Magazine article National Defense

Aerial Prowess Tested at 'Virtual Flag'

Magazine article National Defense

Aerial Prowess Tested at 'Virtual Flag'

Article excerpt

The U.S. Air Force is entering the last preparation phase for a mammoth weeklong training exercise, called Virtual Flag.

Scheduled to take place in March, the event is intended to bring together simulations and live exercises conducted by the Air Force, Army and Navy.

In many ways, the event is similar to the traditional Red Flag annual war games that have been conducted at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., since 1975. They are designed to help prepare U.S. and other NATO pilots for real-world combat. By comparison, Virtual Flag will feature more advanced digital simulations and increased participation by other military services.

Overseeing the event is Col. Michael Chapin, the director of the Air Force training systems product group at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. The service is investing in advanced technology to integrate live exercises and computerized simulations in order to enhance joint training, Chapin told National Defense.

The integration of live, virtual and constructive training is fundamental to meeting the goals of the Defense Department's joint national training capability, a $1.3 billion effort to provide a seamless environment for inter-service battle drills. The Air Force describes its efforts as "distributed mission operations," or DMO.

The idea behind DMO is to enable trainees to rehearse missions by networking a variety of simulators, ranging from fighter jets to the airborne warning and control system, and eventually bomber and unmanned aerial vehicle simulators.

For more than a year, the DMO center at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M., has been buzzing with preparations for training exercises.

Lockheed Martin is responsible for the networking and for training operators. The center participates in about 18 simulation exercises throughout the year, said Jeff Lombardi, program manager at Lockheed.

Planning an event such as Virtual Flag takes up to six months, he said. "Most of that time is building the scenario," Lombardi said in an interview. "But the coordination of trying to make sure that everybody who is playing gets something out of the training, as opposed to being just a training aide for somebody else--that is the time-consuming part."

The synchronization of everyone involved in exercises that combine live and virtual training is one of the major challenges, said Lombardi. The DMO center can be networked to two-dozen sites at the same time, but trying to fit everyone's schedule is tough, he said.

Software incompatibility and insufficient bandwidth also pose obstacles. The problem boils down to the difficulty of connecting older simulation systems to the newer training devices, said Lombardi. …

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