War games teach sailors the combat basics

SIMULATOR PO Arthur Lowe seated at a 30mm cannon in a 3D virtual simulator at HMS Collingwood, Fareham. 'Picture: Allan Hutchings (124005-635)
SIMULATOR PO Arthur Lowe seated at a 30mm cannon in a 3D virtual simulator at HMS Collingwood, Fareham. 'Picture: Allan Hutchings (124005-635)
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The sound of machine gun fire crackles overhead as enemy ships take aim at the warship I am standing on.

Above, helicopters are bearing down upon us while a dozen attacking craft approach on the water.

UP CLOSE A Arthur Low behind a GPMG in a 3D virtual simulator. 'Picture: Allan Hutchings (124005-657)

UP CLOSE A Arthur Low behind a GPMG in a 3D virtual simulator. 'Picture: Allan Hutchings (124005-657)

It’s Armageddon. At least that’s the name of the simulator package the instructor has loaded up on the screen.

Because thankfully this scenario is entirely fictitious, and is being played out across a giant projector on a wall at the Royal Navy’s training base at HMS Collingwood in Fareham.

Thankfully, too, for the crew of the imaginary warship I am firing from, because my aim is terrible.

A moment’s celebration at taking out an incoming attack vessel on a suicide mission is marred by the arrival of shots being fired from a helicopter overhead, which in my jubilation I have missed.

The machine gun pressed against my shoulder is entirely realistic.

It bangs, it recoils and if it’s not loaded properly it simply clicks and refuses to fire.

Perfect training, then, for the sailors who come through this new simulator each week to learn vital weapons skills.

Even better when you discover their previous training took on the form of a just a practice gun and a poster on the wall.

Now there are four rooms containing general-purpose machine guns, cannons and mini-guns which all function as they would in real life.

And each room has projectors which display realistic scenarios on the walls.

The new kit forms the Close Range Weapon Trainer at HMS Collingwood’s Close Range Training Unit.

Commander Pincher Martin, from HMS Collingwood, said: ‘Ultimately, for all our sailors and marines it’s important they learn the basics.

‘Now we can put them under duress and the standard operating procedures become standard practice.

‘God forbid they do ever have to use these skills for real, but if it does happen they will be able to just carry it out naturally and it will be second nature.

‘The amount of rounds of live ammunition we would have to fire to get them up to the standard we can get them up to now would cost money.

‘We can now send people out at a much greater level of operational capability.’

Naturally, standing in a room is a little less realistic than firing a weapon from the side of a warship in the middle of the ocean. So they make the floor move.

Another of the additions to HMS Collingwood’s newest simulator is two moving platforms with mounted machine guns.

The platforms rise and sway as a real warship would and can emulate some of the more extreme sea states.

Warrant Officer Ronnie Scott is in charge of the simulator unit.

He said: ‘The students we have had here so far say it has been brilliant.

‘It means we can take the training burden off of the ships because normally this level of training wouldn’t happen until they were at sea.

‘That’s time and money in the cost of ammunition.

‘We have saved the navy about £12,000 in one room alone in the last couple of months.’

The rooms also have the ability to carry out instructor training for those who will be giving the orders.

And all of the screens across the four rooms can be synchronised so dozens of students can train on the same scenario at the same time.

Petty Officer Arthur Lowe was training with the aiming system on one of the simulator’s cannons.

He said: ‘It is an improvement because it brings a little bit more realism to the training they receive.

‘Previously they were shooting at pictures stuck on a wall but now we have got these scenarios.’


The close range weapon trainer uses software specially designed by defence firm Qinetiq, along with current gaming technology.

The virtual environment includes four general-purpose machine guns, four mini-guns and a 30mm and 20mm cannon.

They work alongside 10 custom-made scenarios created by Qinetiq and designed to put sailors through their paces.

The software which runs the scenarios is integrated with Virtual Battlespace 2 – a battlefield simulation system developed by an Australian game developer and created with the help of the United States Marine Corps and Australian Defence Force.

Commander Pincher Martin said: ‘You do definitely notice a different in the younger generation who are used to playing computer games.

‘It’s all about hand-eye co-ordination and things like this simulator go with that quite well.’