Expo 2020 Dubai: 'Call of Duty'-style war simulator shows when soldiers can shoot

Red Cross interactive VR aims to reduce collateral damage

Interactive combat training is being given to soldiers and humanitarian workers to provide a better understanding of when it is legally safe to fire live ammunition in a combat zone.

Understanding the rules of engagement is a touchstone for military training, with immersive technology playing an increasingly important role.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has been using virtual reality (VR) to support its provision of law of armed conflict (LOAC) training for almost a decade.

ICRC is now moving to the next era of LOAC simulation training, shifting from video to interactive combat role play.

The protection of medics is an important aspect, as they can be armed for their own protection and are protected under the Geneva Convention. Not everyone is aware of that
Stephen Kilpatrick, ICRC military adviser

A simulator showing the scenarios for soldiers and humanitarian workers was on display at the French Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai.

“Soldiers are not that confident in the rules of engagement,” said Stephen Kilpatrick, a British soldier of 34 years who now works with ICRC as an adviser for armed groups and the military.

“There have been incidents where soldiers have used greater force than necessary.

“People going into the field to perform their duties need to have a frame of reference to refer back to. This gives them that.

“We want to be able to put soldiers into a scenario where there are casualties from all sides, and civilians, so they know what the law requires them to do. It helps them to think and act clearly.

“You cannot replicate real life, but you can take a small step towards recognising it.”

Soldiers are challenged to identify a target, choose a suitable weapon and accomplish their mission to spare as many civilian lives as possible.

Simulation areas have bridges, police stations and refugee camps.

Everything is de-conceptualised with hardware loosely based on what is out there in combat zones around the world.

Teams of four are given scenarios where they have to disable a bridge, for example, by choosing the most appropriate weapons system.

Each has different advantages and penalties, a precision-guided munition would hit the bridge but probable destroy it, while artillery would cause destruction across a wider area.

They must choose which is the best to use while considering the time of day and impact to reduce civilian harm.

Individual scenarios include a sniper mounted on top of a building near a group of civilians, detainee mistreatment, mortar fire in a courtyard and protection of medics inside a war zone.

A humanitarian training module with a VR headset and hand-held haptic controllers shows how to correctly gather and label body parts for identification from a battle field or major incident.

The process is critical in repatriating remains of those killed in battle to their families.

Mr Kilpatrick, who served in Ireland, Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, Pakistan and South Sudan, said military confrontation is complicated, and rarely black and white.

“Soldiers have to asses if it is safe to take on the enemy and what is in the area,” he said.

“If there is a petrol tanker nearby, a grenade launcher is probably not a good idea, for example.

“The idea is to reduce the soldier’s use of force, and choose when to use single shot, burst fire or grenades.

"They will each cause different levels of humanitarian casualties.

“The protection of medics is an important aspect of the training, as they can be armed for their own protection and are protected under the Geneva Convention.

“Not everyone is aware of that.”

So far, military training has only been used in Mali and South Africa, but it is expected to be rolled out across the world due to its affordability, accessibility and ease of application.

A training simulator can be set up for just a few thousand dollars, and can be adapted for police training to deal with crowd control situations.

The tool was first introduced to more than 300 commanders and officers from 90 countries during workshops on international rules governing military operations.

It is a platform where officers and ICRC Armed Forces delegates can focus on the practical application of international humanitarian law.

“This is not replacing reality,” said Eva Svoboda, deputy director of international law and policy at the ICRC.

“You cannot prepare anyone for when a bomb goes off.

“International humanitarian law is particularly important for those carrying weapons so this kind of training will always be vital.

“We try to get it as close to reality as possible, so they know how to react. It is better to make mistakes in training.”

Updated: November 25th 2021, 6:57 AM