The British Army's Training Soldiers By Getting Them to Play First-Person Shooters

By Chris Mills on at

The budget cuts are coming home to roost, folks: 220 of the British Army's finest infantry soldiers spent Tuesday in the Land Warfare Centre 'training' by having a massive LAN battle.

It was an 'exercise' to work out the best way to position Intelligence Corps people on the battlefield or something, but the important thing is that the Army now thinks that soldiers playing computer games is an acceptable way to get better at real-life soldiering. In fact, this was the biggest ever virtual exercise conducted in the UK, and things are only going to get worse -- the MoD wants virtual training to be a whopping 25 per cent of overall training by 2015.

It might be ok if they were playing a cutting-edge, highly realistic game with immersive 3D technology or something, but they're not. In fact, the game is called JCOVE, and it's based on a commercial engine called Virtual Battlespace 2. There's actually a free version of JCOVE you can download (called JCOVE Lite, pretty much the same but with fewer maps), and judging from that, it's got pretty shocking graphics and a user interface that makes MS-DOS look like the pinnacle of user-friendliness. Go download it if you don't believe me/want to fly around Afghanistan in an Apache for free. Oh, and the cutting-edge gaming rigs? XP-laden office PCs.

Virtual training has its place -- it's excellent for getting different units working nicely together, for instance -- but I have a suspicion that infantry warfare isn't one of them. The desire to phase it in and reduce the amount of (expensive) physical training reeks of cost-cutting rather than innovation. [MoD]