By JONATHAN (JAY) KOESTER
Until recently, if NCOs wanted to lead their Soldiers through realistic virtual training, the only options available were training on things that could be driven or flown. If you weren’t a driver or a pilot, you were out of luck.
Into that gap steps the Dismounted Soldier Training System, or DSTS, the first system dedicated to training the dismounted Soldier.
“The Army has never had a simulator for the individual Soldier on the ground,” said Daniel Miller, military analyst at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and project leader for the DSTS. “We’ve had simulators for things that fly and things that are driven for decades and decades, but we’ve had nothing for the Soldier. This is the first simulation of its kind where we have a simulator for the Soldier himself or herself.
The system is much more than the simple shooting simulations of the past, including having weapons that are realistic and untethered, Miller said.
“In past shooting simulations, you have this weapon, but you can’t really move around the weapon because it has that cord,” Miller said. “In DSTS, we wanted the Soldier to be free, like he is on the battlefield. So he has his weapon, and he can shoulder it or whatever.”
Any movement a Soldier makes, whether it’s raising his weapon, kneeling, or going into a low crawl, is shown in the simulation. It makes for a realistic way to train small units in a number of missions.
Recently, NCOs and Soldiers of A Company, 72nd Brigade Support Battalion, 212th Fires Brigade, trained on room clearance by using the DSTS at the Simulation Center at the Fort Bliss, Texas, Iron Warrior Training Complex. First Sgt. Louis Aguilar, first sergeant for A Company, said the DSTS allowed his Soldiers to train cheaply and quickly, without having to take the time and expense to get a squad to the field.
“We try to go through the crawl, walk, run system,” Aguilar said. “And so [DSTS] gives you a good crawl phase. One, you have the resources right there. You don’t have to drive out to the field to find the proper buildings and such. [The Soldiers] are able to understand the concept. We had the classroom portion, but being able to put them in the simulation and still be in that crawl phase before they actually go out to a field site and do the walk and run phrase is really helpful.”
Spc. Eric Angelo Depaula of A Company took part in the training. In the past, he had participated in room clearing with a unit in combat, as well as been part of shoot house training with live ammunition. Despite all that experience, Depaula was impressed by what he experienced in DSTS.
“The reality of it all was impressive,” Depaula said. “The way the mechanism moves. I’ve done glass houses and I’ve done shoot houses where the movements have to be in-person, but this is almost similar to it because it’s so realistic. And the interaction with the computer, where you actually have to come into a room and shoot the target, versus going into an empty room and doing a “bang-bang” simulation … This is a step up. The weapon is the same weight. Even the body armor simulation is good. This is maybe about 10 pounds less than what we would normally use to go into a room [in combat].”
As the Soldiers trained on the system, the NCOs and officers leading the training immediately noticed a big problem in communication. The sergeant leading the virtual mission wasn’t telling his Soldiers what needed to be done. Confusion reigned, and the training was becoming a mess.
But that led to another benefit of DSTS. The company leaders simply paused the mission and moved to the classroom for some quick instruction on the proper way to clear rooms. The training led to important lessons being learned quickly, Aguilar said.
“You can do on-the-spot correction if the Soldiers are being too quiet,” Aguilar said. “In room clearing, silence is important when you first initially go into a door. But once you get through that door, communication is very important and vital. So if the Soldiers are not communicating with each other, you can stop them right there on the spot and say, ‘Hey, look. You all need to communicate with each other. Let’s start over.’”
Although some posts like Fort Bliss have dedicated training locations for DSTS, the system is designed to be completely portable, and can be used anywhere an NCO can find electricity and about 1,600 square feet of space.
“Literally, you could have the truck roll up to a company day room or a battalion or brigade classroom and set it up in there, as long as it has the electrical requirements and space,” Miller said. “We built the system to train the individual Soldier and the small unit, fire teams and squads. It’s really built for a 9-person squad. But we have a bank of 5 computers, and with those computers we can conduct company-level exercises.”
In addition to the cost savings, and the time saved from not having to drive out to the field, the DSTS can allow NCOs and Soldiers to train on missions that they couldn’t train on any other way, Miller said.
“There are some things that are just too dangerous to do in live training. You can do them here; no one is going to get shot,” Miller said.
In addition, a myriad of virtual situations can be created.
“I can’t make you cold, and I can’t simulate the ruggedness of the mountains of Afghanistan in terms of what it’s going to do to your shortness of breath, getting you physically tired,” Miller said. “But I’ll put you on the ground in Afghanistan. Or I can put you in the jungle … whatever you want. I can put you any place on the big blue marble, and you can train.”
Where to find DSTS
If you are an NCO looking to train Soldiers on the DSTS, the system is widely available and is coming to new locations each month. Here is a list of the current locations for DSTS.
- Fort Benning, Ga. — Two systems
- Fort Bragg, N.C. — Three systems
- Fort Bliss, Texas — Two systems
- Fort Campbell, Ky. — Three systems
- Fort Hood, Texas — Two systems
- Fort Lewis, Wash. — Three systems
- Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.
- Fort Pickett, Va.
- Fort McCoy, Wis.
- Camp Casey, Korea
- Fort Stewart, Ga.
- Fort Carson, Colo.
- Fort Riley, Kan.
- Fort Hunter Liggett, Calif.
- Schofield Barracks, Hawaii
- Camp Grayling, Mich.
- Fort Drum, N.Y.
- Camp Atterbury, Ind.
- Fort Knox, Ky.
- Fort Dix, N.J.
- Fort Indiantown Gap, Pa.
- Fort Wainwright, Alaska
- Fort Richardson, Alaska
- Camp Shelby, Miss.
- Grafenwöhr, Germany
- Fort Sam Houston, Texas