Infantry: Very Deep, Very High, Likely Unpredictable

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April 9, 2018: In the last few years Israel has modified its infantry training to put more emphasis on dealing with an enemy that uses a lot of tunnels and militarizes high-rise buildings, often including keeping some of the civilian residents of these apartment towers for use as human shields.

The tunnel anxiety began in 2014 as an after-effect of the mid-year “50-Day War” between Hamas and Israel in Gaza. The discovery of how much Israel had underestimated the Hamas tunnel system led to some immediate changes in infantry training. Soon the army had developed a “tunnel warfare” course for the troops. This was justified by the extent to which anti-Israel Islamic terror groups have adopted the use of tunnels to get into Israel as well as using more tunnels to shelter their forces when engaged in open warfare with Israel. Thus the Israeli Army is now giving all their combat troops training in detecting, destroying and fighting in tunnels. To facilitate the training of over 100,000 active duty and reserve troops the army spent several million dollars to build ten tunnel training facilities. In addition to realistic sections of tunnel, where troops can also use their weapons, there is also a highly detailed computer simulator for planning and carrying out a combat operation against an enemy tunnel.

In 2015 work began on the main Israeli tunnel warfare facility. Israel and the United States cooperated on building this new instrumented training center in northern Israel (Snir). This was not the first such realistic training facility but was the first one to consist largely of tunnels, of the type encountered in Gaza and believed also used by Hezbollah in Lebanon. These tunnels have become a favorite with Islamic terrorists seeking to escape UAVs and smart bombs. What is happening at Snir is a continuation of what Israeli and American manufacturers have individually, or through collaboration, been doing since the 1990s to develop new features for highly realistic (“NTC type”) facilities. These include portable equipment that can allow any area to be wired to provide the same effect (constant monitoring, and recording, of everything everyone does). There are also VPUs (Vehicle Player Units) that make Hummers appear as armored vehicles (tanks, infantry vehicles, or artillery) to the monitoring system and save a lot of money (by not using the real thing). There is also a system that releases different colored smoke when a vehicle is hit, indicating if it is damaged or destroyed. Helicopters and warplanes, for example, are being wired to operate as part of NTC exercises.

More recently Israel added special training courses for dealing with Hamas plans to use the many high-rise buildings (mostly residential) for fighting positions. Hamas fighters plan to take over some of these tall buildings and install snipers, observers as well as rockets and guided missiles. To deal with that Israel infantry and their air support forces (tanks, aircraft and artillery) are now trained to fight “360-degree warfare” with the enemy potentially below you as well as firing out of tall buildings. In addition to lots of actual training in realistic training centers, there has been a lot of training on simulated (computerized) versions of these training centers where new weapons and tactics can be developed more inexpensively and quickly.

The United States pioneered the use of instrumented (with computers and other electronics) training areas where troops could engage in very realistic simulated combat. For the ground troops, this involved the use of MILES (Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System) equipment that came to be called “laser tag”. MILES has undergone several upgrades since first introduced in the 1980s. That’s when the National Training Center (NTC), a 147,000 hectare (359,000 acres) facility in the Mohave Desert at Fort Irwin, California was established in 1982. There the United States Army revolutionized the training of ground combat troops with the development of MILES equipment for infantry and armored vehicles and the use of MILES in a large, "wired" (to record all activities), combat training area. Other countries soon realized the importance of these innovations and a growing number have built their own NTC clones. The U.S. and other users of these networked training centers also had a growing library of electronic data on these exercises and this was increasingly used to build or modify tactical simulations of combat.

NTC type training centers are usually built to enable a combat battalion or brigade to go through several weeks of very realistic combat exercises. Ft. Irwin itself has been expanded and the United States has established many similar training centers, all using lots of electronics to assist the trainees in having a realistic experience while also enabling them to see their mistakes and learn from them.

One later (2009) American innovation was I-TESS (Instrumented-Tactical Engagement Simulation System) which provided more data and realism. Thus hits now caused more realistic damage (to individual troops or vehicles) and all troops and vehicles are tracked (and recorded) in real time. In addition to providing more compelling after action briefing (where lessons learned are absorbed) the real-time monitoring allows the training staff to change the action in the middle of an exercise. This makes the training more realistic and useful. The more realistic damage includes dealing with the impact of grenades, shells, and bombs as well as chemical weapons. The marines phased out their MILES gear as the new I-TESS equipment arrived in 2010 and looked forward to a growing number of I-TESS upgrades as did most other MILES users.

By the 1990s other countries began building their own NTC facilities. Israel has a 39,000 hectare (98,000 acres) Tactical Training Center (TTC) at Ze'elim in the Negev desert. In addition to wide open areas for the training of armor, infantry, and artillery units there are several villages and urban areas wired for training troops to fight in close quarters. Israel has developed a portable version of this technology and many other innovations as well. Major NATO nations, China and even Pakistan adopted the NTC concept.

NTC type training is not only very close to the experience troops get in actual combat, but it also stresses commanders the same way actual combat does. This enables commanders to test themselves, and their subordinate commanders, before they get into a real fight. You can also use NTC type facilities to experiment with new tactics, in addition to keeping troops well trained in whatever the current tactics are. This includes counter-terror operations as well as the kind of novel combat tactics that might be encountered in the future. One of the critical aspects of this type of training is the playback. Instructors can edit the electronic record of who did what when and show commanders and troops where they made mistakes. This feedback makes the troops much more effective in the future.

Israel has found the NTC type training so useful that it now gives new troops a year of it and many other nations that adopted NTC are going in the same direction. The Israelis have also taken the lead in developing computerized versions of these training centers so more troops can get NTC type training at any base and do it more frequently and a much lower cost. These simulations (that look and operate much like 3-D computer games) also enable planners to more quickly adapt to new Hamas or Hezbollah tactics and weapons. The simulations also enable small unit (platoons and companies) to hone their tactical leadership skills and quickly learn of new developments they will have to teach their troops. This includes training on how to deal with civilians (friendly, enemy or unknown). The Americans and Israelis made heavy use of civilians hired to act as battlefield civilians and act (after some instruction) as the ones the troops would encounter. This is most useful on the non-simulator training but is also programmed into some of the simulations.

 


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