Across the United States exists hundreds of artificial cities devoted to simulating warfare in urban areas.

Medina Wasl VIllage AKA Ujen — extracted Google Street View panorama by Pat Ripton

National Training Center

These pseudo-cities were purpose-built as synthetic training environments for the U.S. military. As part of a broader and multifaceted institution of military hegemony at the end of the twentieth century, these constructed environments serve not only as training sites for U.S. service members preparing for austere environments when deployed, but as artifacts of the foreign interpretations that the Department of Defense has built from its campaigns over the last eighteen years.

Medina Wasl VIllage  AKA  Ujen —  extracted Google place image by Opposing Force (OPFOR) Role-Player, Doug Jacobs

Medina Wasl VIllage AKA Ujen — extracted Google place image by Opposing Force (OPFOR) Role-Player, Doug Jacobs

Razish VIllage —  Fort Irwin, California: Photo by Capt. Gregory Walsh

Razish VIllage — Fort Irwin, California: Photo by Capt. Gregory Walsh

This type of uncanny realism exists in several other ‘villages’ at NTC and has been applied to several other ‘premier training sites’ across the U.S. during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. As the threat complex and operational environments in each campaign changed, their synthetic training environments needed to reflect them accordingly. As geographer and theorist Stephen Graham has well put, “Rather than monuments to dynamism and growth, these 'cities' are theme parks for practicing urban destruction, erasure, and colonial violence”. He describes MOUT sites as a sort of Theme Park Archipelago” in the shadow of American territory. He continues, “constructed by US military specialists with the help of military corporations, theme-park designers, video game companies, Hollywood set designers and special-effects experts, they are training grounds for the targeting of real, far off cities”.[i]


[i] Stephen Graham, “Theme Park Archipelago”, in Cities Under Siege: The New Military Urbanism (London ; New York: Verso, 2010), 183-187.


Synthetic Training Environments

Image from USC Institute for Creative Technologies — in partnership with US Army Research Lab (ARL) — [click for video]

Image from USC Institute for Creative Technologies — in partnership with US Army Research Lab (ARL) — [click for video]

Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center (MCAGCC) — Twentynine Palms , CA: Photo by Lance Cpl. Hailey Clay

Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center (MCAGCC) — Twentynine Palms, CA: Photo by Lance Cpl. Hailey Clay

In order to accommodate the triad of an optimal Synthetic Training Environment model for Army training, putative LIVE terrain is utilized in the matrix of MOUT Sites that populate the nation. To augment the reality of real-world locations, the sites must accommodate not only a built presence and supportive infrastructure, but they must also accommodate a human infrastructure.

The human capital that supports these pseudo-cities is what I would argue grew the most over successive failures in the Global War on Terror.  It was the role-players, opposing forces (OPFOR), and human intelligence applied to these void spaces that catalyzed their urbanization and replication; particularly in the American west, as the arid climate most closely resembles its deployment doppelgangers of the Middle-East. As the campaigns charged by the U.S. and NATO allies steered towards peacekeeping amid the fragile states they occupied, the focus for some years in the region was geared toward winning ‘hearts and minds’ of its people, and supporting their restructuring through efforts like building local infrastructure. This involved practicing key-leader engagement, civilians on the battlefield, and clearly identifying enemy insurgents. Training for these types of events involved the synthetic training environments hosting their own human infrastructure; where soldiers and marines would be stressed to make informed critical decisions in a deployment simulation scenario before ever setting foot in country. These methods leave significant room for debate on the value of immersion in such a pseudo-city environment. How LIVE is it?