Military News

Monday, July 27, 2015

55th Wing has an unreal Northern Edge 2015 experience

7/24/2015 - OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. -- Contrails in the sky over the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex told a story of synthetic battles orchestrated to train the best pilots and aircrews in the world to be better.

The pilots and aircrews were part of an exercise which took place June 11 - 26 in Alaska that was simply called Northern Edge 2015, but for the 55th Wing, it was cutting edge.

What couldn't be seen in the Alaskan sky were the aircraft from Offutt Air Force Base that were providing live Command and Control for aircraft. The pilots and controllers were working Northern Edge 2015, but they were doing it from a simulator back at Offutt.

"LVC [live, virtual and constructive training] offers a more robust scenario than sending up ten Aggressors for a small skirmish with the blue force," said Brian Smith, the 353rd Combat Training Squadron's Army and special operations liaison. "With virtual and constructive assets combining with live participants we can now provide ten threats and herds of other aircraft waiting to continue the fight. We've added defense and depth to maximize the OPFOR [opposition force] piece, which provides a more robust training scenario for the blue force."

With this system, virtual doesn't mean computer-generated. The virtual RC-135's from Offutt AFB were operated by actual pilots, battlespace managers, and controllers participating in the same airspace as the pilots tearing through the skies. The RC-135 virtual assets, were being controlled via simulators at Offutt then networked into the locations where they will operate alongside actual aircraft via a system called LEXIOS (LVC Experimentation, Integration and Operations Suite) and dedicated networks.

"RED FLAG-Alaska 15-2 served as the proof of concept for all the pieces of LVC to come together," said Capt. Matthew Mendenhall, the 353rd CTS chief of command and control operations. "It allowed us to ensure our lines of communication were functioning properly before Northern Edge 2015. This is the first exercise to completely integrate the various elements and is the largest LVC integration seen to date in any of the services.

"Virtual asset pilots will see the mountains, terrain and features of their sector of the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex, and controllers will see the battlespace overlay as if they were operating live in Alaska," Mendenhall explained. "Instead of launching different live assets, aviators can operate from their simulators,"

The constructive component of the LVC system is where computer-generated forces expand the scope and create a training environment very similar to what participants would actually see in a real conflict.

"We can test the command and control relationships between the air and ground forces," said Maj. Derrick Vincent, the 353rd CTS director of operations.

Air, ground and sea assets can exercise together with the diverse LVC system and determine in real-time, the programming of shots against enemy targets so each component's strength complements their counterparts in the battlespace, Vincent added.

The ability to incorporate low-density, high-demand platforms such as a live E-3 Sentry airborne warning and control system with a virtual RC-135 from Offutt AFB, allows assets that can't regularly be tasked for training due to real-world requirements to integrate with the blue force and coordinate with their joint-service and inter-agency counterparts, Mendenhall said.

"Northern  Edge is the first time from a command and control, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance standpoint that the virtual, live and constructive assets are interacting at an efficient level, proving they can work and talk to each other consistently," Mendenhall added.

During one such scenario, aviators from Offutt, Seymour Johnson, Tyndall, Ellsworth, Tinker and Mountain Home Air Force Bases, and Joint Bases Elmendorf-Richardson and Pearl Harbor-Hickam, virtually operated 14 fighter aircraft, one conventional bomber, two mobility transport aircraft, one airborne warning and control system and one reconnaissance aircraft. These virtual participants integrated with constructive players operating eight fighter aircraft, one strategic bomber, five advanced tanker and cargo aircraft, and 80 red air (opposition) aircraft. Live participants in Alaska were able to view the virtual and constructive participants, interacting and coordinating with each type of participant throughout the scenario.

"We can identify targets such as surface-to-air missile sites, see ground forces take them out, and communicate the next steps among the joint team, which enables our air assets to move on to the next targets, and allows our forces to gain and maintain air superiority," Mendenhall explained.

LVC enables those aircrew members to achieve quality training at a fraction of the cost of the live training, and even more importantly, the quality of training provided often exceeds that of the live fly event by itself.

Master Sgt. Karen J. Tomasik, 354th Fighter Wing Public Affairs contributed to this article.

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