Realistic Urban Training


“…The commander must set the conditions that will lead to the accomplishment of certain tasks. These tasks may include (but are not limited to) isolating the urban area; avoiding “template” planning and predictability; developing accurate situational awareness, including knowledge of the population; taking advantage of local expertise; and leading disciplined troops possessing necessary skills gained through realistic urban training and experience…” - Joint Publication 3-06, Joint Urban Operations, November 8, 2009

Now used as the foundational document across all the U.S. armed services for what is commonly dubbed military operations in urban terrain, Department of Defense Joint Publication 3-06 emphasizes the unique challenges presented by urban areas. In successfully meeting those myriad challenges the document points to the criticality of realistic urban training.

The desire to enhance the realism of urban training over the past decade is clearly evident in things like the proliferation of urban training infrastructures on military bases at home and abroad, the introduction of “hyper-realistic” training to the urban training environment, and technology developments that are already providing the benefits of greatly expanded urban training realism.

Urban Training Infrastructures

One excellent example of state-of the-art urban training infrastructures can be seen in the Combined Arms Military Operations in Urban Terrain training facility located at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twenty-nine Palms, Calif.

Completed in January 2011 by Allied Container Systems Inc., the facility is based on modified ISO shipping containers and includes a mixture of over 1,560 training facility buildings scattered across 274 acres of urban-depicted training space that is supported by a network of streets, courtyard walls, religious structures and village shanties.

“That’s the largest urban training facility that we have constructed,” said Greg Celesky, vice president of military programs at Allied Container Systems Inc. “But the amount of facilities that we have in place for the Department of Defense throughout the United States and [overseas] are tremendous. As just one example, our second largest site—and the first largest for the Army—is located at Fort McCoy, Wis., where we have a little over 1,000 structures.”

“When somebody hears the word ‘container,’ they think they are getting a corrugated 8-by-8-by-40 foot box from a shipping yard or off the back of a tractor trailer,” Celesky explained. “But it’s much more diversified than that. We use all new containers. We re-engineer and re-structure those containers to make it as realistic, sustainable and quality-proven as we possibly can. When we are done with a facility it doesn’t even look like a container anymore. It looks like an Afghan village. But it’s more than just Afghanistan. These are urban training solutions that meet the specific operational theater environment where they could be going to execute operations.”

Asked to summarize some of the elements that Allied Container Systems brings to their urban training solutions, Celesky highlighted the company’s desire to serve as a center of excellence in urban operations, demonstrated performance, and the subject matter expertise retained on its teams.

“Quality and sustainability are the next critical things that we talk about,” he continued. “Because when you are putting a facility up like we did at Twenty-nine Palms or any of the Army installations, they have to be maintainable. It isn’t just ‘one stop and drop.’ Along with introducing the urban training complexes, installations are taking on the parallel challenge of sustaining those facilities. And that gets back to the quality of our products.”

As noted earlier, the requirements for realistic urban training stretch across the Department of Defense. Another recent program that highlights this span of requirements is the Counter-IED MOUT Training Complex Project by Air Force Special Operations Command. In July of this year, Falcon Containers announced their prime contract award to provide training systems and structures for this program at the 27th Special Operations Wing, Cannon Air Force Base, N.M.

Describing the company as “a leading provider of repurposed shipping containers,” Falcon Containers will be responsible for a MOUT training site development that will allow warfighters to perform full mission profiles, designed to defeat the tactical challenges of IEDs as well as the strategic challenges of defeating the network that emplaces the IEDs.


According to Kit Lavell, executive vice president for Strategic Operations Inc., the company entered the urban training arena from a San Diego television and movie production lot through “the creative genius” of producer Stu Segall. Following their introduction through a mutual friend, Lavell began pursuing the creation of a new business model for training.

“It was different from anything I had ever seen before, by taking … movie-making techniques and applying them to military and law enforcement training,” he recalled. “It would become a lot more interesting through the immersive experience.”

In addition to the sets and special effects, the company soon began utilizing “role players” from San Diego County, which boasts of the second largest Iraqi-American community and one of the larger Afghan-American communities in the country.

“I think we were one of the first companies to ever use role players from Southwest Asia to help provide the cultural and language experience during training,” he said. “We also were the first company ever to use ‘battlefield effects’ like you might see in movie demolitions.”

Emphasizing that everything in the military is fluid, dynamic and interactive, he said, “That’s where we apply the proprietary techniques to blend technologies in such a way that you can have movement all over in an immersive and ‘hyper-realistic’ environment. That’s what we brought to military training: an ability to create an immersive environment using all of these techniques but doing it in a safe way.”

He continued, “The other component to creating these immersive environments is to create a realistic looking environment. And we applied all of those techniques to make a MOUT facility look extremely realistic. So we have applied a lot of those building construction techniques over the years and we have actually ‘transformed’ a lot of the MOUT facilities at installations across the country.”

Projects have included: a two-and-a-half year-long effort to rebuild and create villages across 1,001 square miles at the National Training Center (NTC), Fort Irwin, Calif.; re-do of the MOUT facilities at the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) at Fort Polk, La.; a 2012 effort to transform MOUT facilities at Fort Bliss, Texas; and other MOUT facility efforts across the U.S. and Canada.

Lavell related the creation of urban training complexes out of ISO shipping containers to the 2003 timeframe, crediting the new process with “a way to quickly build facilities for training for the asymmetric threat that we were experiencing in Afghanistan and Iraq.”

“But that only went so far,” he said. “When you have hundreds of containers out there all painted tan they don’t look very realistic … So what we introduced was re-engineering of these by cutting them up, re-welding them, putting them together with structural components, and then ‘facade them’ on the inside and outside to make them look like construction techniques and materials that you would fine in the operational environment. So that’s what we did when we went through NTC and JRTC and Fort Bliss: We changed them to look realistic.”

Strategic Operations began exploring a new approach about three-and-a-half years ago, when they developed a patented system called the Relocatable Habitat Unit (RHU).

“Basically the RHU is a ‘mobile MOUT’ facility,” he explained. “ISO containers are not really mobile. When you put them down you can’t move them around very easily. So we saw the RHU as the way to have a truly mobile hyper-realistic MOUT facility. We developed it so that each 4-by-8-foot panel weighs less than 100 pounds, and they fit together with a simple tool and latching system. You can build a multi-story with that tool and each piece looks on the outside and the inside like whatever building construction material or technique you want. We’ve even done them to look like bamboo.”

Bringing the Realism Home

It’s one thing to provide realistic urban training at one of the Army’s major combat training centers or other major installation, but it can be even more important when it’s incorporated into home station training.

That’s the assertion of Jim Yarbrough, brigadier general, U.S. Army (Ret.), and now senior director of integrated training and leader development solutions at General Dynamics Information Technology. Drawing on his extensive expertise, which includes serving as former commander of the Army’s JRTC, Yarbrough offered, “I would say that the Army leadership is encouraging commanders to achieve more at home station training before they deploy to the combat training centers.”

Yarbrough spotlighted GDIT’s “InForce” Tactical Instrumentation Suite for its tremendous potential contributions to the realism of the “live” element within the increasingly critical “live, virtual, constructive” training environments at unit home stations. Characterizing it as “a quantum improvement over what they could achieve previous to this technology,” he described InForce as “a series of tripod-mounted small surveillance cameras that can be placed anywhere you want in a remote training area.”

“InForce allows you to go anywhere that you want to go remotely,” he said. “And in a matter of hours you can set up those tripods—each has a hardened command module that then operates not only those cameras but also triggers the battlefield effects that come with InForce, including pyrotechnic exploding devices, a robust menu or sounds, smoke generators, a menu of concentrated smell generators, and the control of targetry.”

Along with the portability and impressive range of battlefield effects, additional benefits come from the rapid retrieval of captured superior video clips to facilitate learning during the after action review process.

“The utility goes back to the attributes,” Yarbrough added. “It gives you a much higher level of training effectiveness—we say that it gives you ‘CTC level effectiveness’ at home station. And we truly believe that InForce is the future of instrumented urban operations training.” ♦

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