The Army can't get enough touch screens. Walk through the Network Integration Evaluations at White Sands Missile Range, N.M. They populate the headquarters posts and tactical operations center throughout the desert. The day of the traditional sand table might be coming to a close.
One of the latest models is Boeing's Virtual Mission Board which the Army is using to train. Dave Irwin, Boeing's director for Ground Forces Training, said he could see it being used in combat as well.
The Virtual Mission Board is less a board as much as it's a software program that soldiers or other services could install into whichever PC they choose. Boeing is still working with the software to make it adaptable to iPads and other tablets.
Before and after exercises, soldiers and troop commanders can see exactly where their units are located and how a potential exercise will play out. They can see a 3-D lay out of buildings and virtual battlefields. With a touch of the finger they can move units much like they did on a sand table. Commanders can even map fires and simulate entire exercise progressions, Irwin said.
Soldiers at Fort Sill, Okla., have already started training with the Virtual Mission Board. The Army has bought two boards for Fort Sill, one for Ft. Bragg, N.C., and one for Fort Lee, Va.. The Army is in the process of buying another one for Fort Lee, two for Fort Eustis, Va., one for Fort Rucker, Ala., five for Fort McCoy, Wisc., and one for the Pennsylvania National Guard. The Marine Corps has shown interest, but has yet to buy one, Irwin said.
For the same reason the Virtual Mission Board works as a training tool, Irwin can see Army units using it in deployed locations. Rather than using paper maps or Power Point slides before missions, a commander could outline an upcoming mission on the Virtual Mission Board.
The Army first started using the Virtual Mission Board in 2010. The potential use in combat is a new development.
At the most recent NIE this Spring, the Army tested the Command Tactical Vision touch screen mapping program built by Ringtail, a small company based in Austin, Texas. Soldiers and commanders raved about how easy it was to visualize the battlefield using the large touch screen map and the manner it condensed information that typically required four to five screens at a TOC.
Army and SOCOM leaders have already provided feedback on how Boeing could improve the board. Commanders asked Boeing to include a tool that measures a specific plot of land simply by tracing it with your finger. Boeing agreed and has made the adjustment.
"We're always looking to make it better," Irwin said.