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Alaska exercise proves value of 'virtual' training.

With a large crew and dedicated maintainers ready to work on an aging airframe, the E-3 Sentry is an expensive aircraft to deploy for training purposes.

The days of involving the airborne warning and control system aircraft in exercises may soon become a rarity, thanks to powerful computer models and the ability to network simulators located throughout the country.

Air Force and joint war fighters put this new technology to the test in June during Exercise Northern Edge 06 in Alaska. During the two-week exercise, participants were able to train with E-3s, E-8 Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System aircraft and EP-3 Aries aircraft without actually flying an airborne mission.

Instead, members of[degrees] the 962nd Airborne Air Control Squadron at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, flew "virtual" missions while members of the Air Force Reserve's 970th AACS, Tinker AFB, Okla., worked as the "white force" or exercise control force from the Distributed Mission Operations Center, Kirtland AFB, N.M.

Master Sgt. John White of the 970th, the only AWACS squadron in the Air Force Reserve, spent his time simulating bomber, fighter and helicopter flights over the Gulf of Alaska. His "fleet" of aircraft appeared on screens around the Pacific region inside actual Air Force aircraft and Navy ships, and at the Air Operations Center, Hickam AFB, Hawaii.

"Live aircraft combined with a number of virtual entities to give an AWACS crew located in simulators at the 962nd AACS a realistic air picture," Sergeant White said. "Instead of controlling a few dozen live training missions, they operated in an environment that appeared to be a massive air campaign."

"Northern Edge 06 was the first time we trained in a virtual environment with a number of different commands and war-fighting headquarters," said Capt. Kim Thompson, an air battle manager with the 970th AACS.

While training inside actual command and control aircraft won't ever completely disappear, Sergeant White said he believes exercises like Northern Edge will serve to prove the value of combining live, virtual and constructive elements to give crews a wide range of training opportunities.

"When a crew is flying a real mission, it has to contend with atmospherics (disturbances in radio communications caused by changes in weather or topography), maintenance issues, long enroute times to the training area or simply the stress of deconflicting live aircraft," the sergeant said. Virtual training "allows us to get very high-fidelity training without sending a lot of people TDY or spending a lot of money burning jet fuel." (Capt. Nathan D. Broshear, 505th Command and Control Wing public affairs, Hurlburt Field, Fla.)
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Title Annotation:Round the Reserve: A brief look at what's happening throughout Air Force Reserve Command
Publication:Citizen Airman
Date:Aug 1, 2006
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