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I/ITSEC 2016: BLACKSUIT Toolbox Takes Shape

Special operations forces benefiting from dismounted simulation?

European Union member states have pledged more than €3Bn over the next two years for modernising law enforcement and investing in new hardware and software components.

Seeking to secure complete funding for the effort amid budgetary uncertainty, law enforcement organisations are seen to be warming up to tighter relations with the military, as German Minister of the Interior, Dr. Thomas de Maizière, addressed in his recent plans to improve public security. Law enforcement in Belgium, which is conducted by an integrated police service structured on the federal and local levels, already work together with army units and military intelligence arms, and the Mobile Gendarmerie (gendarmerie mobile), a subdivision of the French National Gendarmerie, is a component of the French armed forces. All of them are in strong need of better hardware and software components. Key elements include new armaments, laser sights and optics, sniper detection devices, better communication systems, new systems for internet forensics, personal protection suits and helmets, upgrade of existing vehicles, new protected security vehicles, and personnel training with 3D simulation.

We still need to secure future funding for any of this equipment,” French Prime Minister Manuel Valls warned on 18 November 2015, some days after the Paris terrorist attacks. He told the French public radio that Brussels must break from its past insistence that military and security spending should be considered equal to other spending. He insisted that the French government will not cut spending from elsewhere to fund its new defence measures that will be put in place following the terror attacks. For guaranteeing faster police response to future attacks, French police organisations will get better guns, more intelligence agents, and new equipment for police training schools.

However, while France and Germany, following Britain’s brexit called for a ‘European Security Compact’ to enhance the European Union’s (EU) contribution to international security, including military means, it is unclear what practical steps might follow. A stronger commitment to a common European security approach could mark a paradigm shift in its foreign and defence policy.

Industry will play a fundamental role within this scheme, as the EU’s law enforcement organisations – among them police, border police, customs and special forces – consider the purchase of new hardware and software components to improve the union’s ability to tackle internal security threats such as terrorism. Training and simulation tools are essential in any respect, as special force operators in particular strive towards higher quality education and training, Chris Haarmeijer, CEO of RE-liON Group, a privately-owned development and manufacturing company based in the Netherlands, said in a statement. The firm was established in 1999, with its roots at the Department of Human Machine Interaction of the University of Twente in the Netherlands. He added: “Industry’s role is to push breakthrough technology via concepts, demonstrators and prototypes towards the law enforcement organisations and the like. Once proven successful via a successful launch, this will almost autonomously turn into a pull thereby creating its market.

RE-liON has firsthand experience of going through this process over the course of the last 12 years and in close collaboration with the Netherlands Armed Forces (NLD-MoD). Their initial response to RE-liON’s technology push was a two-page draft with requirements covering the Netherlands armed forces’ training gaps for special operations forces (SOF) and infantry. Requirements on the list included: Bringing training to the unit instead of the unit to the training centre, thereby saving precious travelling time, making training culturally specific contributing to the mindset of the operators, objective and deterministic role play, and a full-fledged mission rehearsal capability – which are essential to all counter-terrorism training. Based on that original two-page document from the Dutch Ministry of Defence (MoD), RE-liON came up with a concept that is now available as the RE-liON BLACKSUIT toolbox, which provides endless simulation options via virtual-reality technology. The term ‘toolbox’ is used here instead of ’a system’, as ‘a system’ is frequently associated with a manufacturer’s fixed set of rules or scenarios. This toolbox, however, is purpose-designed to assist the user to fully adapt both ‘the replication of the operational environment’ to his or her requirements.

The BLACKSUIT toolbox is proven to result in more intense discussions about individual and team performances. All based on the instant replays of any training session – available within seconds after any session. This also results in a significantly better performance of operators – up to 30% faster in complex environments with substantially less chance of ‘blue-on-blue’ engagements.

During a demonstration at its base of operations in the Netherlands, Haarmeijer states: “The BLACKSUIT toolbox is designed to be flexible. This will serve specialists in many different aspects of their daily jobs ranging from low-end to high-end simulation depending on the required need. On the lower-end of the spectrum, you find concept development & experimentation (CD&E) to keep developing, testing and evaluating new ideas before committing to its use. The effect of new operational environments on doctrine, the consequences of new weapon types, and the interoperability levels between different units.”

In one of its brochures, RE-liON claims another purpose for the use of the BLACKSUIT toolbox: Pre-deployment training by visualising the operational environment and delivering operators the awareness of the differences in the infrastructure of buildings. In fact the perfect job for the BLACKSUIT toolbox which embraces every detail, from Asian-style compounds to West European-style housing, from African style huts to South-American type favelas (including their urban environment).

The brochure reads: “The entire landscape can be instantly displayed without having to imagine it. How well people perform in imagining situations differs per person, and whatever is imagined is not necessarily the same, and that is even more challenging on any team. However, the toolbox was specifically developed to allow for new training scenarios, which can be created using the accompanying easy-to-use Builder software. According to RE-liON this package is comparable to ‘digital lego’: geo-data describing the terrain can be imported, buildings, ‘street furniture’, vegetation and other objects can be dragged into the scenario from the 3D model library, all in a fast and intuitive way.”

The high-end of the spectrum is mission rehearsal in a counter-terrorism situation: Haarmeijer notes that the operational decision-making process contains n-number of steps and the rehearsal is an important one of them. In these types of operations, time is of the essence, however leaving anything to chance can result in a costly mistake – potentially including major political repercussions. He underlines that BLACKSUIT supports this step by providing teams with the ability to create ‘future memories:’ Testing through multiple simulated assaults how fast parts of the mission can be executed, the most dangerous scenario, the most likely one, et cetera. During this so-called ‘cold-phase’, changes in the scenario – add or remove a window or a door, replace a wall – can be made even at the last minute, hence based on near real-time intelligence as this change does not involve the time-consuming overhead of constructing and modifying a physical building. As an extra bonus, operational security is easier to maintain.

According to Haarmeijer, the BLACKSUIT toolbox has been developed for ad-hoc deployment. It does only require an empty space (e.g. a warehouse or a gym of approximately 30mx25m with a roof and one power socket), nothing more. As several years of experience have learned to-date, existing personnel can both operate the system and manage the daily use of it. Preparing the system for daily use takes less than five minutes. Instrumented suits are hanging on a coat rack, putting them on is an activity comparable to using live instrumentation or protective gear required when training with paintball, UTM or simulation.

The promise of RE-liON BLACKSUIT and RE-liON’s mission to fast track operators to the real thing are certainly audacious: the best way to find out is to experience it yourself.

Stefan Nitschke

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