Consider the Javelin anti-armor missile launcher. It's a portable antitank weapon -- a soldier mounts the weapon on his or her shoulder, acquires a target and fires. The Army calls the Javelin a fire-and-forget missile. That's because the missile has a sophisticated guidance system on it that will seek out the acquired target. The soldier can pull the trigger, look away and change positions before the enemy even knows it's under attack.
The interface for the Javelin system is the command launch unit (CLU). The CLU contains a sight and monitor system that allows the soldier to view targets at up to four times magnification during the day. Infrared cameras allow the soldier to operate the Javelin launcher in the dead of night and they provide up to nine times magnification. The CLU also has a computer system that soldiers use to define targets. Even without a missile launch tube, a soldier can use a CLU to perform surveillance on an enemy at night [source: Army-Technology.com].
A loaded Javelin launch unit weighs 49.5 pounds (about 22.5 kilograms). It's 3.5 feet long (approximately 1 meter). Normal operation requires two soldiers per launcher -- one to site targets and fire while the other reloads the launcher between shots. The maximum effective range for a Javelin missile is 8,200 feet (2,500 meters) [source: U.S. Army].
The soldier firing the missile can choose from two attack modes: top-attack or direct-path. Selecting the top-attack mode tells the missile to fly in an arc and then dive sharply to hit the target directly overhead. The direct-path mode tells the missile to fly directly toward the target in a straight path. The soldier chooses the mode based upon the defenses the target possesses and the missile does the rest.
The Javelin system packs a lot of sophisticated technology into a compact and portable package. Engineers designed the CLU to be easy to operate. Even so, the Army doesn't expect soldiers to be able to pick up an unfamiliar piece of equipment and use it effectively on the first try. With that in mind, the Army invested in a special training program to acquaint soldiers with the Javelin system.
So how does the Army train future Javelin users without firing an actual missile? Find out in the next section.
Javelin Missile Training
The main reason the Army decided to go the virtual route with its Javelin training program has to do with cost. Javelin missiles are expensive, ranging between $75,000 and $80,000 each. As you can imagine, it's hard to run an effective training program when every shot costs more than $75,000. Multiply that by the number of soldiers the Army must train and the cost becomes astronomical.
The Army's solution to the training dilemma was to build a virtual reality Javelin simulator that could recreate the experience of using a CLU. The Army partnered with Raytheon and Lockheed to design and fabricate a Javelin simulator called a Javelin Basic Skills Trainer (BST). Today, the Army has more than 500 BSTs in classrooms around the world [source: AMC News Dispatch].
Soldiers get a chance to work with the BST in a classroom setting. The class is a two-week course in which the soldier becomes familiar with the Javelin's systems and capabilities. The instructor uses a sophisticated computer program that combines real-world images with virtual enemy units. The CLU simulator looks and feels like the real thing. The trainee looks through the simulator's site and sees images of real terrain -- the Army uses actual infrared-imagery rather than computer-generated terrain. A computer supplies the images to the BST -- a thick cable connects the BST to the computer.
The CLU simulator uses gyroscopes and accelerometers to track the unit's movements. It can detect changes in pitch, roll and yaw. As the soldier moves around to survey the simulated terrain, the CLU sends information to the computer. The computer interprets the soldier's movements and sends corresponding video data back to the CLU. To the trainee, it appears that the CLU is giving him or her a live view of actual terrain.
The computer creates virtual enemy units that move along the real terrain. The soldier's task is to detect, identify, lock on and fire upon enemy units. After the soldier has located and identified an enemy, he or she can switch to missile tracking mode. At this time, the soldier will see two track gates appear in the site view.
The soldier can adjust the width and height of the track gates to frame the target. Next, the soldier activates the missile lock mechanism. All that's left to do is to pull the trigger. Once fired, the missile will seek out the target and attack it based on the mode the soldier selected.
How effective are the simulators? According to soldiers who have used them, a few hours of training can prepare you for the real thing. In his book "Roughneck Nine-One," Sergeant 1st Class Frank Anentori describes a dramatic battle in Iraq in which Javelin missiles played an important role. Anentori credits the time spent with the Javelin BST at Fort Bragg for preparing him and his fellow soldiers for actual combat using real Javelin launchers [source: Anentori and Halberstadt].
The Javelin BST makes a convincing case study for virtual reality military training. As weapons and vehicles become more complex, familiarizing soldiers with new equipment on a wide scale becomes a challenge. Virtual reality simulators can provide a safe, effective and inexpensive alternative to using the actual systems for training.
To learn more about virtual reality and other topics, take aim at the links on the next page.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
More Great Links
- AMC News Dispatch. "Virtual Javelin." Feb. 28, 2007. (Oct. 24, 2008) http://www.amc.army.mil/amc/pa/dispatch/dispatch.html
- Anentori, Frank and Halberstadt, Hans. "Roughneck Nine-One." Macmillan. 2006.
- Army-Technology.com. "Javelin Anti-Armour Missile, USA." SPG Media Limited. (Oct. 23, 2008) http://www.army-technology.com/projects/javelin/
- Aviation & Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center. (Oct. 20, 2008). http://www.redstone.army.mil/amrdec/
- Bledsoe, Sofia. "Software Engineering Expansion Gives Soldiers Boost." AMCOM. Oct 8, 2008. (Oct. 23, 2008) http://www.army.mil/-news/2008/10/08/13165-software-engineering-expansion- gives-soldiers-boost/
- U.S. Army Fact Files. "Javelin." (Oct. 23, 2008) http://www.army.mil/factfiles/equipment/antiarmor/javelin.html