UK soldiers use iPad app to train for Afghan operations

By Jim Taylor
Newsbeat reporter

Image source, (C) British Broadcasting Corporation

For the first time, UK troops are using a special app developed for the iPad to learn how to handle a fire mission.

That's when artillery is being fired at the enemy from several miles away.

In early trials at the Royal School of Artillery in Wiltshire, troops have learned the jargon and procedures more quickly than before, when they were sat listening to lessons from instructors.

It's hoped smartphone and tablet technology could be used to speed up training across the army.

Front line

Lance Bombardier Jason Markham from 1st Regiment Royal Horse Artillery has already served in Afghanistan and is in training for a second tour.

He told Newsbeat how it works. He said: "I'd be at the HQ - the troops on the ground would call me for fire support and they'd give me the target location and a description of the target.

"We'd use all of that information to come up with a solution.

"This has been designed to let us practise, so that when we get out there into theatre we're a lot slicker.

"It makes it more fun instead of being sat in a classroom looking at a presentation being given information.

"If you're on a course you can take this back to the block and practise with it, even have little competitions with it."

Soldiers back at the CP (command post) have to learn how to communicate with those on the front line, to make sure the right weapons are fired, at the right time and at the right target.

3D app

They're using the iPad back at base in Wiltshire to sharpen their skills.

Major Rich Gill is an army training officer, who has been involved in rolling out the app.

He said: "If we can use this sort of technology, we can probably shorten the amount of training and that is pretty key nowadays when people are so committed to operations in Afghanistan.

Image source, (C) British Broadcasting Corporation
Image caption,
Soldiers at the Wiltshire base say the iPad app has made training fun

"There's so much they need to do before they go there and when they come back.

"If we can use this to reduce the amount of training it'll be fantastic."

But the investment in iPads comes at a time when the armed forces are facing budget cuts.

Major Gill insists the move is good value for money as it saves on other costs like printing reference guides and manuals.

He told Newsbeat that 15 other options were considered and denies that using Apple's gadget is a gimmick: "That was one of the first things we considered and it's not about the gimmicky side of it.

"You can get all the material that you need on there at the right time and it's really mobile as well. At the time this project came about this was the best bit of hardware on the market."

And he says it's not a case of cutting out mistakes: "From what we've done over in Afghanistan with the training we've been through, we don't really make mistakes.

"The training back here is the best it can be and if we can improve it then that's exactly what we need to be doing."

The same team is also working on a 3D app for army pilots, who have to learn to recognise different vehicles from the air as part of their training.