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US military to step up video-game training
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) March 10, 2010

The US military plans to step up the use of video-games, hoping to curb casualties on the battlefield by training troops through simulations, a commander said Wednesday.

The Pentagon this week approved a plan to direct an unspecified amount of funding into research on how to benefit from the game industry's advances, said General James Mattis, head of the US Joint Forces Command.

Noting that the infantry suffered 80 percent of US casualties since World War II, Mattis said simulations aimed to put troops through "as many tactical and ethical challenges as we can before they go into their first firefight."

"I've been in a lot of fights, and this isn't scientific, but I'd say ... half the casualties I've seen on our side were for silly, stupid reasons," Mattis, a Marine infantryman, told the House Armed Services Committee.

"If we can put people through simulation, it's not so they know one way to take down an enemy stronghold, but so they know five different ways to do it," he said.

Mattis, whose command is involved in training and innovation, said that defense planners have worked through the ethical dilemmas of video-game simluations.

"We will still have to do live fire training. It won't give us a risk-free environment," he said.

"But I'm convinced, both ethically and casualties-wise, we can reduce the missteps that we are taking on the battlefield, and reduce them significantly," he said.

The US military already develops the war simulation "America's Army," which has become a best-selling video-game and is credited with helping recruitment for the nearly 1.5 million-strong US armed forces.

But so-called "militainment" has plenty of detractors, who worry that new recruits accustomed to pressing reboot on a machine will not fully appreciate life-and-death decisions on the battlefield.

Writing in the latest issue of Foreign Policy magazine, Brookings Institution senior fellow P.W. Singer said that simulations can be "potentially revolutionary" by adjusting to individual learners' pace and saving millions of dollars that would go to live training.

But he wrote that there were concerns that simulations would make the nature of war fuzzier, particularly at a time when the US military is increasingly relying on unmanned drones.


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