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Training ideas

by Andrew Wallace

Författares från andra länder perspektiv på förhållanden inom vårt svenska försvar är alltid intressanta och värdefulla att ta del av. Det ger ofta andra infallsvinklar som underlag för debatt och diskussion och utgör på så sätt inspel i en kontinuerlig utvecklingsprocess.



The Finnish army found itself in a poor state at the start of the Winter War in 1939. They faced an army equipped with tanks when they themselves lacked serious anti-tank weaponry. However, they overcame the problem by developing the Molotov cocktail. Originally a Spanish idea developed to take on tanks, the Finns modified and improved on it. They used it with some degree of success as part of their anti-tank small unit tactics that they had developed.

The Selous Scouts found themselves facing restrictions due to the political situation with Rhodesia resulting in not having the international help they needed and limited resources. So, they developed new training methods that resulted in the Selous Scouts becoming, arguably, the most successful special forces unit of the 20th Century.

Lessons learnt from history; when the going gets tough; the tough innovate.

Meanwhile, Back in Sweden …

The Swedish military, today, faces challenges. Decades of, what I would consider, unwise defence decisions from politicians have left the defence of Sweden in an extremely poor state. The defence lacks much of the funding it requires and is in serious need of rebuilding. Yet, there doesn’t appear, to me, to be neither the will nor the understanding from politicians to deal with the problem.

In such a situation, what can be done to improve the defence of Sweden? What innovations can we come up with? Instead of sitting around complaining about things outside of our control, look at what is inside our control and what we can do to make the situation better. That is; take ownership of the problem.

It was with that thought that I started to look at possibilities. I decided to focused on what could be done that was cost effective and easy to implement and directed that effort toward training. What follows then, is the result of that investigation and forms a review of possibilities to add to or complement training within the Swedish military.

I don’t envision any of these ideas to, in anyway, replace getting “out there” and doing real training but I could see that they could complement current training (it is better than nothing). It could add to what we already have and cost little or nothing. For an organisation that has serious problems, any little bit could help. Beggars can’t be choosers.

Much of these possibilities would suit a part-time defence but there is no reason why they could not extend the training opportunities for full-time service personnel as well.

Computer Based Training

Computer based MilSim

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I once worked on a project developing, what today would be called, a milsim (military simulation) program for training crews of Armoured Fighting Vehicles (AFV). We actually used a real Scorpion CVR(T) where we placed computer screens on the windows and gun sights. From the crews’ point of view, they would use the vehicle as normal but they would look out onto a virtual world. We worked with a former British Army tank commander who understood the potential for such a training system.

That was in the 1990s. Since then, computer systems have advanced and we now have more powerful possibilities for training. I was then, and still am today, convinced that computer based milsim systems can make a significant contribution to training. It appears that the Swedish Army agrees (as does the armies of many other nations) as they have purchased a system called Virtual Battle Space 3 (VBS 3) and termed it STRISIM-PC within the Swedish military.

The commercial alternative to VBS 3 is Armed Assault 3 (Arma 3). Arma 3 is based on VBS 3 and both are produced by the same company. It is a bit different to VBS 3 and lacks some features. But still, it is good enough to add to or compliment current training.

The basic version doesn’t come with Swedish forces but you can find online a mod called Swedish Forces Pack (SFP) that can correct that problem. SFP will not only add Swedish soldiers in M90 but also many vehicles and aircraft currently in service; from everyone’s favourite BV 206 to Black Hawk helicopters.

Arma 3 can then be used to conduct training for up to 100 people at a time, which would cover a company (or even a battalion if we use Artificial Intelligent (AI) soldiers). The training itself can be quite diverse; from “skyddsvakt” to IKFN to a full scale war. Not just infantry but tanks, IFVs, and even aircraft can be simulated giving the opportunity for combined arms training. It is even possible to train medics in game (although not fully but at least train casevac). I think Arma 3 is especially suitable for order training and, as it has maps and radios such a RA 180, command and control. An example of its use can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RNtYU9zHGSs

It is also possible to use milsim for experimentation. The last thing any commander wants to do is stick to the book; “form a firing line, back against an object” sort of thing. The enemy has also read SoldF and to do just what the book says means we will become extremely predictable. Being predictable to the enemy in a real combat situation doesn’t do a commander’s promotional prospects any good. It has been recommended that a commander should have about three procedures for common situations. To be able to develop those alternatives effectively takes experimentation and doing that out in the field can be time consuming. An alternative would be to use a milsim program like Arma 3 to experiment with alternatives. Then, when a set of possibilities have been worked out, test them out in the real world.

The key bit of theory here is called case based reasoning. In all likelihood, you will never really do in a real situation exactly what you did in a training situation. However, if you train enough situations (cases) then, hopefully, the real situation will be similar to a few of the training situations. You can then work out what to do effectively under high stress by quickly reasoning from you past training experiences and adapting them to the real situation. Training using something like Arma gives you an opportunity to develop experiences of a variety of cases. More so than you could experience doing real world training. You can play out the scenarios and experience how they would turn out time and time again, varying the solution till you have something workable.

Milsim also gives the opportunity to train with equipment that you cannot or seldom can get the opportunity to train with. From mines to enemy vehicles and fighter planes.

Another advantage with computer based milsim is it emulates friction and the fog of war. You can have much the same problems in Arma 3 as in the real world; vehicles breaking down, traffic accidents, confusion as to what is going on or where you are, misunderstanding orders, and friendly fire.

I haven’t looked at milsim specifically for the air force nor navy but I imagine there should be something useful around?

On the down side, Arma is a computer simulation and not everyone has good computer skills. All milsim programs are a limited simulation of reality. Not all simulated equipment behaves exactly as it does in the real world. You have to use a keyboard instead of pulling a trigger. I also find that the AI can sometimes appear more “artificial” than “intelligent”.

Skype / Hamsphere

There are a number of Voice Over IP (VoIP) programs around that could be used for training or keeping fresh radio procedure skills. Skype (https://www.skype.com/en/) I’ve used and it is free. Many people are familiar with it. Hamsphere (https://www.hamsphere.com/) costs but it emulates real radios so you get all the noise and interference and the extra realism helps with the training.

On the downside, it gets a bit boring reading out a fixed set of messages while sitting at home or in the office so it could be advantageous to link up radio practice with something else. The radio chatter in Arma actually goes through another VoIP program called Teamspeak. It would be possible to use that program by itself as a way to practice radio procedures but as it is linked up with Arma, you have something more interesting to say over the radio. For example, giving a 7s report where you actually report back what you are seeing in game (see here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SKZMDcsigN0).


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Wargaming has been a central technique for training for many a year, usually table top but there are, of course, computer based alternatives.

One such alternative that I have tried out is Steel Panther: MBT (http://www.shrapnelgames.com/Camo_Workshop/MBT/MBT_page.html). This is a turn based system that can simulate conflict between two opposing conventional armies on a hex based grid down to section level. You can use the given units and maps as is or add your own. It has the advantage that it is possible to play via email. Thus, you can train tactics and strategy with another human with little impact on your day.

It does, however, have a limit that it is only at command level and emulates conventional war so no “skyddsvakt”. It is also an adaptation from a DOS game, so the interface is a bit out of date. I tend to find it useful to draw out the map on paper when playing. However, it is free.

Another way to play war games on computers is to use a program called Battle Commander (http://www.historicalsoftware.com/). This program is a real time milsim suitable for training commanders and staff. You can simulate down to sections and individual vehicles and watch how scenarios play out on maps using real terrain data. Thus, it is possible to put customisable units and terrain in the game and, therefore, train with your “own” units on your “own” home ground.

On the downside, Battle Commander is a very detailed simulation and, thus, can be somewhat complex to learn and use. To get the full advantage of it, you would really need the full command staff to play, thus, it is not so well suited to play at home.


Coming back to tabletop wargaming. A cheap implementation would be to print out paper soldiers. Fortunately, the nice people at Junior General (http://www.juniorgeneral.org/) have already made Swedish soldiers and vehicles. With those it is possible to cheaply put together a simple wargame. There are rules available either free or for purchase.

But there are soldiers from many different armies and time periods. This opens up the possibility of studying historical scenarios by printing out the relevant armies and going through the events of some past battle on a table top in the office or at home.

I’ve played this kind of war games for many years and the main disadvantage I have found is that it is hard to use deception. As it is easy for both sides to see the full battlefield and all the troop placements, thus the games tends towards attrition warfare. As the Swedish army is supposed to be more manoeuvrer warfare based, this could be a disadvantage. One way to overcome the disadvantage is to try and adapt the rules or have the “generals” in another room where they can’t see the table.

The computer based wargame programs don’t have this disadvantage as you will only see, when it is your turn, your own forces and the enemy forces that are visible to your forces. In other words, you don’t get to see everything and surprise becomes a possibility.

Tactical Decision Games

If you end up with generals in another room, they are effectively playing a typical staff exercise without any real troops. The advantage of doing that with a war game running in another room is the outcome is not predetermined (it’s a bit more realistic from the staff point of view).

It is possible to extend this idea of a paper exercise all the way down to section level with Tactical Decision Games (TDG). These are just scenarios laid out on pieces of paper with a command decision at the end; this is the situation, what do you do? The participants have a fixed amount of time to come up with an order. If you do this exercise as a class based exercise then a discussion could be held afterwards where each individual (or small group) presents their order. Did everyone come up with the same order? Different alternatives for the same scenario? What would work? What wouldn’t work? Have a look here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1LbeKkg3D0c

Although a class based exercise gives opportunity to learn from others and think about alternatives it is possible to run these exercises in a magazine like the Home Guard magazine or the Officer’s magazine in the Swedish military. An example of this can be found in the US Marine Corps magazine here: https://www.mca-marines.org/gazette/tdg-archives. This also offers an opportunity to build up an archive where different people write in with their own suggestions for TDGs as the US marines have done. So, here we have an opportunity to train while off duty as well as on duty with little, if any, extra cost. You can even commit such sacrilege as train command and order giving while having fika!


Newsletters are like magazines; they can inform and keep the soldiers up to date as to what is going on but they are more locally focused (battalion or company level). They can also be used as away of training. For example, discussions of past exercises, TDGs, explaining small unit tactics, or for teaching manoeuvre warfare concepts.

Getting Outside

Of course, playing around on computers and paper is all well and good but it is not going to replace getting out there and doing real stuff, nor is it meant to. There are few ways to get out and about and do stuff in the real world that is also cost effective.

Drill Nights

Probably more aimed for part time service personnel, an evening once a week or once every two weeks gives the opportunity to practice basic skills. Dry runs through weapons systems, out practising small unit movement techniques, hand signals, or even discussions on how to improve units. Drill nights opens up these possibilities and with a social afterwards, it gives the opportunity for unit cohesion as members get to know each other. This should cost little or nothing but have the potential to add a lot to training and unit performance.

Discussion can be extended by having lectures or instructions on techniques, history, or even the enemy organisation and equipment. It’s a way to improve soldier’s basic knowledge and professionalism.

A disadvantage with these activities is they can deteriorate into social activities. People are people and they like to meet up with their friends, socialise, and chat.


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Starting to get a bit more expensive here, but airsoft offers a way of training combat and small unit tactics out in the real world with less cost than training with real kit. It is possible to increase the realism by using airsoft rifles that are the same as the current rifles used by the military in Sweden i.e. airsoft copies of AK4 and AK5 rifles (for example: http://www.rodastjarnan.com/airsoft/lct-g3a3-ak4-lc-3-37444 and https://www.tacticalstore.se/se/art/group-1/airsoft-rifles/airsoft-aeg/ak5-models/).

One advantage of using airsoft is you get hit by something and you notice; it stings if a pellet hits bare flesh. That gives soldiers a bit of motivation to get their heads down, something that firing blank ammo doesn’t, driving the right behaviour.

Airsoft does have a few disadvantages. From when I’ve been out playing airsoft I’d say you don’t get the full experience of firing a real rifle; no big bang nor having to handle empty magazines in a realistic way (as an air rifle has hundreds of pellets as opposed to 20 or 30 rounds in a real rifle’s magazine). Also, the range is a bit limited. My rifle (a G36C) can hit a human size target up to 40m so long as the wind isn’t too strong but even then I find I need to fire on full automatic to insure a hit. There are some rifles that can shoot further but in a woodland environment, 40m isn’t too bad. But that brings up another problem; concealment becomes cover. It doesn’t take much to stop a pellet compared to a bullet.

Individual / groups

It is easy to get out and about a do a few simple exercises that contribute to training. One thing I like to do is estimate the distance to objects when I’m out walking. I know I take about 60 double paces for 100 m. So, when I’m out for a walk I look ahead and see what I can see then estimate how far away whatever it is, like a person or even where the path turns, is that I have spotted. Then I check by counting paces. If I’m out in a forest I can add to the training observation by searching for objects through the trees. Extending this there is navigation and orienteering using a compass. That is, basic navigation and map skills which is easy to do when you are out anyway and cost practically nothing; map, compass, ranger beads and you are off.

I assume everyone is already exercising, out running or weight training at the gym, so I won’t say anything about that. But something else that would also contribute to training and fitness is martial arts training such as ju jitsu or krav maga. There are plenty of civilian clubs one can join or it could be organised within the military unit.

Other exercises that can be conducted at the individual level or as small group on one’s own initiative that can contribute to military training at little, if any, cost is getting out in the forest and practising survival skills or even tracking. Even if it is just popping out for a day and getting a campfire going, it is something.

Even learning to tie a few knots like bowline or clove hitch is an easy and cheap form of training. I have a few bits of rope that I use just to practice knots when I don’t have much else to do. Normally when I’m waiting for 5 or 10 minutes for something else to happen.

Professional Military Clubs

This is another way to raise the standard of professionalism within the military. It is a way of implementing lifelong learning. A Professional Military Club (PMC) is local in character but can network with other clubs to share ideas. It concentrates on activities such as book reading, lectures, and discussions with an aim of improving the knowledge and competence of service personnel in the areas of military theory and war science.

For example, how many service personnel are well versed in the ideas of manoeuvre warfare? If the answer is few, PMC is a way to address that problem. There are various books on the subject. I haven’t found anything in Swedish but in English there are, for example, Lind’s “Maneuver Warfare Handbook” and Poole’s “The Last Hundred Yards: The NCO’s Contribution to Warfare”. Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” is, of course, the standard that everyone should have read but another book that should be of interest is “The Defence of Duffer’s Drift” by Major General Sir Ernest Dunlop Swinton (Lt. Backsight Forethought).

Lind has published a list of books recommended for studying manoeuvre warfare. The list includes “The Seeds of Disaster: The Development of French Army Doctrine, 1919-1939” by Robert A. Doughty, and “The Battle for Hunger Hill: The 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment at the Joint Readiness Training Center” by Daniel P. Bolger. Well worth looking at the full list as well as a few other books by Poole, if you haven’t already.

The US Marine Corps manuals are also well worth reading. Especially the Warfighting book and Command and Control.

Some books are free to download from the internet but some books will need to be either borrowed from the library or bought.

But it is not just military books that are of interest to study to improve service personnel’s knowledge. Other books of interest to study that I would recommend for a PMC include “The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement” by Eliyahu M. Goldratt and “The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph” by Ryan Holiday.

Going beyond books there is also film. There are plenty of Youtube videos that could be used for self study if one wishes to improve one’s knowledge and expertise and they can be part of a study circle organised by a PMC.

Just a few examples: “Manœuvre Warfare“ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZxmgSuSp1Cs, which gives an introduction to the ideas. Or have a look at the set of videos here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCLorCiYziMQ-j08Z5o6U-0g. There are also videos from unarmed combat to combat medical procedures to survival to land navigation and more. Even if the techniques don’t fit in with the Swedish army training, it can still be of value to know what others are doing to raise points for discussion on how to improve things within the Swedish military.

There are even a set of videos of John Boyd’s lectures on Patterns of Conflict (https://www.youtube.com/user/Jasonmbro/videos?disable_polymer=1). The audio is bad but there is a transcript available online. This is a good set to go through to understand OODA.

There are also ways to train and enjoy one’s self at the same time (as if reading a forest of books is not fun enough). There are plenty of films that could form the central point of discussion for a PMC. “Ender’s Game”, for example, covers manoeuvre warfare ideas (although, the book is supposed to be better but I haven’t read it so can’t verify). As another example, how about “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”? The character Poe Dameron gives two excellent examples of strategy / tactics for discussion in a PMC from that film.

On the downside, a PMC will only work if the members are disciplined enough to make it work. If people can’t be bothered to put the effort in then nothing will happen. But then, this is true for any activity involving people.


There are a number of opportunities to add to or complement training that are cost effective. They have their advantages and disadvantages. They are not a replacement for getting out in the field but everything that can help should be at least investigated. So, the thing that remains is how to make things happen; how do we make things better?

The author is a senior software engineer at cgi in umeå in artificial intelligence.