On July 4, 1976, Israeli commandos landed at the Entebbe International Airport, outside Kampala, Uganda, and in under an hour rescued the 100 hostages that were being held there by hijackers. The news of the rescue was met with international astonishment. Without any warning the commandos landed in the in the night, rescued the hostages, and flew back home. Only one commando and four hostages were killed, as opposed to all hijackers and several dozen Ugandan soldiers. A number of Ugandan MiG aircraft were also destroyed. The international diplomatic fervor, which coincided with the US bicentennial, was brought to a screeching halt as Israel thanked everyone and said they had taken care of the problem.
One of the main reasons the mission was so successful was that the special forces combatants chosen for the mission trained for the operation on a reconstructed, full-scale model of the airport. This is how with only a few days to prepare, and despite having never set foot in Entebbe, the rescuers were able to secure the terminal where the hostages were held, use the airport’s fuel facilities, and destroy the squadron of warplanes stationed there. And all this without real-time satellite surveillance.
In their technology quarterly in March, the Economist reported on a variety of training and research platforms—from computer programs to full scale combat training facilities—that are making the tasks of preparing for and carrying out dangerous missions less costly. And not surprisingly, these technologies rely heavily on 3D rendered environments that allow their users to interact with the generated content in varying degrees.
One of the technologies, an interactive program akin to a military computer game, allows strategists to digitally recreate actual battle scenarios (like the Entebbe raid), which can then be reviewed from any angle and replayed with environmental and situational variations that might demonstrate how things could have gone differently. Among the others are simulations that try to test the responses of decisions made by officers under amounts of psychological duress, a NATO network that links 3D training devices, and an interactive virtual battlefield that allows soldiers to train and observers to scrutinize—all with a minimum threat to the people involved.
With a number of countries around the world investing in digital and mixed reality technologies, rescue missions like those at Entebbe may seem less and less miraculous as soldiers can be prepared for a broad number of situations before actually being inserted into a combat zone. But hopefully too, this kind of technology might reduce the need for high-risk combat missions in the first place.