The military simulation industry in Spain has reached a remarkable degree of maturity in recent decades. From the first attempts in the middle of the last century, all of them analogue, to the modern and complex simulators that use virtual reality and can be networked or scaled according to the user’s needs, much progress has been made. So much so that some companies have achieved significant export successes. However, much remains to be done, especially on the side of the armed forces, which may not yet be allocating the necessary resources to an increasingly crucial area.
The history of military simulation is as old as the human being. Ever since our ancestors began competing for resources – which often involved and still involves the use of force – they have turned to simulation techniques of some kind to better understand conflicts and to increase their chances of a favourable outcome when they were engaged in one. Let us not forget that combat is fraught with uncertainty and characterised by what is known as the “fog of war”, in the words of the Prussian treatise writer Carl von Clausewitz. It is therefore logical that they tried to minimise the risks as far as possible by planning ahead and rehearsing future engagements as realistically as possible.
Not surprisingly, any military training is a form of simulation. This is confirmed by the definition of the Real Academia Española, according to which simulating is nothing more or less than “Representing something, pretending or imitating what it is not”. A sort of hotchpotch in which there is room for everything from the simplest war games to the “throwing body to earth” in San Gregorio or in the Teleno; from sandboxes designed to represent a sector of the battlefield to artillery simulators such as SIMACA to platform simulators such as SIMPLA, which the Navy uses to train the crews of the S-80 submarines; and of course, also those that allow us to train our combat and transport pilots, among others.
As we said, the history of military training goes back to the dawn of mankind, although if we want to be a little strict we have to narrow down the time frame and go back at most 5,000 years to the Bronze Age. The first references we can find to war games date back to Wei Hai, invented by Sun Tzu around 3,000 BC, although without doubt the most famous “simulator” of antiquity is Chaturanga, the direct ancestor of chess, which originated in India around the 7th century BC and could be found in 2 and 4 player formats. “Chaturanga” literally means “four limbs”, referring to the four branches of the army represented by the pieces (the infantry, the rajah, the elephant, the cavalry and the carriage). As could not be otherwise, Roman commanders used simulation systems based on sandboxes on which they tried to model a terrain as close as possible to the one on which they were to fight and on which they placed wooden figures.
The Vikings, for their part, used board games, while in 1664 in what is now Germany the first Koenigspiel appeared, from which in 1811 the Kriegsspeil a war game developed by the Prussian army to teach tactics to new officers. It was characterised by a high degree of realism, an emphasis on gaining experience related to decision-making rather than winning the game, and the existence of a referee, which allowed the rules to be relatively flexible. Since then, the use of wargames has become widespread, to the point of being common practice in any self- respecting army. In addition, and around the same time, but in this case in France Gaspar Monge, a famous mathematician and father of descriptive geometry, created logistical models that allowed Napoleon to prepare his victorious campaigns in a manner similar to modern military operations.
Later, and as commander Augusto Conte de los Ríos explains (2022), in 1898 Fred T. Jane drew up rules for a war game at sea, the first one that confronted the main fleets of the time. This brings us directly to mathematical models, some of which have already been discussed in these pages, such as the Lanchester equations or Colonel Blotto’s games. The use of board games and mathematical models – generally quite simple – may seem archaic to some extent, but with the support of powerful servers and the inclusion of a very large number of variables, they are still present today and are behind the studies published by organisations such as the US RAND. In fact, it was with the advent of computers that the design and use of much more sophisticated wargames in which a multitude of factors could be considered became possible.
Nowadays, these have evolved to unsuspected limits, and there are several institutions that offer high-level courses and internships at prices that can easily exceed 100,000 euros for ten days of instruction, such as those offered by the Wargaming Center of the US Naval Warfare Studies Institute. Moreover, some states, such as the United Kingdom have even published handbooks on the subject for their officers, which gives an idea of the importance they attach to wargaming, and rightly so. When wargames have been tested against reality, as in the case of the current conflict in Ukraine, they have done very well, demonstrating their validity as training tools and also, to a certain extent, as foresight tools.
Over the years, in addition to constructive simulation, progress was made in virtual and real simulation with the development of the first flight simulators, such as the “Blue Box” by the American engineer and aviation pioneer Edwin A. Link, and with the development of laser dueling equipment for tanks or fighter-bombers. Since then, the refinement of electromechanical systems coupled with powerful computers and increasingly complex software has enabled simulators to become so sophisticated that they are little different from the platforms or weapons systems they are designed to emulate. One need only think of the simulators recently delivered for the NH-90 or the SIMPLA for the S-80 to realise the enormous complexity intrinsic to these simulators, given the large number of variables that must be taken into account to make them realistic. The same goes for any immersive simulator, such as those increasingly used to train infantrymen in urban combat, for example. Moreover, the latter are the epitome of the use of COTS components by armies, as in many cases they rely on commercial games, without detracting from this.
Types of military simulators
In the previous section we have already mentioned that there are different types of simulators. As is often the case with these things, there are several possible classifications, depending on the perspective of the author dealing with the subject. Perhaps the most common is to classify the different simulators according to their nature:
- Constructive: This is where units, both own and enemy, and materials are represented with a simulated environment and effects that can be modified during the exercise. This is the case of the war games mentioned above, which are particularly useful for training staff officers. In other words, they are command and control training simulators but, far from being reduced to sandboxes and paper maps with figures representing the units as in the past, today they have improved enormously and allow exercises involving hundreds of units and a large number of variables, operating in a network.
- Virtual: Using equipment with simulated environment and effects (computer- assisted learning classrooms, driving classrooms, shooting and tactical platoon simulators, etc.). These systems are very effective throughout the entire training phase, but especially for introductory courses.
- Real: All those in which own units are engaged against an enemy or opposition force (OPFOR) using their real means but simulating the effects (laser duel).
Another possibility would be to classify them according to their purpose, in such a way that they could be classified as: 1) simulators to support teaching and instruction or; 2) simulators to support training and evaluation. There are even systems that we could consider among the military simulators but that, for various reasons, do not fit into any of the above categories. It is even when they are in common use and it could even be said that they are becoming more and more relevant, especially in the case of the former:
- Serious games: these are based on commercial computer games but are modified to suit the needs of armies, allowing them to realistically simulate the functioning of certain materials, effects and situations. The best-known examples in the terrestrial field are Bohemia Interactive’s Virtual Battlespace 3 (VBS3) by Bohemia Interactive used by the US Army and Steel Beast by eSim Games. In the airborne domain, the evergreen Microsoft Flight Simulator which has been on the market since 1982. On the maritime side, there is BAWC. The interesting thing about these games is that they allow sailors, pilots and infantrymen to practise even from home, at no cost to the armed forces, although obviously, however complex they are, they are different from the specific simulators.
- Sub-calibre trainers: This section can include any system that uses smaller calibre weapons than the original one, reducing both the range and the cost of use. This equipment, which to a large extent can be considered the predecessors of today’s simulators, was widely used in the past and some of them still provide excellent services, as they allow shooting exercises with real weapons, but using small calibre ammunition, which represents a great saving, although it is also true that the introduction of modern firing directions makes their use more difficult. As a historical curiosity, over the last century the Spanish Army has used solutions of this type for its 120 mm mortars, equipped with an inner tube for firing 60 mm grenades or with a reusable grenade (known as a kangaroo) that includes a small 25 mm smoke projectile. Also in the 88.9 mm Instalaza grenade launchers using a 7.62 mm rifle or in the 105 mm car projectiles for firing 7.62 mm bullets. Another example was in the ingenious coupling system used to coaxially fit a 7.62/5.56mm CETME rifle to the 25mm barrel of the VEC. More recently and still in use are Instalaza’s C-90s, which fire orange plastic arrows propelled by 9mm bullets.
- Other trainers: We could include any type of mock-up used to familiarise the future operator with the equipment to be used, such as Alhambra training grenades or counter-tank training mines.
In any case, the classifications are not decisive. More important than fitting a simulator into one category or another is to understand that over time the barriers between them have become blurred. For some time now, as in other fields, the trend has been to integrate systems of all three types into much more complex constructs. In this way, integrated computer environments are created in which, to put it briefly, fighter pilots in their aircraft, or tank and armour crews in their vehicles equipped with laser dueling systems, could train alongside others mounted on static simulators in their respective bases or training centres, all within a battle space that would combine a real and a virtual part. Thus, units located at great distances can train alongside each other, evolving even on manoeuvre ranges thousands of kilometres apart, while being supervised by staffs that may well be in another location or spread across several, thanks to improved communications.
Benefits of military simulation
The military’s interest in simulation is not random. Moreover, it has increased notably over the years, and is currently experiencing what we could consider a real “boom” or golden age, which is no coincidence either.
Simulation allows uniformed officers first of all to systematically envisage scenarios. If the greatest enemies of staff officers are always “fog of war” and “friction” – the two factors that ensure that plans never stand the test of reality – the ability to play them over and over again in exercises helps at least to minimise their effect. It also helps, when they come, to be prepared to deal with them. Moreover, this applies to all levels of strategy, for simulations can also be done at the political level – there is game theory, which is a way of simulating negotiation processes, for example – as well as at the strategic, operational and, of course, tactical levels in the military.
These are not the only factors that make military simulation an increasingly attractive tool. Cost is another, and perhaps the most decisive factor today. As we stated at the beginning of this section, the use of military simulation has increased over time, which is a response to the increase in the cost of weapons, systems and platforms due to Augustine’s Laws. At a time when the hourly cost of flying certain aircraft is several thousand – or even tens of thousands -of dollars, and when their use can mean having to take the aircraft or vehicle out of service for several hours for maintenance, suitable alternatives are needed. Not to mention the fact that the resources allocated to defence have been gradually decreasing since 1986 in the case of Spain. Additionally, the increases of recent years and those expected for the future will not be able to – nor should they be used to – cover the difference in price between training using simulation systems and real equipment.
Another key factor is the possibility of virtually infinite repetitions. With a fighter or even a relatively inexpensive system such as a C-90 grenade launcher, the number of times we can train with it is limited for obvious reasons. Equipment such as flight or firing simulators help to alleviate this problem. In fact, in many cases they already allow for gradual training, as is the case with Instalaza’s SAARA. This military simulator makes it possible to offer the soldier the most basic training thanks to a computer, a screen and a mock-up of the C-90 identical to the real one, and then go on to train with a sub-calibre simulator that uses 9 mm tracer ammunition, but allows for firing in the field and at a real target. For anyone who has served in the Infantry, firing a C-90 or a Milan has always been a wish, rather than a real possibility. In some manoeuvres, actual firing does take place, but very few of the chosen few get to “taste” these systems. This is a problem, beyond the personal frustration for some, because if the operator dies or is unable to fire in a real situation, there are hardly, if any, trained personnel available to operate them. Simulators, especially in equipment that has a relatively small learning curve – the C-90’s is minimal in this regard – make it possible for even the last soldier in a squad to have some notions and practice in its use, all of which is to the benefit of the unit as a whole.
Related to this is the possibility for training to represent very different situations and scenarios. For example, in the case of air simulators, a multitude of real environments can be modelled, forcing the pilot to take into account local conditions when performing take-off and landing manoeuvres, for example. The same goes for air combat, simulating the characteristics not only of one’s own aircraft, but also of the enemy, ranging from the appearance to the flight envelope and the capabilities of their radars and weapons to the type of tactics expected based on what is known about their doctrine or lessons learned from real encounters. Returning to the aforementioned Instalaza’s SAARA, the infantryman can fire at different tank models by varying the distance, speed and direction of approach and also the landscape or even the weather. As a relatively simple simulator, the weather variable does not influence the trajectory of the grenade, but it does complicate the identification of the target. The same, albeit on a different scale, can be said of command and control exercises, in which fictitious countries and enemies are often used, but which nevertheless faithfully reproduce what could happen in real regions, such as our Strait of Gibraltar or the Taiwan Strait. In short, military simulation systems make it possible to prepare personnel, whatever their rank and responsibility, for any type of situation, improving their chances of successfully dealing with the surprises that the battlefield always holds.
Furthermore, there are other interesting aspects, such as the possibility of making better use of the experiences and, therefore, of the lessons learned. Simulators, in many cases, allow not only to reproduce the same situation over and over again, but also to gather valuable data on how the situation is approached, whether it is an air combat between two aircraft, or something much more complex, such as a large unit or battle group entering hostile territory or waters. Once the exercise is over, those involved can do an exhaustive review of each step taken, determining where mistakes – or successes – were made and, if necessary, establishing alternatives for future exercises. In this sense, in addition to mere repetition and training, the simulation even has a doctrinal impact, allowing all kinds of failures to be ironed out and new possibilities to be developed.
Another factor that is rarely mentioned is related to the wear and tear of equipment. The time of use and maintenance periods of some vehicles and platforms are so long that it is necessary to dose their use if they are to be available for combat when the time comes. The introduction of simulators allows all of them to be in optimal condition for that day, reducing wear and tear on equipment and, as a consequence, the use of spare parts, which in turn limits the burden on logistical systems.
Similarly, while this is a more questionable virtue of the simulators, as ideally they should be used as often as possible in field exercises, they do have an environmental component that defence ministries like to bring up. Certainly, every time an exercise is conducted indoors, rather than moving heavy vehicles, there is a saving in carbon dioxide emissions, although – without underestimating the importance of environmental stewardship – this should not be a crucial factor in choosing to replace realistic training with simulated training.
In short, there are many factors that justify the growing investment in military simulation systems, and the trend will undoubtedly only increase, especially if the price of the platforms and their complexity continue to rise. Indeed, even in a scenario where simplicity and low price of individual systems are the norm – think of the rise of COTS drones – the mass use of these systems and the use of massed formations for “mosaic warfare” will be equally costly and expensive will also be costly and difficult to use in real-world conditions.
Military simulation in Spain
After this introduction, which we consider essential to situate less familiar readers, we turn to the state of the art in Spain. Our country, although it still has shortcomings, has made significant progress in recent years, and has even published a “Simulation Master Plan” (Plan Director de Simulación), which has made it possible to establish the army’s vision, concept and objectives in this field. Having said this, in this first article we will focus on some of the most representative simulators in service with the Army, such as MINERVA, SIMACA, VÍCTRIX and SAARA. Obviously, for reasons of space, we will leave several out, as there are many systems in use and the idea is to give an overview rather than an exhaustive review. That is why we have chosen this order and these military simulation systems, as they allow us to devote some space to solutions for different levels and functions. These go from the practically strategic level to the operational and from there to the tactical, as well as from the collective to the individual, from large units to small ones and even down to the infantryman. In the coming months we will publish the following parts explaining which air or naval simulators are used by the Spanish Armed Forces.
At the beginning of this article we talked about the origins of military simulation, going back to ancient times. In the case of our Army, and in particular with regard to constructive simulation, the beginnings are much closer in time, going back to the 1980s and the first computer-assisted exercises in which RED and BLUE teams faced each other on a paper plan, the combats being resolved “by means of confrontation tables, combat power calculations and rolls dice”. Later, in the 1990s, the ENEAS simulator (Numerical Evaluation of Simulated Engagements and Attacks) was introduced, followed by SIACOM (Combat Training Simulator), SIMBAD (Basic Training Simulator) and CASIOPEA (Set of Simulation Applications for Training Operations), the latter two already installed at CENAD San Gregorio.
Received at the end of 2019 by the Army, it was installed at the beginning of 2020 in the CASIOPEA building of the “General Quintana” barracks, which is part of the “San Jorge” base in Zaragoza. MINERVA aims to familiarise brigade staffs and tactical group command posts (CPs) with the conduct of operations by recreating realistic scenarios and situations in a virtual format. Developed by the French company Masa Group, it is an evolution of the previous CASIOPEA which includes some improved functions, benefiting for example from a more complete and faithful cartography than others used until now by the simulators in use in the Army and which includes with great precision all the elements of the terrain (rivers, cities, bridges, etc.), which allows a much more realistic conduct of the operation. Added to this is the ability to alter weather conditions to make the simulation more believable and complex, which is an important plus. It also has some interesting features, such as the adaptation to fighting underground or in urban warfare, as well as in NBCR conditions, or the simulation of logistical processes. The simulation of logistical processes ranging from health support to vehicle maintenance. However, the most important feature for our army is the possibility of interacting with the BMS command and control system so that in exercises, the General Staff receives information through it, as if it were a LIVEX-type exercise.
In reality, although MINERVA might be thought to consist only of simulation software, i.e. a computer programme, it is considerably more complex, and includes four distinct sub-systems, namely:
- Simulation: The software package that brings MINERVA to life has been christened SWORD. It is cutting edge software that is used in the United States, France, Belgium, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, among others, and has been designed to accept constant updates.
- Information and Communications (CIS): Enables the Command Staff or Command Post to exercise command and control (C2) of virtual subordinate units.
- Network: It is made up of all those servers, computers, telephone exchanges and network circuits and electronics designed to enable communication between the rest of the subsystems and, therefore, for each of them to interact with the others.
- Staff: to manage, maintain and operate the other three.
Although it is an unquestionable improvement over what has existed in Spain and its segment up to now, it is not all positive. In order to use it, units must send future operators to CENAD for training, which consumes valuable time that is measured in weeks before carrying out exercises. On the other hand, there are still many improvements to be implemented. For example, in the case of mountain units, MINERVA is not yet able to take into account the difference in speed between advancing on the flat and advancing over a ridge, which is quite common and complicates the conduct of any exercise.
In any case, it is an important step for the Army and over time many of the small errors will undoubtedly be corrected, parameters adjusted and new possibilities included. In the meantime, the system is in use with up to eight exercises having been held in 2021 alone by units such as the “Rey Alfonso XIII” and “Guzmán el Bueno” brigades, or the RAC “Pavia”.
The Field Artillery Simulator (SIMACA), designed and produced by the Spanish company Tecnobit (currently part of the Oesía Group), has recently completed twenty-one years of uninterrupted service with the Spanish Army. It was born as a response to a very common problem: the lack of suitable facilities for artillery firing practice. Thus, despite the fact that Spain has some of the best training and firing ranges on the continent, these are still insufficient in terms of extension given the evolution of artillery in recent years, which has gone from ranges in the order of 15-20 kilometres in the case of 155 mm pieces to double and triple that figure when it comes to 155 mm pieces in the case of rocket-assisted projectile. It was therefore necessary to have a solution that would allow our gunners to train without risk, without wear and tear on the tubes and at any distance, hence something that had to be done virtually. Moreover, a complete artillery group could rarely move and fire during manoeuvres, and training was usually based on batteries or even individual pieces, which was also a major limitation.
This is a simulator configured to train the main elements of a Field Artillery unit, i.e.: Fire Direction Centres (FDCs), Advanced Observers (OAVs) and Firing Units (artillery lines). To this end, it enables the following functions to be carried out: mission preparation and analysis; target location and tracking; terrain reconnaissance; preparation and execution of firing orders; as well as observation of the pieces. In addition to the dedicated posts for observers, liaison detachments and piece line commanders, it includes a post for the instructor, a post for the administrator and an operations room. In addition, the OAV post has a visual set with different levels of illumination and weather conditions (day, night, fog, snow, rain, etc.), in which various geographical scenarios are represented with all types of accidents (mountains, roads, rivers, bridges…) and numerous types of fixed and mobile targets. As Colonel Emilio Montero Herrero explained in the Memorial de Artillería in 2004:
“SIMACA not only consists of a complex architecture of hardware components and applications, but also has a large accumulation of data of different categories (ballistic and effects data, altimetric data, planimetric data, photographic and satellite textures, and target behaviour data and three-dimensional models), which provide great realism in the simulation generated, thus increasing the training capabilities sought. These characteristics allow the system to integrate different terrains corresponding to Spanish Army firing ranges and manoeuvres, being able to represent any other terrain area available in its cartography”.
Since then, SIMACA has been updated several times and still has significant potential for future growth, thanks to the improvement programmes in which the company is immersed. Thus, on 12 December 2014, the first phase of updating and improving the SIMACA programme was completed. New hardware and complete system software were incorporated, thus resolving its technological obsolescence and increasing its tactical and technical capacity. This upgrade would be completed by the end of 2017 with funding from the DGAM, enabling the link with the VBS2 combat simulator and – crucially – the integration of the Talos system. The latter is a command and control system (C2) distributed at two levels of command, which enables the coordination and execution of fire support integrated into the ground manoeuvre of both levels (brigade and battalions), for use by the Army and the Armada. Thanks to the improvements introduced, SIMACA integrated fire and manoeuvre in such a way that other weapons, such as infantry and cavalry, were able to participate in exercises up to brigade level. In this way, SIMACA ceased to be a “simple” artillery simulator to become a fire support simulator by adding capabilities that until then were alien to it, such as Artificial Intelligence, Target Acquisition Systems (RPAS, CB Radar) or CAS (Close Air Support), in addition to the implementation of the HLA (High Level Architecture) protocol, which allows it to interoperate with other simulators in order to carry out joint exercises. This simulator is currently the most highly valued by the Spanish Army, as evidenced by the high occupancy rate of its facilities throughout the year, to which units from other armies such as the Marine Infantry also travel to complete their training.
A clear example of its scalability is the derivative system known as MicroSimaca, based on the same software and intended to enable the training of an artillery battery. Given its portability (it consists of only three nodes), it can be easily moved to training areas to complement real exercises. The MicroSimaca is currently installed in the facilities of each of the 14 Artillery Groups of the Spanish Army, which allows them to prepare the exercises in advance of their visit to the SIMACA facilities, as well as to carry out a debriefing afterwards in their own units.
International sales include a variant called SIMAF (Fire Support Simulator), which was developed expressly for the Brazilian Army and has been providing services since 2016 at the simulation centres of the Agulhas Negras Military Academy and the 3rd Self-Propelled Artillery Group. More recently, the Spanish company has also signed an agreement with the United Arab Emirates to develop an artillery simulator based on the SIMACA, but adapted to Emirati needs, which has been named SIMTAR. The system is designed to train a full artillery battalion, integrating with infantry and cavalry manoeuvre units at brigade level. It is equipped with three large domes that allow for more realistic training of both Forward Observers and, above all, JTACs (Joint Terminal Attack Controllers). Furthermore, it simulates the Command and Control (C2) system used in the Emirati artillery.
What has happened with SIMACA in recent years is a good example of where military simulation in general is heading. By integrating with other simulators and command and control programmes and allowing for scalability, it brings the user closer to the possibility of conducting combined arms exercises with large units and, increasingly, with joint units, with a view to the multi-domain battlefield. To this end, the Artillery Simulation Centre (CAS) of the Artillery Academy, in addition to the fire support simulator, has simulators for anti-aircraft artillery weapon systems, with Mistral and 35/90 gun firing positions. These are integrated with light and medium semi-automatic anti-aircraft artillery centres (COAAAS-L and M), which allow not only the instruction of operators (aimers-gunners) but also the training of small anti-aircraft artillery units. In any case, the future points to the integration between real, virtual and constructive simulation systems (known by the term “LVC integration”) so that training is offered not only at the individual or small unit level, but increasingly at the large unit level and not only tactical, but also operational training.
SIMACA, by the way, is not the only foray of Tecnobit-grupo Oesía into the field of simulators. Using some modules of the duel simulators, the company also developed the so-called Armoured Vehicle Platoon Trainer (ESVA), which allows both individual firing instruction with different types of vehicles, as well as platoon exercises. More recently, and given the company’s experience in all aspects related to tactical communications, it has decided to embark on the development of a simulator/trainer for the training of the complete Tactical Data Link chain. At the same time, the company is working on terrain modelling technologies, as well as on the design and development of the functionalities used in LVC Integration. It also contributes its capabilities in the field of duel simulation.
Indra’s popular assault rifle simulator was intended, at launch, to offer a safe and inexpensive alternative to firing ranges and live-fire instruction. As the company’s brochure states, “Víctrix is a simulator specially designed to improve the shooting training of armed forces through a virtual reproduction of a “Shooting Range” and a “Shooting Gallery” in which all kinds of parameters can be configured, such as the type of target, shooting distance, lighting and weather”. The instructor -usually a sergeant- can define and generate his own shooting exercises and obtain reports that he can later analyse, which will give a faithful idea of the evolution of each student and his strengths and weaknesses. Due to its characteristics, it allows any of the usual training practices of the Spanish Armed Forces to be carried out, both individually and in groups through missions created by the instructor on open 3D scenarios, where the students will find themselves with allied, neutral and/or hostile characters and multiple ways of achieving the objectives.
Like all simulators, it is more than an alternative – a term that only has a place in advertising – it is a complement to training on the range. While there is no simulation that can match the sensation of firing with live ammunition, amidst the dust and smoke, with the noise of other weapons around and under stressful conditions, Víctrix still has some interesting features that justify the interest of the Spanish Armed Forces. Not surprisingly, there is a certain sense of “unreality” that can be attributed to many simulators, even among the most successful ones. To mitigate this sensation as much as possible, in the Spanish case the H&K G36E assault rifles are used with some modifications, as the breech assembly is replaced by a simulated one, as well as the mag and the muzzle of the weapon. Thus, in addition to a laser system that detects the direction of fire, the mag and the bolt assembly – which uses a compressed air system – make it possible to simulate the recoil of the weapon.
Nevertheless, the data on the improvement of users once they have been re-evaluated with live ammunition on the shooting range is there and irrefutable, as studies on the subject show. This is also applicable, albeit with certain differences in performance, to day and night fire and to precision and reaction exercises. It also has other added advantages, such as the time savings offered by Víctrix with respect to exercises at any shooting range, given that it is not necessary (although it is advisable) to follow the same safety rules that slow down the exercises, there is no need for ammunition or time wasted on transport. This time can be spent on repeating the exercises, thus improving the training. Of course, there is also no need for a medical team and an ambulance.
Looking to the future, Indra continues to work on a version of Víctrix based on virtual reality (Víctrix VR) presented at FEINDEF 2021. This combines the use of 3D and optical positioning technologies, so that objects can be located and tracked in real time. Thanks to this, the system can detect the sensors carried by each infant and virtually reproduce their movements. Therefore, a small unit, such as a squad or platoon, can move through a simulated environment as a group, interacting with each other but, unlike laser dueling systems in real training fields, introducing synthetic elements, from tanks to helicopters, snipers or whatever you want. The idea is to evolve from individual to group training, while accepting increasingly complex missions, such as those in the urban environment. To this end, the instructors have the possibility to review each movement of the infantrymen as they evolve on the simulated scenario, correcting any mistakes thanks to a zenithal view that gives them a complete understanding of the position of the entire group.
So far, Víctrix has been installed in more than 40 Spanish military bases, being a system of common use in all three armies. However, for obvious reasons of special importance for the Army is why we have included it in this article and not in the following ones. For example, the Armada has a system of this type at the General Albacete y Fuster Marine Infantry School (EINGAF), as well as another at the Naval Military Academy. As for the Air Force, in 2016 it ordered two systems that were installed at the Zaragoza and Torrejón air bases. In addition, the Guardia Civil has also acquired one of these systems, installed in the Special Forces Experiences shooting range, where the courses developed by the Special Training Centre (CAE) of the Rural Action Unit (UAR) in Logroño are taught.
As a curiosity, in Spain there are alternatives to Víctrix. The best known is Virtual3dGun, a Tactical Simulator for Infantry designed for training and teaching soldiers at squad level. For this purpose, this simulator complements the tactical simulation games such as the aforementioned VBS3, by offering an immersive experience thanks to the replica rifle, the virtual reality glasses, the headset and the sensors that capture and reproduce the movement of the infantryman within the game.
If up to this point we have talked about simulators in all cases allowing group training, even with large units in the case of Minerva and SIMACA, with the SAARA simulator we move on to purely individual training. It is also a good example of how a relatively simple simulator can provide the trainee with initial training – especially in weapon systems like the C-90 with a minimal learning curve – saving a lot of money and trouble along the way.
As we know, Instalaza’s C-90s are single-use grenade launchers, although reusable versions are available. In the same set we find a folding sight, the firing mechanism, the canister and the grenade attached to its rocket engine inside. The operation could not be simpler, as you only have to aim, move the safety to the firing position and press both the arming button and the trigger to fire. However, as simple as it is, it requires a certain amount of repetition to complete all the steps without making a mistake, as many people forget to press the arming button, for example, or to remove the safety beforehand. In fact, as with any weapon, it is advisable to have the steps completely internalised. So, once it is on the shoulder, the whole process is as mechanical as possible, from the position in which we have to hold the strap so that it is not a nuisance, to the removal of the front and rear protectors and, of course, the aiming. The latter also requires a certain amount of practice, as the few parameters necessary for aiming, such as distance, direction of approach and speed, need to be clearly understood. In short, despite being one of the most elementary systems we can find on the battlefield, it is not so elementary and, like any other, it requires a process of repetition that cannot be done with a functional weapon for reasons of safety and cost. After all, without being an excessively expensive system, each use would cost the treasury several thousand euros, which, multiplied by thousands of infantrymen per year, would result in a considerable sum. That is why some customers, though few, opt for the reusable variant.
This is where the SAARA system comes in. This is offered in two configurations, the first being portable, using a projector, and the second designed for classrooms, based on a fixed monitor. It has been designed so that anyone can familiarise themselves with the operation of the C-90, as well as the rest of the Instalaza product range at practically no cost, apart from the purchase cost, of course. To this end, the system is completely identical to the real C-90, although instead of having a grenade inside it, it is fitted with devices that allow it to detect where it is being aimed. The other components of the simulator are the projector and the screen on which it is projected and a personal computer that manages the software.
The operation is as simple and effective as it gets, as a given situation is reproduced on the screen and the user just has to aim at the tank or armoured vehicle in front of him with the C- 90’s viewfinder, following all the steps described above until it fires. Of course, unlike the ordinary C-90, there is no explosion, no ejection cone, no heat felt; nor intended. The only thing that is really intended is that any infantryman should be able to mechanise the movements we have talked about and, especially, that he should be able to understand the aiming process to the point of doing it almost instinctively. To do this, SAARA offers different scenarios. Based for example on the CENAD San Gregorio, you can change the luminosity or the weather and, most importantly, the distance, direction and speed of the targets. It can also, of course, be used in night mode, integrating the company’s scopes, such as the VN-38C. Thus, in a very short time, any soldier, by repeating the exercises over and over again, is able to overcome the learning curve.
Obviously, within each light infantry platoon – or any other type – not everyone can be expected to ever fire such a weapon. Typically, therefore, there are one or two C-90 / Alkotan shooters. In fact, it is not even common for all of them to have the opportunity to do live fire. Thanks to simulators such as SAARA, the Armed Forces can ensure that a substantial part of the personnel have at least the minimum notions to do so, in case the incumbents for whatever reason have been put out of action. In view of the growing importance of anti-tank weapons, as demonstrated in the war in Ukraine, and the price of these weapons, which makes real training unaffordable, there is no alternative to simulation.
Finally, to conclude on SAARA, it is fair to say that there are alternatives such as those offered by Adaptive Systems, which are also in service with our armed forces. This small company has managed, based on the same core, to offer simulators for both anti-tank missiles and grenade launchers and even Mistral anti-aircraft missiles, having so far delivered more than a hundred of them.
Military simulation is a growing field. Our Armed Forces, despite their undeniable problems at many levels, have been making a major effort in recent years to equip themselves with simulators of all kinds. Appart from the economic savings they offer – and which a country like ours, so little inclined to invest in its defence, cannot ignore – their advantages go much further, as we have explained.
For reasons of space, we have left out many systems of different types. We could have talked about the RG-31 and Lince driving simulators offered by SIMFOR and in service with the army. Or the ones that Indra developed for the Leopard 2E. In the case of the Spanish Army, we could have even talked about helicopter simulators, as this institution has had the Helicopter Simulation Centre (CESIHEL) since 2003. However, we will talk about them when we discuss everything related to the Spanish Air Force. The same goes for RPAS simulators, such as the one recently acquired for the Orbiter. Not to mention the individual combatant duel simulators or the Leopard or Pizarro simulators, NBC simulators, shooting simulators such as the NOPTEL and even IED simulators in service. The article could have been approached from another perspective, dealing with simulators according to the unit and explaining the means or functions of some of them, such as the Simulation Artillery Centre (CAS). In reality, the subject could be the subject of a book, as there are around fifty military simulators in service in the Army alone, if we add together the constructive, virtual and real ones.
More important than giving a detailed overview is, in our opinion, to highlight the efforts made so far, to make it clear that simulators will become increasingly common, even if they are already a fully accepted reality. And more importantly, that the effort should be directed more towards the creation of simulation networks than towards the acquisition of new equipment. The latter should allow interconnection between the various military simulators in service, whatever their type, not only within our armed forces, but also with those of our allies. All this in order to recreate as faithfully as possible a virtual battlefield which, as an extension of the real one, is increasingly complex given the growing number of domains and the consequences of the Military Revolution in the making.
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