Together from Around the World

The Name of the Game

Connectivity is the name of the game when it comes to modern technology. Social media has taken this experience to the next level, and the number of people gaining access to the internet and mobile phones across the world is unprecedented. Socially, the world is progressively more dependent on social technologies. The implications of this extend beyond personal and professional social networking and have managed to impact military institutions. In fact, NATO in particular has recently harnessed the technology of connectivity to increase its military preparedness in ways that never before were possible.

NATO’s experience with connective technologies extends far beyond sustaining relationships with members and allies. Specifically, it has taken advantage of simulated training exercises. Traditionally, training exercises with allies require both (or the multiple) parties to be in the same country – on the ground, or in air, to execute the exercise in person. With modern technologies, NATO has optimized its training capabilities by removing the requirement for allies to be in the same place in order to train together. On May 23, NATO’s Maritime Interdiction Operational Training Centre unveiled “their new, first-of-kind virtual training simulation.” Virtual training simulations are, in effect, NATO’s own version of a video-game. But what this game is capable of is preparing real troops for real collaborative military experiences with their national allies.

What are Virtual Training Simulations?

Multilateral efforts in war demand cooperation from a group of forces from around the world. It’s one thing to call each other allies, and a completely different thing to have your armed forces working along-side one another. For NATO, each respective member country is responsible for the training of their troops. As a result, when discussing on-the-ground NATO efforts, an important consideration is whether or not these troops will be interoperable, that is, capable of collaborating with other countries’ forces.

Virtual training simulations allow forces to be in their respective countries, or any base really, while simulating a combat. Soldiers wear technologically advanced goggles that are sensitive to other participants’ reactions. A simple way to understand this would be to parallel it with video games – you can interact with members from around the world and play the game (or execute a mission) with them without being in the same room. Instead of the game happening on a screen, the game is playing out in these goggles, and soldiers are in simulation aircrafts so they can react how they would in an actual aircraft with the same features available to them. This makes the simulation a more realistic method of practice, in that it allows for real-time reactions similar to how they would play out in real warfare. Additionally, the goggles are created so that they see what they would in real time – as soon as another person moves, the goggles pick it up and the individual sees where the respective flyers have shifted. All of this can be happening with troops not having to leave their domestic bases, concomitantly enhancing the experience of training.

Advantages of Training Virtually

Multiple benefits arise from this sort of training. First of all, costs of time and money are less than planning the time and place for a physical training exercise. Given that NATO is currently undergoing fiscal pressures, it helps that this system of training allows their troops to be just as ready to practice joint efforts without having to send them all to one site to attempt the military exercise. It also saves costs of the aircrafts or technology that are used in real-life exercises that may be destroyed or damaged during training.

Virtual training simulations also allow for a more realistic experience of war, in that one can actually engage with the other person (virtually), rather than during a physical training exercise. For instance, during aerial training, aircrafts are usually at different altitude levels while acting as though they are working on the same level, just to make sure that there is no real conflict or collision during the training.

An added benefit of virtual training is the secrecy of it. No announcement needs to be made that a combat exercise is occurring, and no other nations will necessarily know what collaborative efforts NATO is prepared to accomplish. This gives NATO a competitive advantage it did not have before.

Despite being undeniably useful, virtual simulation training will not take over traditional training methods completely. The benefits of actually sending troops into physical training exercises cannot be replaced by a machine, but using both of these methods to train troops will only lead to a more comprehensive training strategy. NATO is not an exception to being influenced by the advances in social connectivity – in fact, it is very clearly gaining from it.

Radha Patel

About Radha Patel

Radha Patel completed her BA at McGill University, with a double major in Political Science and World Religions and a minor in Politics, Law, and Society. Her areas of interest include international relations, comparative politics, and transitions to democracy. Radha is interested in learning about Canada’s role on the international stage and how it can be optimized to be more effective in its global endeavours. She was the Program Editor as well as a Research Analyst for the Emerging Securities Program at the NATO Association of Canada.