The Ministry of Defence needs to upgrade its military simulations to fit the tastes of a new generation of soldiers raised on graphically advanced console games.
The MoD admitted that commercially developed games have started outgunning the military's custom simulations in terms of immersion and graphics, in an interview with The Guardian, published on Wednesday.
"Back in the 1980s and 1990s, defence was far out in front in terms of quality of simulation," Andrew Poulter, a technical team leader with the MoD's Defence Science and Technology Laboratory in Portsdown, Hampshire, told The Guardian. "Military-built simulators were state of the art. But now, for £50, you can buy a commercial game that will be far more realistic than the sorts of tools we were using. The truth is, the total spending on games development across the industry will be greater than spending on defence."
To deal with this Poulter is heading up Project Kite, which aims to help upgrade the MoD's war simulations with technology from commercial game companies.
Virtual Battlespace 2
The MoD already uses one such technology — Virtual Battlespace 2 — a high-fidelity war simulation program developed by a spinoff from Bohemia Interactive, the studio behind commercial wargames like ARMA 2 and Operation Flashpoint.
Virtual Battlespace 2 was released in 2007. Popular commercial games of the moment include Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 and Battlefield 3, which were both released at the end of 2011.
The problem with commercial games, Poulter explained, is that they sometimes sacrifice realism for entertainment. The MoD needs to make simulations that are immersive, but also realistic, he said.
"The weapons need to be credible. If they fire a rifle and the bullet travels three and a half miles, then that is not right," he said. "If they are steering a vehicle, then that has to be right too. Realism is more important than entertainment. Levels of immersion are very important."
The MoD is also mulling giving pilots and other members of the military tablet computers on which to train and read manuals, he said.