June 23, 2017 —
“Lock and load your 10 round magazine, turn your weapon from safe to semi and scan your lane.” Looking down the barrel of his M4 rifle to scan the lane, the Soldier focuses on a popup target that is projected on a screen. He inhales. Exhales. And fires.
The Engagement Skills Trainer II on Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo, is a virtual simulation trainer that assists Soldiers with the basic fundamentals of marksmanship, as well as collective and escalation of force training before conducting live ranges or operations. The EST II cuts down the cost and resources a unit would have to spend in order to train at a live range.
“It used to be train, train, train before going to the range because you don’t want to waste the bullets,” said Ernest Hudson, a retired 25-year Army veteran, who is now the chief of the Training Support Center in Kosovo. “But now, with the EST II, if you have Soldiers that struggle this is the best system to take them in, and get proficient with their marksmanship skills before going and conducting the live range.”
The marksmanship training assists Soldiers in known distance target practice, reflexive fire, and night fire operations. Soldiers can conduct weapons qualification ranges, as well as practice ranges before a live range. The EST II also measures the Soldier’s trigger squeeze and tilt of the weapon.
Platoons, or team size elements, use the collective training element of the EST II to execute simulated ambushes and react to contact, as well as searching for improvised explosive devices and conducting patrols.
The escalation of force element of the EST II trains the Soldiers on “shoot, don’t shoot” procedures, and puts the Soldier in a situation where they have to react to anything from riots, civilians on the battlefield, active shooter drills, or enemy contact.
“The EST II helps Soldiers with target acquisition, to help identify friend or foe,” said Hudson. “It helps them to identify what is in front of them. Because not every time is a situation where you have to take a shot. It enhances the Soldiers skill to take the decision making process further instead of making quick decisions.”
The EST II looks much like a condensed version of a live-fire range, with sandbags and barriers, but with all the comforts of the indoors. It is run off of a computer system, screen, and projector.
Maps are uploaded into the computer database ranging from operations in Afghanistan or Iraq, and villages in Kosovo in order to create the virtual simulations for Soldiers to train on.
The EST II has the ability to alter the simulated range or operation to account for weather. Day, night, wind, fog and snow can all be simulated, explained Hudson.
Many U.S. Army posts have this system, but the EST II on Camp Bondsteel is unique because it is the only weapons simulator in Kosovo.
“We train roughly 1,800 service members a year both U.S. and multinational throughout Kosovo,” said Hudson. “Soldiers travel from all over Kosovo just to use this system.”
Soldiers can train on weapons systems such as the M4/M16 Rifle, M9 Pistol and even heavy weapons systems such as, the .50 Caliber Machine Gun or M249 Squad Automatic Weapon.
“We don’t have this same system in Austria,” said Austrian army Sgt. Maj. Charley Leitgeb. “We have something similar but this is the best system to train for my Soldiers. We can train with the weapons and set up different scenarios.”
Leitgeb and his soldiers from the Austrian Contingent stationed in Camp Film City, Kosovo, travel to Camp Bondsteel to train with the EST II at least two times per month.
For service members to utilize the EST II is easy, says Hudson. They just schedule through the brigade operations cell, and anyone can come and use the system. The EST II is open all week for training.
“This is such a beneficial system for our service members,” said Hudson. “Now instead of going on the battlefield, I get to train Soldiers using the EST II to prep them for combat. Once a Soldier, always a Soldier for life.”