Soon after the Vietnam War, the Army returned its focus to Western Europe and the problem of how to deter the massive Soviet armies facing them in Germany. The Army worked on several fronts to address the problem. They revised the doctrine under which they would fight, they set upon a sensible procurement program that gave us the “Big Five” weapon systems and they worked hard to lobby congress to keep the Army large enough to do the job.
The most important step the Army took, however, was to totally revise the way it trained soldiers and leaders to fight. Note, I’m not talking so much about how they fight, but rather, how they train. One of the first things they did was examine every task a soldier would likely be asked to perform. Now, this sounds pretty simple, but it wasn’t. The looked at all the tasks every soldier had to be able to do, then they had to look at all 200 or so of the different MOS’s in the Army and come up with the tasks that soldiers in those jobs would have to do. The Army also had to break these lists down by rank. After all, we expect a Sergeant to know more than a Private.
Using these individual tasks as building blocks, the Army then looked at what each unit, from squad to field army, would have to do. And they had to do this every type of unit, from infantry to quartermaster units that provide shower and laundry services. All of these tasks were written down in a standardized format so a soldier could quickly read and learn what he and his unit were expected to do and train accordingly.
Now, for the manuever units, infantry and armor, there was one little problem. Even if you could look at the book and say a unit was well trained, there is no substitute for going out and fighting war games. But since it is considered bad form to fire live ammunition at your own people, there was little feedback to tell you if you were doing it right. Something more was needed. And so MILES was invented.
MILES is the Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System. It is a giant game of Laser-Tag. In fact, Laser-Tag is a ripoff of MILES technology. The basic MILES setup is a harness and a “halo” of laser receivers on each soldier. And his rifle has a small laser mounted on the barrel. Each time you fire a blank, the laser fires a short pulse. If that pulse hits a harness, a beeper on the harness emits a loud, very annoying sound. That sound is to let you know that you are “dead.”
Each laser had a small key that had to be inserted for the laser to fire. But if your harness was beeping, the only way to shut it off was to remove the key from the laser and put it in the harness. That way you wouldn’t keep fighting after you were “dead.”
With this simple gear, an infantry squad could get instantaneous feedback on how well it was doing on a training exercise. But what about units equipped with M-113s, or Bradleys, or tanks?
Well, they thought of that as well. Each vehicle had its own harness. It was fastened to the track with velcro. and each weapon on the vehicle had its own laser. But the important component was the control box. We all know that an M-16 won’t destroy a tank. So each laser fired a specially coded pulse. Let’s say a Bradley was hit with laser pulses from an M-16. The control box would read the pulses, realize they were from an M-16, and ignore them. But if an anti-tank missile hit the Bradley, the control box would read the signal and electronically “roll the dice” to determine if the vehicle had been killed. If the vehicle was killed, there was a yellow flashing light that would blink. If the control box decided that the hit wasn’t a kill, the light would only flash a couple times.
With MILES gear on board, crews of armored vehicles could learn the effect of their gunnery and manuever in a training exercise. The proficiency went up immensely. No other nation in the world had trained their troops as well in armored combat. The payoff was seen in Operation Desert Storm.