Hollywood-Style Special Effects Convert National Guard Humvees into Enemy Tanks

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Employees of WestEfx Military Services and a team of Idaho Army National Guard members transform an M1097 Humvee into a T-72 main battle tank using a visual modification kit at the Orchard Combat Training Center. (Source: U.S. Army)
Employees of WestEfx Military Services and a team of Idaho Army National Guard members transform an M1097 Humvee into a T-72 main battle tank using a visual modification kit at the Orchard Combat Training Center. (Source: U.S. Army)

The Army National Guard is using new Hollywood special effects to transform Humvees into T-72 tanks and other Russian combat vehicles to amp up the realism in training exercises.

Last year, the National Guard Bureau hired WestEfx Military Services in Sun Valley, California, to help improve its Exportable Combat Training Capability program and its 21-day exercises designed to ensure units are ready for mobilization, according to an Army news release.

WestEfx has provided special effects for big-screen movies such as "Taken" and "Men in Black II," it added.

The firm's special VisMod kits convert M1097 Humvees into realistic mock-ups of Russian T-72 main battle tanks and BTR-90 personnel carriers.

Military engineers and mechanics have helped WestEfx install 12 kits onto Humvees at the Idaho Army National Guard's Orchard Combat Training Center, according to the release. The Guard and WestEfx plan to continue production of 48 more kits over the next three years, it adds.

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"We will be able to train against a realistic enemy," Sgt. 1st Class Clinton Doramus, Idaho Army National Guard VisMod fleet manager, said in the release. "These kits aren't going to look and act like a Humvee. They are going to look and act like T-72s and BTR-90s."

The kits weigh about 1,700 pounds and fit over a Humvee's chassis to resemble the size and silhouette of the tank or personnel carrier, but use an inflatable canvas-like frame.

Its gas-operated weapon systems simulate the firing of .50-caliber and 125 mm main guns that can be configured to multiple integrated laser engagement systems (MILES) for added realism, according to the release.

"No enhanced battlefield training simulators can compare with the functionality, realism, durability and cost-effectiveness of this new VisMod vehicle," WestEfx owner and lead designer Erick Brennan said in the release. "They are pretty amazing, and we are really proud of them."

Army brigade combat teams have used similar technology over the years to replicate enemy vehicles, but these new kits are the "first of their kind," Maj. Aaron Ammerman, XCTC program manager for the Guard Bureau, said in the release.

"Taking a look at how VisMods are done across the Army, I think these are the best I've ever seen," he said. "They will provide an exponentially more realistic threat signature for troops to train against as they do force-on-force exercises."

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

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