In 2007, the Canadian Forces acquired 150 VBS2 licenses for use at CFB Valcartier. They later reacquired another 500 licenses for the rest of the Canadian Armed Forces. The overview on the website states that Virtual Battlespace 2 (VBS2) is a comprehensive open platform with proven capability for training, simulation and development. Next generation gaming technology is adapted to provide collective military and first responder tactical training and mission rehearsal worldwide.

Canada is not the only country who is using VBS2 for training purposes. The US army, USMC, ADF (Australian Defence Forces), NZDF (New Zealand Defence Forces) and the UK MOD are also using it.

But can a computer game replace standard training in the field? I really don’t think so!

Firstly, the new generation of soldiers mostly comes from urban centers where the main entertainment is either a game console or a PC. So we can assume that most of the newest recruits have been familiarised with war-type games.

There is a huge difference between firing a rifle by pressing a button than actually squeezing a trigger. Unfortunately with the recent budget cuts, Canadian Commanders are really looking into using platform such as VBS2 to train their already bored soldiers.

Brigadier-General Denis Thompson affirmed that CANSOFCOM could be using it aswell. While he was interviewed by The Canadian Press, he confirmed that they were seriously looking at it as a complementary asset but it wouldn’t replace real-time drills.

This makes me wonder if the regular troops will have the same philosophy. The military cuts could go up to 2.5 billion dollars by 2015. In 2012, the Canadian Defence budget was 22.6 billion dollar (1.3% GDP), the 14th biggest military spender in the world. Just so you can compare, the United States spent 682 billion dollars (2.2% GDP) for their Defence in 2012.  So basically, the Canadian Forces are getting an 11% budget cuts, which is huge considering we are massively investing in our shipbuilding program and the F35s that aren’t really the best to protect our Arctic.

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With those cuts, there are already projects such as the Close Combat Vehicle (CCV) who were abandoned. So it goes without saying that there will be a lot less money for gas and ammunition for the soldiers on the ground.

But back to the VBS2 issues. How can a soldier learn field craft while sitting in a warm office with his coffee playing a computer game? Well, I had the chance to try it back in 2008 before I deployed in Afghanistan.

We were training convoy security assisted by ANSF who were AI (artificial intelligence). IEDs were placed along our route but it was almost impossible to detect them as a simple can of coke as trash could completely wreck a Buffalo MRAP. We were getting sick and tired of this bullshit so we decided to drive outside the road right in the desert while calling CAS on everything we were seeing. But we were told that we needed to drive on the roads because it was the only way possible to complete the scenarios. Talk about making your soldiers learn initiative …

Is this realistic? Not really. The civilians who were running the game were always losing control as we would steal the Leopard tanks and other armoured vehicle to make sure we could survive in an almost impossible scenario. Of course this could always be avoided by locking all the tanks, but it would mean that they would need to work harder …

We spent almost a week playing this game from 0800 until 1600 with breaks for lunch. I didn’t learn a thing except how to play VBS2 that would later get me into buying Arma 2, which was the retail version, to play at home with friends where I could even edit some missions better than the civilians who did the VBS2 scenarios.

We could’ve spent that entire week working on real convoy security with actual OPFOR ambushing us while we had the truck we would have in Afghanistan. That way we would’ve been prepared to manoeuver them properly and know their limits. Of course blanks are only sounds but it creates a fog of war and total confusion when you get ambushed or attacked.

Nowadays, the civilians who are working with VBS2 have recreated two scenarios from Canada’s actions around Kandahar into the system. Thompson would later affirm that they could run the soldiers through those scenarios so they could learn from what happened.

Isn’t that why we always do After Action Reports? Couldn’t we recreate it in real-time, or at least as close to reality as possible? I believe so.

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Recruits  

Does it mean that our future recruits will receive more training on a computer than in the field? Even if I don’t really like it, I am sure it will happen.

A typical infantry course is about 12 weeks nowadays where they would spend about 1/3 of their time in the field meaning 4 weeks. If VBS2 become an important tool for training as the CAF are looking into, those 4 weeks could be easily chopped in half and played on a computer due to budget restrictions (ammo, rations, gas, logistical stuff …)

So a trained infantryman would get to his unit with about 2 weeks of real-time field experience, which, in my opinion, is FAR from enough. It could also mean that a recruit who is a great gamer could perform better than someone who isn’t interested in video games but way better in the field.

And this is only an infantry example. The armoured and the artillery would have the opportunity to fire a lot more rounds, but would still be ‘’virtual’’ rounds with no real impact created by weight of the rounds, fatigue, weather conditions and so on …

Leadership development  

The only real advantage of systems like VBS2 could be leadership development. How many time did I had to sit in a trench for 2 weeks for nothing just so a company commander could learn how to set up company size defensive position or even up to brigade level. And I am positive a lot of people reading this article know exactly what I am talking about!

This could be easily done on a computer where the AI could be ordered to specific areas and stay there until the mission is done. That would also lessen the money spent for such an exercise by a VERY considerable amount.

But all in all, a computer game will NEVER replace field maneuvers for the soldiers to get better field crafting.

Seems like the budget cuts are going to make the newest generation of soldiers better gamers, but will they be able to perform in the field the way they should? Only the future will tell us!