual soldiers with live rounds regularly on MOUT training sites. Meggitt works to fill this gap by providing small arms training systems. Robert Cairns, a manager and training subject matter expert at Meggitt, explained “We take live weapons and modify them into air-powered simulators, which use heat detection to show where the ‘shot’ hit … This way soldiers develop quick and accurate reflexive skills through the use of a simulator with unlimited rounds, and have a higher level of preparedness when they arrive at the live training centre.” Meggitt currently has two important programmes ongoing with the US Armed Forces: a $5.8 million contract with the US Marine Corps Systems Command Programme Manager for Training Systems for the Indoor Simulated Marksmanship Trainer (ISMT) system. The company explains that the ISMT is a small arms training programme designed to improve marksmanship through collective and judgmental scenarios. It has been built to include automatic coaching features that allow the instructor to receive immediate feedback on the Marine’s performance, and to provide additional coaching where needed. Under this contract, Meggitt will provide 166 ISMT systems to the USMC with delivery commencing in January 2017.

small arms training systems
Meggitt provides small arms training systems to improve soldier’s reflexive skills thanks to unlimited rounds. (Meggitt)

Meggitt’s second US marksmanship training programme, worth $99 million, is for the delivery of over 890 Engagement Skills Trainers (EST-II) systems to active US Army, National Guard and Reserve units worldwide. The EST-II, the firm continues, is a small-arms trainer that integrates three-dimensional marksmanship, automatic coaching, a tablet interface and enhanced graphics with existing simulated weapons. Deliveries began in August 2016 and are scheduled to be completed in April 2018: Heath Shaw, who is also a manager and training subject matter expert at Meggitt, added that: “both systems have been developed to allow as much fidelity to real scenarios as possible thanks to the use of Bohemia Interactive Simulations (BISim) Virtual Battlespace-3 (VBS-3) software.” They are also designed to constantly integrate new weapons.

Regarding VBS-3, Oliver Arup, vice president of product management at BISim, told Armada that this: “allows users to experience a highly detailed and complex environment close to what they would experience in the real world; this includes object details such as IED components, wires and switches, which are important elements for military training in today’s urban environments.” Through TerraSim, a BISim subsidiary, the VBS-3 package also allows users to build their own three-dimensional models of buildings from blueprints, thus facilitating pre-deployment training for specific missions, and offers a wide range of weapons and weapon effects: “It supports procedural, physics-based destruction, which allows the user to damage a building in a variety of ways from simple breaching or mouse holes to full destruction of a building,” continues Mr. Arup; “thus allowing the user to train for the knock-on effects of kinetic engagements in an urban environment which might otherwise not be considered.” In 2016, BISim delivered custom terrain software for urban training to the Netherlands Ministry of Defence and the firm’s DayZ Chernarus terrain software, a fictional terrain based on real-world data which includes a variety of urban environments, to the Swedish Armed Forces.

The VBS-3 provides a virtual environment that includes a large number of challenges soldiers would encounter in real world scenarios, such as IEDs. (BISim)

Regarding MOUT training aids, the US armed forces are also furnished with MetaVR’s JTAC desktop simulators for the USAF’s Air Force Special Operations Command, Air Combat Command (ACC) and Air Support Operations Squadrons. MetaVR partnered with Battlespace Simulations (BSI) to offer desktop simulators that: “enable JTAC trainees to perform training missions on a virtual battlefield with CAS-specific interfaces such as nine-line and five-line CAS briefs,” says W. Garth Smith, president and co-founder of MetaVR. The firm has recently built a virtual replica of the Special Operations Terminal Attack Controller Course village MOUT site at the Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona as well as a number of other MOUT training sites at Fort Benning, Georgia; Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, Fort Lewis in Washington State and the Fort Irwin National Training Centre in California.

MetaVR offers desktop simulators that facilitate the training of JTACs; a task that is otherwise difficult to train for in MOUT training centres. (MetaVR)

by Dr. Alix Valenti