I am a big admirer of simple and well designed tools. From a toaster to a liquid chromatography machines used to manufacture vaccines, examples abound of tools that not only deliver performance but also are easy to interact with. This weekend I have struggled a bit to use the Commander's Panoramic Sight (PANO) of the Leopard 1A5-DK and as too frequently is in my case, the fault in the system was the operator.
War machines need to be not only effective but also easy to use. You take a look anywhere in your simulations and you will see examples of those efficient user interfaces. The layout of a fighter's cockpit, the interface of a targeting pod, the targeting and lead system of a modern tank. They have to be easy in order to accomodate for the exhaustion, the stress of being shot at and the split second execution needed to survive the battlefield.
As a side note, I always scoff at some armchair warriors and their penchant to pull through a challenging platform, system or procedure just by training. Flying a helicopter, landing an aircraft, air refueling come to mind. Yes training is necessary, but without an effort in finding out the root causes of the lack of performance we may as well try to learn to play guitar by strobing strings until something resembling a song comes out. But I'm digressing, so let's get back into the post's topic.
A tank's crew is a team, each member having a specific role. The roles of gunner and commander are of course the most exciting to play in an armor simulation. The gunner controls the turret, scans the battlefield for targets, and destroys enemy targets with the main and coaxial guns. The commander instructs the driver when, where and how fast to go. He also instructs the gunner what, when, and what to shoot. There are a few points of intersection in the gunner and commander roles, but it is clear who is the leader.
In a Steel Beasts' simulated tank or IFV you can put yourself in the gunner's seat and be a de facto tank commander. The virtual, computer-controlled tank commander will still be shouting but he will never override your decision of what target to engage. However, if you put yourself in the commander's seat you can override the gunner and be what you are supposed to be: the leader and dealer of death!
So in that spirit, I'm putting myself more and more in the virtual commander's hatch and learning to lead my crew into victory. And also to death, as you will see below!
The commander's panoramic sight (periscope, AKA PANO) is a tool that allows the commander of a Leopard tank to scan the battlefield, estimate the range and to direct the gunner towards a target. It is a crucial asset which allows the gunner and commander to be looking at different sectors of the battlefield (sort of a hunter-killer capability) and also allows the commander to direct the main gun towards a sector of his choice. A comprehensive description on how the PANO sight works can be found here.
After some training I had the opportunity to put the PANO at use in the classic Steel Beasts scenario "Meeting Engagement", in which you can command a Leopard 1A5-DK in the point platoon of a formation that is closing on a retreating enemy's mobility (take a bridge). The maneuver graphics of the scenario are shown below.
The first thing I had to do is to switch the PANO to the "manual mode", because otherwise the sight would automatically move from side to side. Then, make sure that the "PANO exchange off" was all working out so I could move the sight towards any sector of my choosing.
The yellow box on the center of the sight represents a target of specified and adjustable dimensions. If the commander matches this box to a target by zooming in the sight, he will get a range which is a great capability. But in general I prefer to use the gunner's laser ranging.
I immediately switched to "PANO exchange on" mode, and overrode the turret to match the L-shaped brackets. A satisfying "identified!" heard in the intercom marked the start of the kill fest.
It works so seamless, the teamwork between my virtual crew and me feels so extraordinary. We kill our way ahead. No quarters.
And then, a few hundred meters ahead. Poor decision making made our virtual lives quit on us.
Among the dry branches of the trees, I catched a glimpse of an enemy tank (it turned out to be a T-72). I called it for my virtual gunner. He did not see it. I overrode the turret and the main gun. Fire! One of the 3 armor piercing rounds claimed the enemy tank.
And then, with no further notice, an enemy round took my precious tank and crew.
Our enemy had company, and ferocious killers they were.
It will certainly not escape my readers that this untimely end was coming. First, how come I went into certain contact with just 3 armor piercing rounds? Whatever happened to re-loading! Second, roads running through close terrain have this Jekyll and Hyde overtones -great for mobility, a deathtrap after contact- and I should have chosen a less obvious path towards the objective.
Yet again, it's the man not the machine.