LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The Army is going Hollywood in an effort to
boost the quality of training for soldiers and make simulated war
exercises more realistic.
The Army signed a five-year, $44.3 million contract today with
the University of Southern California to establish a research
center to develop better military simulations.
The military wants to use Hollywood's talent and creativity to
create training programs for soldiers with "very real story and
character content to prepare them for the missions they're going to
do," Army Secretary Louis Caldera said at a news conference.
The center will use film students and video game designers to
make the simulations, using the latest technology and advances in
virtual reality and artificial intelligence.
In turn, the entertainment industry would be able to use the
technology to improve special effects in movies, make more
realistic video games and improve theme park rides. New technology
could also be used to reduce the cost of motion picture and
television production by using more virtual sets and more realistic
The idea to use Hollywood's technological know-how for military
applications arose several years ago when defense officials
realized that video game and special effects technology could be
helpful for military simulations. The National Research Council
recommended two years ago that the defense and entertainment
industries should collaborate on advancing simulation techniques.
Both university officials and the Pentagon hope the center, to
be called the Institute for Creative Technologies, will put
military training scenarios on the cutting edge.
"We would like to make our training much more realistic," said
William Bond, commanding general of the Army's Simulation Training
Instrumentation Command in Orlando, Fla.
"We want the ability to create a state where the soldier feels
this is so real that he actually perspires, his heart rate goes up,
and he reacts in a manner that is consistent with what he would do
in a real environment."
Linking with the private sector and using the advances of
commercial technology could save the Pentagon money and speed its
technology development, said Michael Macedonia, chief scientist at
the Orlando training center.
Film and game companies are expected to contribute money and
experience, including storytelling techniques and computer special
effects. It is not clear how many will take part in the venture
since recruitment of outside companies has just begun.
The Army wants filmmakers to make simulated characters more
realistic and devise story lines that help soldiers make decisions
in emotionally charged situations. A scenario could combine the
pizzazz of something like Steven Spielberg's realistic war drama
"Saving Private Ryan" with lifelike training scenarios derived
from military intelligence.
Officials involved in the institute say its primary focus will
not be on battle simulations, though some will be done.
They hope to develop simulators to help soldiers learn the
customs of foreign countries to prepare them for the kind of
peacekeeping missions that have taken troops on short notice to
places like Bosnia and Kosovo. For example, a soldier could take an
online course about an area's history, then enter a virtual reality
where a "guide" could lead the soldier through a town.
The Los Angeles and Berkeley campuses of the University of
California were also considered for the institute, but they didn't
have the same relationship with the entertainment community, said
Cathy Kominos, deputy director of Army research in Crystal City,
Va. USC was also chosen for its strength in electrical engineering
and computer science, she said.
The university's schools of cinema-television, engineering and
communication will also be involved in the program.