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TRAINING ON THE HORIZON: The Army’s Synthetic Training Environment (STE) will improve Soldier lethality and survivability by creating more efficient and more realistic simulator training. (Image by Getty Images, darekm101)


The Synthetic Training Environment will provide a high-tech training solution for the Army.

by Maj. Lendrick James


What do pilots, tank operators and combat medics have in common? They all spend time training in a simulator. Today, the Army is phasing out many of its legacy training simulators to make way for the next big thing in vehicle and aircraft training simulators—the Synthetic Training Environment. But the move will leave units without a virtual collective training capability until it is ready for primetime in fiscal year 2027.

Synthetic Training Environment (STE) simulators will significantly improve upon the Army’s current Aviation Combined Arms Tactical Trainer and Close Combat Tactical Trainer suite of collective training simulators. It will provide a collective, multi-echelon training and mission rehearsal capability for the operational, institutional and self-development training domains. STE will bring together live, virtual and gaming constructive training environments into a single training environment for the Army, and will provide training capabilities to ground, dismounted and aerial platforms and command posts in garrison or in the field training.

GAME TIME: Virtual Battle Simulator 3 (VBS) is a combat training simulator used for training Soldiers on tasks such as reacting to fire, casualty rescue and convoy movements. (Photo by Pfc. Luke Baker, 982nd Signal Company (Combat Camera) (Airborne))


Video game play has become a prevalent part of American culture. A gamer will spend an average of 10,000 hours gaming before age 21, according to a 2015 study from the Proceedings of the Royal Society B on habitual action video game play. Game-based learning can be used to train cognitive aspects of specific tasks, and it has been linked to improving attention skills and brain processing functions. These benefits, along with the familiarity of the medium, have, in part, inspired the adoption of games for serious military training purposes. The Product Manager for Common Synthetic Environment, within the Program Executive Office for Simulation, Training and Instrumentation (PEO STRI), partnered with Bohemia Interactive Simulations (BISim), a global software company at the forefront of simulation training solutions, to use gaming software known as Virtual Battlespace 3 (VBS3) to train Soldiers. 

VBS3 is a fully interactive, three-dimensional, PC-based operational environment for military training. It offers both virtual and constructive interfaces into high-fidelity worlds of unparalleled realism. The system can be used for individual and collective training to enhance the “crawl, walk” phases of unit training. Units can use the system to develop, rehearse and refine unit standard operating procedures. VBS3 supports rapid, real-world terrain development and can be accessed via worldwide digital training facilities and on deployed digital training campuses.

Games for Training (GFT) is an Army program of record that consist of high-powered Windows-based laptops or desktop computers. It is compatible with commercial hardware devices including a large variety of displays and input devices. The GFT hardware suite is used to run and support VBS3 simulation software. This creates a robust training and mission rehearsal capability that prepares Soldiers and leaders for military operations in support of Force 2025 and beyond.

The GFT gaming application satisfies the Army’s educational requirements in the operational, institutional and self-development training domains with low-overhead, flexible and persistent training capabilities on geo-specific and geo-typical terrain relevant to all military platforms and weapons systems. Gaming provides comprehensive training for platoon and below formations and a training capability for higher echelon units and staffs using tactical exercises without troops and for company and battalion headquarters exercise simulation. All GFT applications are tested and accredited to train specific doctrinal tasks.

COLORADO CONVOY: Soldiers conducted convoy operations training in February 2020 at the Virtual Battlespace 3 (VBS3) simulators on Fort Carson, Colorado. VBS3 provides a visually rich gaming environment with flexible scenarios and multiple terrain options. The VBS3 is a three-dimensional, first-person tactical training simulation program. (Photo by Sgt. James Geelen, 4th Sustainment Brigade Public Affairs Office)


The requirement for GFT dates to 2005, with the debut of Virtual Battlespace 2. The U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command Capabilities Manager Gaming, National Simulation Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, identified a capability gap: There was a need to augment and improve individual, collective and multi-echelon training that could fill training capability gaps caused by limited resources, availability, capability of training aids, devices, simulators and simulations and live training opportunities.

Since then, the Army has collaborated with BISim to expand the capability to meet user requirements. To achieve maximum training, VBS3 is fully networked and enables Soldiers to train on more than 100 accredited combined arms training tasks, from individual to collective, such as:

  • Mission rehearsal or action officer familiarization.
  • Convoy training, including integration of virtual reality technology.
  • Improvised explosive device defeat.
  • Analysis of options (decision support).
  • Mission simulation.
  • Vehicle checkpoints and area control.
  • Cultural awareness training.
  • Weapon (or platform) familiarization or experimentation.
  • Training in urban environments.

The Army GFT program currently provides VBS3 software and computer hardware capability to 119 suites and 76 sites across the globe. A suite is a flexible kit containing 52 laptops and the associated hardware, down to cables, projectors and mouse pads. Site locations range from Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, to Fort Dix, New Jersey.

A PRACTICAL HOBBY: Video games are a convenient form of entertainment for Soldiers who are frequently away from home for training, deployments or temporary duty—and sometimes, they are as practical as they are entertaining. Sgt. David Ose played an online game called “War Thunder” with other Soldiers from his troop to help maintain readiness while social distancing in April 2020. (Photo by Capt. Mike Manougian)


Until STE has fully fielded a replacement solution for legacy systems, GFT will bridge the synthetic environment gap for users. The GFT bridging strategy focuses on upgrading the computer hardware to provide STE-ready capability. The upgraded hardware is considered STE-ready because it has more powerful computing and graphics rendering. The GFT suites will continue to use VBS3 until the STE software is available, at which point the new capability will be installed across the force.

The GFT hardware upgrade strategy will facilitate two important outcomes. First, replacing and upgrading aging GFT hardware now allows the current VBS3 gaming application to continue to provide critical training capabilities until the higher fidelity and more realistic STE capability comes online and is fully available. Second, the upgraded GFT hardware will have sufficient compute and rendering capability to support a software only drop-in of the future STE gaming application when it is brought into the force starting in late 2021 and completed in 2024. Should there be any delays in bringing the STE gaming application to the full Army force, VBS3 can continue to act as a training capability bridge until STE is fully available. In effect, the GFT hardware solution provides Soldiers with a current training platform that is STE-ready and will allow training to leverage the next generation of virtual terrain, realistic, detailed graphics and high levels of scalability to more closely replicate current operating environment conditions.

POWER STEERING: Spc. Tori Guthridge, a human resources specialist, uses the Virtual Battle Simulation software in August 2020 to simulate driving a tactical vehicle, using the attached steering wheel and dashboard to manipulate the virtual training at the West Los Angeles U.S. Army Reserve Center. (Photo by Capt. Fernando Ochoa, 311th Expeditionary Sustainment Command)


U.S. Army Gen. Douglas MacArthur said, “In no other profession are the penalties for employing untrained personnel so appalling or as irrevocable as in the military.” GFT allows our Soldiers to fight thousands of battles before stepping foot on the battlefield. It allows the creation of virtually any scenario to support Army collective tasks. This is the most powerful aspect of the virtual battlespace. The updated GFT STE-ready computer hardware could also provide an added advantage of receiving early user assessment and feedback as the Army continues to improve STE capabilities.


For more information, contact

MAJ. LENDRICK JAMES is an assistant product manager assigned to PEO STRI’s Product Manager for Common Synthetic Environment in Orlando, Florida. He holds an M.S. in management from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, an M.A. in general studies from the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, and a B.A. in political science from South Carolina State University. He is Level III certified in program management and an Army Acquisition Corps member.


Read the full article in the Spring 2023 issue of Army AL&T magazine. 
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