FORT LEWIS - Stryker drivers of all experience levels are using advanced simulators at Fort Lewis to hone their skills at operating the 19-ton armored vehicles.
The $800,000 simulators allow new drivers to become acquainted with the vehicle's unique handling and maneuverability and enable experienced drivers to fine-tune their skills without risking injury to soldiers or damage to the $4 million vehicles, Army officials said.
"It's not an exaggeration to say this training capability is going to save lives in combat, and it's going to give us a more capable force than we've had before," said Brig Gen. William Troy, deputy commander of Fort Lewis and I Corps, during a short ribbon-cutting ceremony Tuesday for the simulators.
The simulators, known as Common Driver Trainer/Stryker Variants, contain exact replicas of the driver's compartment in a Stryker. The simulated compartments shake as the driver goes through explosions or over rough terrain and have wrap-around screens that create the appearance of going through an urban neighborhood or mountain terrain, among other environments. The screens can be adjusted to simulate day or night driving.
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The simulators let drivers attempt maneuvers that would be risky in training, including driving on ice, down a steep incline and through an exploding roadside bomb .
An instructor at the operating station can monitor and score a trainee's performance, or a vehicle commander can communicate with the driver to build communication skills and trust. The drivers' performances can be recorded so instructors can point out and correct mistakes afterward.
The simulators can be adjusted to account for the difference in handling among the 10 variants of Stryker vehicles or for extra weight from the slat armor attached to the vehicle when it's deployed to a combat area.
Soldiers who drive Strykers praised the simulator's realism.
"They hit the head of the nail with it," said Sgt. John McDowell, 25, who is assigned to the post's newest Stryker brigade, 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division. "It's dead-on."
Added Spc. Michael Blanchette, 24: "It's very realistic - the physics, the way it kind of pushes you back and forth."
Fort Lewis has two simulators, and a third is on the way. The Army post has requested a fourth, which would allow Stryker infantry and reconnaissance platoons to train simultaneously in the virtual environments.
The simulator is the Army's latest step to improve driver training.
Several Fort Lewis soldiers have died in rollover accidents while deployed, and an in-house critique of the Stryker vehicle leaked to the media two years ago recommended improved training.
The report by the Center for Army Lessons Learned also noted the 5,000 pounds of extra weight from the slat armor significantly affected the vehicle's handling and performance during Iraq's rainy season, from November to March.