News>Exercise tests aircrews in virtual reality by linking simulators nationwide
KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. (AFPN) - Capt. Ryan McGuire flies a MIG-29 mission on a simulator at the Distributed Mission Operations Center here during Virtual Flag 06. The "enemy" mission, Nov. 3, was the first time an adversary pilot was integrated into the simulation to actively engage U.S. forces. Captain McGuire's aircraft was displayed on the screens of simulators around the country as Air Force aircrews flew missions and participated in the exercise from their home bases. Captain McGuire is an F-16 pilot with the 150th Fighter Wing. (U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. Nathan D. Broshear)
KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. (AFPN) -- 1st Lts. Nigel Bell (left) and Jerrad Brown (center) work to control the aerial battlespace during exercise Virtual Flag 06 at the Distributed Mission Operations Center here. The lieutenants completed this mission Nov. 3 and are both from the 963rd Airborne Air Control Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. Nathan D. Broshear)
by 1st Lt Nathan D. Broshear
505th Command and Control Wing Public Affairs
11/9/2005 - KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. (AFPN) -- The first nationwide virtual reality exercise, Virtual Flag 06, used networked simulators to create a realistic and cheap simulated battlespace to test aircrews and space and ground operators.
The exercise, led by the Distributed Mission Operations Center here, ended Nov. 4. The networked simulators -- from across the center and the nation -- made the training authentic.
“Think of Virtual Flag as a huge simulation in which our aircrews, space warriors and ground operators -- in the air operations center, control reporting center and Patriot missile batteries -- ‘fight’ the enemy completely in a virtual reality environment,” said Lt. Col. Gordon Phillips, the 705th Exercise Control Squadron commander.
Demand for Virtual Flag’s services is on the rise. The list of participants in the exercises, held quarterly by Air Combat Command, has continued to grow since it began in 2000, Colonel Phillips said.
“We can replicate numerous worldwide theater environments and populate that environment with most types of threat that our aircrews may encounter -- that’s a valuable capability for a global force,” he said. “You can’t do the training we do any other way.”
Because the exercise takes place in cyberspace, many of the aircrews can participate from their home station.
“Approximately 75 percent of our aircrews participate from home. We’re expanding our training audience with every exercise while saving each unit and the Air Force a lot of money,” Colonel Phillips said.
He said exercise planners are working to make virtual exercises simple for participants, who can use simulators to into the fight.
“No more long TDYs away from home, airline and billeting costs,” the colonel said. “And best of all, you’ll be home for dinner every night.”
To Airmen like Maj. Mike Ray, a weapons system instructor at Detachment 4, 53rd Fighter Wing -- who works with the 337th Test and Evaluation Squadron at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas -- Virtual Flag is much more than a life-sized simulation.
“The possibilities are endless,” he said. “Our aircrews get to learn how their aircraft is integrated into a large-force package … it’s a communications and task-intensive environment that they won’t get anywhere else — except combat.”
One of the key differences between training in virtual reality versus live aircraft (like in exercises such as Red Flag) is that exercise controllers can modify the intensity of the training, or even “freeze” the action.
“During flying operations there’s no time to pause and explain a procedure or tactic,” Major Ray said. “But during Virtual Flag we can reposition the aircraft in time and space to hit every one of our training objectives.”
For aircrews used to training with live ammunition and aircraft, Virtual Flag’s scale can be daunting.
“During a Red Flag exercise (a live-fire exercise in Nevada) an airborne warning and control aircraft might control 30 aircraft taking part in a battle,” Colonel Phillips said. “But because we can scale the simulation to simulate a major theatre war, a crew may have to contend with 300 aircraft flying over to their targets at one time.”
Virtual Flag 06-1 marked several firsts for the exercise. Simulated Navy E/A-18G Hornet aircraft participated in virtual missions from their development facility in St. Louis, Miss. Defense contractor Boeing networked into the exercise to validate the weapons system and test its integration into an air campaign.
Guardsmen from New Mexico’s 150th Fighter Wing “Tacos” flew enemy MiG-29 Fulcrum missions as the scenario employed “Red,” or enemy, pilots for the first time. The MiGs dynamically interact with participants while electronic attacks on U.S. command and control systems wrecked havoc on communications.
The center also unveiled its “multi-level security solution.” This allows different classified systems to participate in the exercise and interact fully with other players while preserving varying security levels.
This computer protocol is an important advancement for Virtual Flag as planners work to add future weapons systems and new scenarios to challenge participants. The system was completely developed, tested and integrated in-house.
“The MLS system is a big advancement for the Air Force in that it will allow us to fully integrate coalition and NATO participants, new technologies, capabilities and weapons systems -- such as the F/A-22 Raptor and the Joint Strike Fighter -- into Virtual Flag and other simulations,” Colonel Phillips said.