There’s a war going on – but you wouldn’t know it...
The battlefield has been a ‘virtual reality’ for South Yorkshire troops as they became the first reservist army unit in Britain to use a new high- tech training system.
Normally, fuel and ammunition costing thousands of pounds a day would be used as soldiers go out with patrol vehicles, rifles and grenades to hold mock battles.
But members of the Territorial Army’s Fourth Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment, which has bases in Sheffield and Barnsley, are instead taking part in a pilot scheme at barracks in Wiltshire.
They are the first Territorial Army unit to be offered use of the Army’s newly-developed multi-million pound Combined Arms Tactical Trainer.
Inside the giant building, soldiers sit in what appear to be metal boxes – but are in fact simulators for a large range of battlefield vehicles with realistic interiors.
Troops work together, in radio contact and seeing each other’s ‘vehicles’ and the battlefield scenario via video screens where there would normally be windows.
The exercise is controlled from a large nerve centre of computers.
Corporal David Evans, aged 47, from Kimberworth Park, a veteran of conflicts including Iraq and Afghanistan, and who normally works for Sheffield Council contractor Capita, said: “It’s quite amazing technology but hard work for people to get used to. Even the younger guys who are used to computer games are not finding it easy.”
Lance Corporal Rasheed Al Quaod, 25, from Doncaster, added: “I was driving a Warrior armoured vehicle simulator which was set up like the real thing.
“It’s as if you are in a digital world – you are all working together, crossing obstacles and terrain, encountering enemy.
“I’ve never driven a Warrior before so it was a new experience and difficult to handle – but I got used to it after three days.
“You can’t see very much out of the driver’s window so you have to rely on directions from your commander and gunner, who are sat above and seeing outside – though on screens, too.”
Contents of the simulators and scenarios at the Combined Arms Tactical Trainer, in Warminster, are top secret and cannot be filmed or photographed.
But commanders are keen to stress their potential to train troops in large situations – whilst saving big money on traditional methods.
Fourth Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment is the first reserve unit to have been given access to the venue, in an exercise which could be expanded to other troops.
Lieutenant Colonel Iain Hallam, battalion commanding officer, said: “Our use of the trainer is a pilot scheme which could be expanded. There are huge potential benefits for troops in taking part in a large-scale exercise – and the public wins because of the reduced costs.
“To take part in a large-scale exercise for real on Salisbury Plain would cost around £18,000 a day in fuel alone – but the trainer costs one-fifth of that.”