GRAFENWÖHR, Germany — The Army is shelling out nearly $18 million for a new training simulator game that will allow soldiers to drive virtual vehicles, fire virtual weapons and pilot virtual unmanned aerial vehicles in combat situations.

The contract for "Game After Ambush" was awarded late last month to software developers Laser Shot, of Texas, Bohemia Interactive, of the Czech Republic, and Australia-based Calytrix Technologies.

The new simulator — a modification of the commercial "Virtual Battle Space 2" — will replace the Army’s official video game "DARWARS Ambush," which the service uses to train soldiers for combat.

Since 2006, the Army’s Program Executive Office for Simulation, Training, and Instrumentation, or PEO STRI, has fielded more than 3,000 copies of "DARWARS Ambush" to the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard and Homeland Defense Department, according to spokeswoman Kristen Dooley McCullough.

In an e-mail, McCullough said the contract included $10.7 million awarded on Dec. 19, with another $7 million in options.

PEO STRI officials said earlier the new game will replicate what soldiers encounter on today’s battlefield — from fighting in urban terrain and convoy operations to reacting to contact and ambush operations.

The game will be able to interact with the Army’s battle command systems used by soldiers in the real world to track equipment as well as enemy and friendly forces. It also will include tools that will allow the Army to modify terrain, scenarios and missions, officials said.

The Army plans to field 70 gaming systems in 53 locations in the United States, Germany, Italy and South Korea between February and September 2009, according to Leslie Duvow, project director for gaming at PEO STRI.

"Each system will consist of 52 computers with ancillary equipment including steering wheels, headsets and mice," she said.

Soldiers will be able to drive virtual vehicles, fire virtual weapons, pilot virtual unmanned aerial vehicles and do "most anything a soldier does" in a virtual battle space as large as 100 kilometers by 100 kilometers, Duvow said.

Laser Shot’s "Tactical Weapon Simulator" and Calytrix’s "LVC Game" will be added to the VBS2 software to tailor the game to the Army’s needs.

The Texas firm is the prime contractor for the production, fielding, training, software updates, technical support, and Web portal, in support of the game, according to a Laser Shot news release.

"Our company has extensive experience in supporting training for the soldiers of the U.S. Army, as do our partners Bohemia Interactive and Calytrix," said Christopher Chambers, Laser Shot’s president.

The Army already uses VBS2 for convoy training alongside several other games at the Joint Multinational Simulation Center at Grafenwöhr.

The game has a strong reputation as a flexible, interactive, three-dimensional tactical training and mission rehearsal tool, according to Bohemia chief executive Pete Morrison. Bohemia sells a range of military-themed titles such as "Operation Flashpoint" and "ArmA: Armed Assault" for PCs.

"VBS2 is, without a doubt, the best military-grade game-based simulation on the market today," he said.

The PEO STRI contract provides for fielding and training for "Game After Ambush" and associated tasks for one year, with an option to extend the program for four more years, the Laser Shot press statement said.

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.

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