By Sarah Zhang
A shiny new city recently opened in northern Virginia's Caroline County. It has a school, a church, a mosque, a subway station, and even an embassy that, at five stories, may be the county's tallest building. But nobody lives there.
That's because the 300-acre complex at Fort A.P. Hill is the U.S. military's newest $90.1 million training center. Run by the Asymmetric Warfare Group, a special mission originally formed in 2006 to deal with IEDs, the fake town will help train soldiers in the unique challenges of urban warfare. It will "replicate complex operational environments," in the army's own words.
In the emerging world of 21st century conflict, the battlefield is no longer the countryside but the city. At this new Asymmetric Warfare Training Center (AWTC), soldiers can train to crawl through small spaces like ceiling ducts and even maneuver across subway platforms.
The AWTC is a fake city, an in-between place, an Epcot-like conurbation that seems neither here nor there. The school is built in the style of those in Iraq and Afghanistan. The subway looks exactly like DC's. A Protestant-style church and a mosque sit not too far apart.
The National Training Center at Fort Irwin in California also features fake Middle Eastern villages, complete with vendors selling plastic bread and meat. The dimensions of an artificial village—from the width of the streets to the height of the steps—are all calculated to replicate an Iraqi one. Aside from learning to navigate a foreign city, soldiers there also have to learn how to maneuver through the social and cultural challenges of being abroad. Actors roam the streets, as civilians or bad guys or even as gruesome causalities. Read the entire fascinating account from Gizmodo's own editor-in-chief Geoff Manaugh's trip there with Nicola Twilley in 2012.