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Some Army posts have attempted to create interactive training systems, but they were not fully developed and one-time-only exercises, said Lt. Col. Shane Cipolla, who is in charge of deploying the virtual platform. Many commanders stressed the need to develop a better system for ground and air forces to train together, he said.

“This is a good tool for it,” said Col. Cipolla, standing a short distance from the troops storming the compound.

Col. Cipolla acknowledged the spending cuts were considered as the Army pushed for an upgraded training platform that could handle more soldiers at a fraction of the cost needed to train with real helicopters and tanks. The program costs about $8 million per year in research and development, but it presents significant savings each time the Army opts for simulated missions.

While the Army pays about $6,400 a day to run a center with 28 tank simulators that can be linked to the new system, the cost of operating 28 Abrams tanks would be $196,000 a day. In 2011 the Army paid about $19 million for 14,000 hours of simulated helicopter and weapons training — a price the Army estimates would have been $281 million if done with live equipment.

Sgt. Jones says he understands the cost savings and acknowledges some virtual interaction with a helicopter could have helped during his deployment to Afghanistan. Still, he prefers the real thing.

“There are two things I love,” he said with a chuckle. “One is my wife; the other is a tank.”