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Close Combat Task Force Prioritizes Virtual Training over New Weapons

A soldier stands in a virtual reality lab to measure his responses under stress, Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2016, at the Center for Applied Brain and Cognitive Sciences in Medford, Mass. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
A soldier stands in a virtual reality lab to measure his responses under stress, Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2016, at the Center for Applied Brain and Cognitive Sciences in Medford, Mass. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

The Pentagon's Close Combat Lethality Task Force may one day help field deadly new weapons for soldiers and Marines, but for now it has set its sights on synthetic training to better prepare infantry squads for real battle.

"We are looking at weapons, different types of munitions -- larger-caliber, lighter-weight munitions ... but I'm not able to talk about [that] right now," Sgt. Major Jason Wilson, senior Army enlisted representative for the task force, told defense reporters Wednesday at the Pentagon.

"Right now, we are looking at a lot of the synthetic training environment. ... There are systems that we are looking at that can allow the soldiers to train as they will fight, train where they will fight and train against who they will fight while back in the home-station training environment."

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis stood up the task force in March to help Marine Corps and Army infantry units and Army Special Operations Command units improve "direct-fire weapons, sensors, situational awareness, communications and lightweight protective equipment in the near term as well as identify new warfighting capabilities for future investment or existing programs for acceleration," Wilson said.

Related: Pentagon Wants Army, Marine Corps to Select Higher-Caliber Grunts

Wilson, a 23-year infantry veteran, acknowledged that there is no substitute for soldiers and Marines firing live rounds from their weapons during tough, realistic training.

But he also said that infantrymen can become much more efficient at their lethal skills by using today's gaming technology, since training ammunition and live-fire ranges are not always available.

"Units will be able to conduct rehearsals, live rehearsals before they step off and do it on the same terrain that they are going to be fighting on," Wilson said.

The task force is still in the fact-finding phase, so the timeline for when this type of synthetic training technology will be available is unclear, he said.

Senior Army leaders have placed a high priority on this type of training in its modernization effort, creating a special cross-functional team devoted to synthetic training. In the past, combat units have built small urban combat training centers, but leaders now realize that the service will have to rely on video-game technology to recreate the unique obstacles combat units will face in cities with populations of 10 million people or more.

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

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