Exercise lets Airmen prepare for real thing

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Jeffrey S. Walston
  • Red Flag-Alaska 06-2 Public Affairs
Surface-to-air “threats” are frequent at Red Flag-Alaska 06-2, as aircrews try to slip past simulated, enemy ground fire during the exercise that began here April 24.

The challenge helps aircrews practice their warfighting skills over the Pacific-Alaska Range. There are Airmen from some 20 Air Force active duty, Reserve and National Guard units participating in the exercise.
In the exercise scenarios, friendly air forces fight hostile forces while attacking pre-designated targets. During the missions, the attacking aircraft can be locked on by simulated surface-to-air missiles. These ground threats are controlled by the civilian employees of Arctic Slope World Services. 

ASWS employees use radar strategically positioned throughout the bomb range and Global Positioning System software to track and watch the aircraft.

Cameras are strapped to radars all over the range, sometimes as much as four miles from the target.

“Hopefully we can get a radar lock on the plane and the camera will follow it. If not, we do it manually,” said Carl Thompson, ASWS lead technician of video systems. “We have nine people working here capable of providing any number of threat scenarios all for the purpose of training the pilots.”

The road to a target is never a clear one with the arsenal of threats available to technicians from the unmanned threat emitters shop.

With more than 29 manned and unmanned threats at their fingertips, technicians create a hostile environment using joysticks and computers. They ensure pilots receive both aggressive and defensive simulated combat experiences at a pressure-building pace, whether they’re bombing a target, evading missiles and ground fire or supporting ground troops.

“It’s all electronically simulated. The pilots can tell what’s coming at them by the different sounds in their headsets and the signals in their cockpit displays,” said Buck Buchanan, an unmanned threat emitter technician.

“The bottom line is we train pilots by throwing missiles at them. If the plane has air combat maneuvering instrumentation pods, then the tracking is all electronic. If not, we watch them do their evasive maneuvers on camera," Mr. Buchanan said.

If the pilot is successful and reaches the target, the aircrew’s attack can be graded. The same people “attacking” the aircraft now use their technology to enhance aircrew debriefings by measuring and recording aircrew effectiveness in hitting the target.

“Planes drop dummy munitions with a smoke charge, a camera records it and I can see it in real time on my computer screen. I put the cursor on it and the computer tells me how close it is to the target. Hitting within five meters (of the target) is considered a hit,” Mr. Thompson said.

It takes advanced monitoring systems to capture the dogfights and bombings on tape.

“When you’re talking about the good guys from the bad guy’s perspective, we’re the ones who know how well the good guys did,” said Mr. Thompson. “On the tactical ranges (pilots) fight past our sites, find a specific target, put a bomb on it and fight their way out. Then we get to score it.”

Once they’ve dropped their ordnance, pilots must still make it back past the enemy threats to home base without getting “shot down.”

“When fighters are engaged in a dog fight, the entire operation can be recorded in real time,” said Monty Harding, lead ASWS technician. “Everything feeds into our server." 

“We gather information from 14 different computers in this one little area. That’s the amount of technology that’s come together to make this work,” Mr. Buchanan said.

A three- to five-minute tape is later compiled for the pilot’s debriefing.

When all is said and done, pilots and navigators alike get to review and learn from their performances. Learning those lessons here saves them from learning them in a real combat environment, and sharpens their skills so they can fight another day.

(Capt. Aaron Wiley, Red Flag-Alaska Public Affairs, contributed to this story)