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Jeff Babineau: Armor Interview
by Neil Mouneinme

ABRAMS

Csim: For the record, please tell us a little about your background.

Jeff: I enlisted as a private in 1985 in the California Army National Guard as a tank crewman. Basic training was 14 months long for Armor crewmen. I finished 2nd in my class and served as Platoon leader for my unit. After a "Team Spirit" deployment to South Korea I was asked to attend the California Military Academy to become an Officer. I finished 3rd in my class and was fortunate to be branched in Armor. I would have gone crazy otherwise.

I spent a year as an Armor Platoon Leader, a year as both Tank Company Executive Officer (XO) and Platoon Leader, and a year as XO. Kicking and screaming all the way, I was moved up to Battalion Staff as the Maintenance Officer then a year as the S4 or Supply Officer in which we did an NTC rotation. I spent a whole bunch of additional duty time on active duty evaluating United States Army units in platoon tactics and serving in a variety of roles in the ARTBASS simulators and also an instructor in both the California Military Academy and gunnery techniques in the gunnery simulator we had in the battalion.

Csim: Which armored vehicles were you trained in? Which did you subsequently operate or command?

Jeff: M48A5ís, M60A3ís, M1ís, M113ís, and M2 Bradleyís. I commanded M60A3ís. I always wanted a career in heavy metal. Fourteen 52-ton tanks was perfect.

Csim: Have you spent time training at NTC? Do you have any interesting experiences from past training exercises you'd like to tell us about?

Jeff: Yes. One NTC rotation. Most important lesson about all of my training experiences is how important it is to paint a picture of the battlefield so that commanders can act. Planning is essential to prepare for contingencies but after the shooting starts and the radio goes berserk, its imperative that reporting procedures are quick and concise. Of coarse the radios hardly ever work like you want them to, so it now you know why you spent all night planning the next day.

ABRAMS

I also got a big kick out of christening the Fort Hunter Ligget range with a 100 point score in a three-man crew engagement. The range was over 10 million dollars and it had computers that ran on cassette tapes and the bathrooms had no plumbing. We donít even want to talk about the platoon fire command classes I use to teach with live ammo. 4 tanks simultaneously firing is an awesome display of firepower.

You want to hear the story about me crushing a jeep? The investigation cleared me completely. Now who parks a jeep 2 feet behind a tank on a maneuver training exercise?

Csim: How much emphasis does your training put into integration with air and artillery assets?

Jeff: Air assets were very rare. Artillery was available and we trained on the application of arty all the time. We never spent enough time to get arty properly implemented at the tank commander level. Having to command a tank or two, read the map, check for arty, change radio freqs, make a proper call for fire was very intensive work, especially when guys were supposed to be shooting back and oh yes, watch out for that tree.

Csim: How has your real life experience impacted your PC simulation experience?

Jeff: I had great fun with an old game called "Mech Brigade." I also very much enjoyed Spectrum Holobyteís "Tank" but really no one has attempted a realistic tank simulator so I havenít been interested in tanks sims at all. The one thing that never seems to get implemented has got to be the MOST basic aspect, the fire control computer. Any sim should be able to replicate this very basic computer. Flight Sims seem to do a wonderful job of some very complicated radar yet no one has figured out a tank computer. Even in thermal implementation the only game that comes close to what it really looks like is Longbow 2. That helicopter sim is the only game I have ever seen that reminds me of being in the tank gunnerís position.

Csim: Which PC armor simulations have you played?

Jeff: Armored Fist, iM1A2 come to mind. TACOPS was very well done except it was a wargame and not a tank sim. I also prefer REALTIME games. "Gettysburgh" and Close Combat are THE best games to simulate the confusion and lack of control one has after the shooting starts when you are ON the battlefield.

I canít stand to have to make manual ballistic corrections on a tank that has sensors that adjust trajectory due to wind, air temperature, gun tube temperature, range, ammo type, barrel wear, and movement on a fully stabilized platform. If I cannot jump into a tank sim, find a target, track it for 1.5 seconds, lase to the target, slew the reticule back on the target, FIRE and get a first round hit at 2000 meters then something is wrong. My very first tank commander spent 1991 in the Gulf War. He told me he was hitting Iraqi tanks at 3500 meters at 25 miles an hour. Amazing how those ballistic computers work!

Seems like they donít really want to listen to the Army guys they hire for input. I have seen some impressive soldiers acting as consultants for tank sims and I have no doubt that they were screaming bloody murder when they saw the main gun implementation.

Csim: In general, what aspects of tank Sims do you feel are the most authentic?

Jeff: The confusion and lack of sight a gunner has in the turret. Also, the dominance of the M1 Abrams over the modern battlefield.

Csim: Do you feel the close integration of infantry with main battle tanks is as important as it used to be?

Jeff: No. It is more important. Infantry can reach out and kill someone at some astounding ranges. They are small and generally avoid getting shot at. They are hard to find and kill. Infantry does a good job at killing infantry.

Csim: Is the fact that most tank Sims lack infantry a major drawback in accurately portraying tank strategy?

Jeff: Yes. It also depends on what the game is trying to create. Most Sims seem like a very well funded gunnery range instead of a combat simulation.

ABRAMS

Csim: Most tank Sims are pretty hard to assume a proper hull-down position in. Is this realistic?

Jeff: No. It is very easy. You see, first you achieve a turret down position where the tank commander can see over the hill, after he finds a target you then creep up and fire. The gunner takes over to inform the driver that the gun tube has cleared the obstruction and tells the driver to stop. You fire, back up, change position and do it again.

Csim: Current tank Sims don't have much communication between different crew positions or different tanks within a squad. What kind of communication options do you think would serve as a good starting point?

Jeff: Oh my. In a battle everyone is yelling and screaming. Especially the gunner and tank commander. Then you have the loader who is REALLY stressing because he canít see out of the tank and gets all his information from two guys that are screaming something like "Where is he," "Heís right there, heís pointing his gun at us." "I donít see him," "FIRE!" "I canít, I donít see anything" "Just pull the fÖ. trigger!!!!"

Csim: What about throwing a track? Some accounts say that any amount of poor tank driving easily results in a thrown track. Is it really that much of a concern? How about bogging down?

Jeff: I used to laugh at car salesmen that said "Itís built like a tank." I would respond, "So it requires 8 hours of labor for every hour of operation and it breaks down all the time?" There is nothing fun or glorious about breaking down. The fact that sims overshadow this is good news although not very realistic. With proper driving habits, you can avoid a lot of things. I have never been in a tank that threw a track. Concertina wire wrapped around the idler wheel yes, but we didnít throw the track. We donít want to count the times I broke track due to maintenance.

Csim: Some accounts of tank driving say that it's extremely dangerous to drive off-road at the tank's maximum speed since the crew will be flung around uncontrollably. Is this true?

Jeff: You bet. Thatís how my wife knew what kind of exercise we had. If I came home smelling like ammonia, it was gunnery. If I had bruises all over my rib cage it was maneuver training. The unseen wadi is a killer. Go ahead and drive your car off a 3-foot embankment to see what tank driving is all about. The M1 is not any better. It just does this at 40 miles per hour instead of 20 mph like the 60ís.

Csim: What is the most difficult part of tank crewing?

Jeff: Lack of sleep. I think only those that have served realize the shear exhaustion it takes to merely drive around all day with the vibration and noise. After that, you try and maintain a high state of alertness to all the threats that can kill you day or night. Pulling maintenance during the operation is very strenuous as well. Even the tools are heavy and there are NO power tools. There is a scene in a movie called "Hamburger Hill" in which the troop gets all pushed out of shape about all the things he is supposed to remember. Heís not kidding. Just basic soldier skills alone in your MOS is tough, let alone the skills required of the leaders of every unit.

Csim: Of all the enemy units you might face, which ones do you feel pose the greatest threat?

Jeff: Anyone that can kill me without me seeing him. I have had good experiences in defense against choppers but after the enemy comes up with a Hellfire missile, itís just too scary. Mavericks look like they are hard to defend against but the few times Iíve been attacked by aircraft we were in woods and my VERY strict policy was; donít flinch, let the jet pass you by. The last thing you want to do is let a jet know where youíre at. "Tracers work both ways." I really felt sorry for those Iraqi tankers just dying without even being able to see who to shoot at and the odds were tank to tank.

SOVIET

Csim: If you were designing your own tank simulation, in what way would it make the biggest departure from previous tank Sims?

Jeff: I would implement voice commands to the driver at a bare minimum. You have to be able to say "driver move out, driver stop, driver left, driver right, driver stop, driver seek turret down." At least have these be keyboard commands. You see the driver has such a limited perspective on EVERYTHING. Drive your car around with a pair of binoculars to get the same effect. Next add gunner commands like "gunner scan left, gunner scan right." I mean the tank sim should allow a simulation of all crew positions but it should also allow AI to take over crew positions and allow the player to "command the tank."

It seems like everyone has done the loaders job pretty well. I mean all he has to do is scan for targets and pump the gun as needed.

Next I would add multiplayer for every crew position. And let four guys be in ONE tank. The training missions should reflect the boresight procedures to correctly set up the tank and then the training missions should reflect the Ė12 manual on tank crew gunnery.

Csim: How has your exposure to other simulated assets, like the Longbow 2, impacted your thinking about armor strategy and deployment?

Jeff: Iíve decided getting hit by a Hellfire was a bad thing. IĎm glad no one else has one.

Csim: How interested would you be in an integration of armor and helicopter simulations, the proverbial virtual battlefield?

Jeff: Iíd be much more interested in a sim that incorporated "DOOM" and "M1 Tank Platoon." Tanks and infantry work so much more closely than air assets. Besides the "first person perspective" are so popular. Add a tank, a chopper and a jet in a multiplayer mode and who would need another game?

Csim: Thanks!

Jeff: No problem. You owe me beer =)

Jeffery "Rhino" Babineau
CO, 209th VFS Delta Hawks
Stockton, CA

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