“In today’s complicated and uncertain world, it is impossible to predict the exact nature of the future conflict that might involve the Armed Forces. So, the U.S. Military must be ready to meet the challenges of any conflict, in all kinds of places, and against all kinds of threats. This is the nature of the contemporary operational environment (COE), and training for such an environment requires a different type of Opposing Force (OPFOR) than that of the past.”
- Maxie L. McFarland, Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command
Today’s operating forces must constantly evolve to meet training requirements necessary to fight and win on the battlefield. Never has blurring the line between simulation and battlefield become a high-priority. As a result, there is significant emphasis on creating training programs which enable our military forces to train in real world urban environments by providing set designs or Atmospherics modeled for various Areas of Responsibility (AOR) in the specific Contemporary Operating Environment (COE).
Atmospherics consist of multiple set designs which incorporate indigenous items designed to replicate an AOR with an emphasis on training objectives. From basic to complex, Atmospheric sets include but are not limited to: indoor and outdoor marketplaces, faux food and vegetable stands, carts for display and trade, residential homes, hotels, facades, restaurants, drug labs, hospitals and pharmacies, police stations, airport terminals, religious sets and more.
Delivering Realism Starts with Atmospheric Design
Creating a realistic training environment starts with extensive research by subject matter experts in cultural aspects, traditions and environments unique to a specific area of operation. Up until recently, military training environments have focused on replicating the Middle East. During 2018, OPFOR Solutions, Inc. introduced atmospherics reflective of the North Korea and Africa regions to address modern day threats for the US Marines at Camp Lejune, NC and Bellows, Hawaii.
The design and procurement of Atmospherics integrates both creativity and functionality to satisfy mission requirements. Experienced Hollywood set designers with decades of experience in movie sets and cultural realism provide design drawing packages, photos, artist renderings and 3D software models to communicate a visual interpretation for realism. From specific types of fruits and vegetables to signage and residential living spaces – all sets begin in the design phase to ensure authenticity to a specific region.
Realistic Visuals Enhance Training Experience
How soldiers learn in a pre-deployment environment directly impacts their performance and survivability in the field. Training of Soldiers becomes more effective through multi-sensory, learner-centric techniques. Atmospherics must be created to adapt training for visual, auditory and hands-on learners.
Atmospherics accomplish this goal through two methods: 1) material scouting process and 2) special effects manufacturing process.
A multitude of sources exist from which to procure cultural props/items reflective of a specific AOR including retail and online suppliers, cultural shopping districts and manufacturers of military training aids (i.e., inert simulated explosives and demolition, replica military ordnance and munitions, demolition tools & accessories).
The second method for creating visual impact to enhance the training experience is through special effects techniques. Experts in sculpting, life-casting, prototyping, model making, taxidermy and more produce highly visual atmospherics (faux people, animals, animal carcasses, human corpses, building structures, weapons, building furnishings, marketplace fruits, vegetables, meats, etc). Application of faux painting techniques to dry molds and set designs blurs the line between fake and real.
The end goal is to create atmospheric visuals that appear as realistic as possible in the training environment to help Soldiers face complex emotional or physical responses prior to deployment in the battlefield. By suspending disbelief that they are not in the real world and triggering these subtle psychological experiences, training is enhanced at a deeper level. Ultimately, it’s the thing that could prove to be the difference between victory and defeat against opposing forces.
Immersive Training Goes Beyond Visual Atmospherics
As previously discussed, training of Soldiers becomes more effective through multi-sensory, learner-centric techniques. Hyper-immersive environments are created through realistic atmospheric visuals integrated with other sensory effects.
For example, products exist such as smell generators, smoke generators, spray effects and weather effects to create such an immersive training environment. Because the human nose is more related to memory than our brains, the sense of smell can act as a catalyst to increase awareness and stimulate action. A palette of scents exists true to environmental odors unique to a specific AOR (i.e., foods, spices, medical, chemical smells, man-made etc). Smoke generators which have been rigorously tested to ensure safe and non-flammable use create the look and feel of a battle zone environment.
A simulated environment which taps into multiple senses and desensitizes the Soldier to unexpected obstacles during training exercises results in a dynamic, results-driven approach.
Atmospherics Must Survive in Training Environment
To meet military requirements and specifications for the training environment, one must consider performance parameters such as flexibility, safety, quality/durability, and other environmental factors unique in the specific Contemporary Operating Environment (COE).
Flexibility is achieved through atmospherics which are designed to be used in multiple or interchangeable applications. This gives the COE an opportunity to convert an atmospheric set from one cultural environment to another. For example, a residential living space can easily be changed by altering the pictures of an Islamic or North Korea ruler on the walls. A store set or area requiring signage can be manufactured as a dual sign which reflects a single Command AOR on one side and a separate Command AOR on the other. This offers the military an interchangeable and more cost-effective solution.
Atmospherics must be developed and installed to meet safety features and procedural hazards of live and non-live fire situations which may be present, including specific procedural controls and precautions that should be followed. This includes providing safe live fire atmospherics or other props that are non-splintering, non-ricocheting, non-fragmenting, and made of materials capable of maintain the physical integrity and safety qualities when shot with all pistol and rifle caliber ammunitions.
In addition, safety requirements as they pertain to set display items must be taken into consideration to avoid injury during training exercises. This includes removal of reflective glass on televisions or computer screens or faux medication bottles (void of liquids or pills).
Atmospherics must provide a balance of (1) high quality materials that are capable of withstanding environmental elements and repeated iterations of training and (2) inexpensive, used, and/or replaceable but viable materials that will create an affordable but believable environment while still meeting the performance specifications. OPFOR uses a two component, low-density, self-skin and semi flexible foam chemical system called Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) foam for atmospherics. It provides minimal water absorption and low vapor permanence to withstand environmental conditions. All foam items are controlled with the density and firmness based on the degree of mold over packing, temperature and liquid component temperature.
Often, atmospheric durability is dictated by the weather conditions of the COE. For example, OPFOR will use silicone to develop the molds for all outdoor atmospheric elements because of its ability to withstand high temperature heat. Whereas, use of plastic/vinyl materials would result in a complete melt down. In certain facilities, rodent infestation is a problem which requires atmospherics to be creatively designed and displayed without any soft or cloth material.
The Ultimate Solution for Battlefield Readiness
Atmospherics provide a powerful realistic and immersive training environment when aligned with military training objectives and performance specifications. To further enhance warfighting effectiveness through sustainable training, COE’s should consider the integration of role players dressed in cultural ethnic apparel and opposing forces military uniforms. Only then does the training environment transform to a greater interactive level in which soldiers learn to identify friend or foe. OPFOR Solutions provides a wide range of cultural apparel and uniforms manufactured of quality and authentic materials for which no other company delivers when it comes to detail.
Absence of this aspect in military training could pose a potentially embarrassing occurrence during deployment or worse the loss of unnecessary life due to mistaken identity. Role players and actors dressed in authentic apparel combined with realistic multi-sensory Atmospherics deliver great impact in war-related movies and television…why shouldn’t these solutions be delivered to those who need it the most?
For more information, please visit www.opforsolutions.com for our comprehensive catalog offerings of Atmospherics and Cultural Apparel and Uniforms.