This month, as they have every summer for 31 years, hundreds of thousands of North Korean soldiers will pour over the border and advance on the South Korean capital of Seoul, while U.S. and South Korean troops scramble to repel them.
The invading troops, fortunately, are not real. They're the imaginary opponents in one of the world's largest war games, which the United States and the Republic of Korea hold annually. But even as the allies mobilize thousands of real soldiers for the exercise, thousands more, along with all the aircraft, will be strictly virtual.
Increasingly, the military is linking up live training exercises with those virtual fights, and with ones generated by computers. A massive training exercise called Joint Red Flag held this spring at Nellis Air Force Base near Las Vegas marked the military's largest effort to date to integrate live, virtual and computerized forces, says Crowder. While aircrews at Nellis flew 4,000 live training flights, pilots in simulators on the East Coast flew another 6,500 missions, and computers generated, or "constructed," 18,500 other sorties. All these flights had to be coordinated with live Army Patriot missile batteries, artillery and troops from the 4th Infantry Division at Fort Hood, Texas, as well as units from the Marines and Navy.
Aiming to re-create the enormous complexity of a real-life military operation, Joint Red Flag involved more than 10,000 participants at 44 different locations across the country. Making it as real as possible was vital, says Crowder. "What we're trying to do," he says, "is train each of the participants, so when they get off the airplane in Afghanistan or Iraq, they've already experienced just about everything they're going to see when they get over there."