Battle Group in the Sand.
Though many Sailors may never have heard of Wallops Island or the "Battle Group in the Sand," its impact on the fleet and the way we equip and fight our ships is enormous.
Wallops Island houses two fully-operational ship replica facilities, which are regularly used in training and battle group interoperability testing.
One is an AEGIS facility, which currently replicates all the AEGIS cruisers and destroyers active in the fleet today and can support four independent combat systems laboratory configurations.
The second is the Ship Self-Defense (SSD) Facility, which replicates the MK-1 Ship Self-Defense System (SSDS) deployed aboard LSD 41-class ships and supports development of the MK-2 SSDS planned for aircraft carriers, amphibious transport docks and amphibious assault ships. The SSD Facility can simultaneously support two lab configurations.
Both facilities have control centers that can support test and training operations on their own or in conjunction with each other. These form the "Battle Group in the Sand."
Surface Combat Systems Center (SCSC) former Commanding Officer, Capt. Michael D. Anderson, said Wallops Island is much more than just an unusual sight. The men and women of SCSC employ a powerful combination of geography, airspace, combat systems equipment and know-how to provide a broad range of direct support opportunities to the Navy's current and future warfighting capabilities.
The facility's unique location on a barrier island of Virginia's Eastern Shore--just 150 yards from the ocean - gives them the capability of radiation or the ability to track live targets on and above the water, which is a capability other facilities around the United States do not have.
"We can simulate every CIC [Combat Information Center] environment in the fleet, so we can cater to what they need," said Fire Controlman 1st Class (SW) Scott Roane, the leading petty oficer for the AEGIS Weapons System division. "We can go as far as to simulate any location in the world. If you are [operating] in the Middle East or off the coast of Korea, we can simulate that."
Roane noted it's not just their ability to "go live," but also the various partnerships they have on board and the connectivity they can achieve with other assets, that allows them to be very versatile.
"We work directly with the customers to test and install new hardware and software here at the site with all of the different AEGIS baselines that encompass the Navy's fleet--the cruisers, destroyers, all the newest baselines," Roane said.
In addition, Roane noted, they are working on retrofitting cruisers with updated hardware and will soon be installing a new lab to support the reconfiguration.
Roane gestured up and down the shore line to the SSD facility then toward the ocean and added, "Because, we can go out to our carrier right across there, go to our cruiser right over here and because of the fact we have the contractors and the U.S. Navy stationed here, the customer support level is very high. The customer is No.1 here."
Roane said for the most part, what their customers do is develop new hardware and software configurations to introduce to the fleet, which they bring to Wallops Island because of the facility's live simulation ability. He said that is also why they have such a rich training environment for Sailors.
SCSC is the only land-based facility that can perform all the sophisticated mission support roles they currently have underway, Anderson said. This capability makes Wallops Island the perfect environment to conduct research and development of combat systems equipment. This also allows them to provide hands-on training for the Sailors who will actually fight the ship.
Operations Specialist 2nd Class (SW/AW) Deltria Antoinette Hines of New Bern, N.C., is one of those Sailors. She is assigned to PCU Truxton (DDG 103) and recently went through the AEGIS Console Operators Course. She said her experience on board her previous ship, USS Nitze (DDG 94), gave her a small head start for the class, but she still gained a great deal at Wallops Island.
"I learned a lot. I only sat one watchstation on my last ship, and in this class you learn all the watchstations in CIC," Hines said. "By the time I get to go back to my ship, I'll be able to work with every single console. I'm leaving with a lot more knowledge than I came with."
Hines said she expects to be assigned as air intercept coordinator when she reports to Truxton, so the experience she gained while training in that position was of particular value to her.
OSSN Cassandra Tran of Provincetown, Mass., had recently completed "A" school and was also a student in the Console Operators Course, and en route to her first command, PCU Stockdale (DDG 106).
"I haven't used the equipment on a ship, yet. I've only gone to the schools for it. I'm waiting to see what happens," Tran said.
She said having less than a year in the Navy, and having never been aboard a ship, made much of the material hard for her to grasp. The new terminology was a challenging, but she added, her classmates and instructors helped her through it.
"Otherwise it was pretty interesting, learning how to use the consoles," Tran said. "To actually see the consoles and have the chance to go to a training environment like they have the DDG set-ups here, allowed me to make my mistakes and learn how to use the systems here instead of on the ship."
Lt. Robert Wiley, the officer in charge of training for Center for Surface Combat Systems (CSCS) Det., Wallops Island, said the AEGIS Console Operator Course is mainly geared toward providing training for pre-commission ships and personnel from ships that are being upgraded.
"Many students are operations specialists coming here straight out of "A" school or are transferring to an AEGIS platform ship from a non-AEGIS ship," Wiley said. "We put them through an intense three-week course that teaches them the vocabulary and the interactions between the different elements of the AEGIS Combat System."
Students also gain knowledge on the weapons control system and AEGIS command and display system.
"Our primary mission is to bring them up to speed on the system before they get to the ship," Wiley said.
He said the majority of the personnel who come to the console operator course eventually return to Wallops Island with their fellow CIC crew members, for the AEGIS team training course. The two-week team training course is where they focus more on tactics and procedures. He said it prepares them to function together as a well-rounded combat team with not only operations specialists, but also fire controlmen, sonar technicians, cryptologic technicians, as well as the officers who sit in the warfare commander positions.
The courses are advanced level training and can be especially challenging for the students who come through straight out of "A" school.
"On the flip side of that," Wiley said, "We can train them the way they should be trained, up front, before they develop bad habits."
AEGIS Console Operator Course Supervisor, OSC(SW) Timothy Smith also attached to CSCS Detachment said the students are generally very motivated when they get to Wallops Island.
"They want to train, and they want to learn," Smith said. "They love the hands-on aspect of the training they get here."
THE FLEET PERSPECTIVE
The place where every minute of this training translates into faster, more precise responses is CIC, the ship's brain. Here, each piece of information converges to provide the picture of the battle space, and every command must be executed with precision to ensure mission accomplishment.
"The training at Wallops Island is difficult if not impossible to duplicate at the unit level," said Lt. Cmdr. Matthew Walsh, tactical action officer aboard USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76). "Think of it as varsity level training where everyone is qualified but it gets us to the next level of understanding on both the weapon system and the means in which to apply it in defense of the ship."
The training honed the skills of Ronald Reagan Sailors as they prepared to deploy.
"Through the training, I [learned] how to optimally use the system I operate. This includes proper configuration to combat an anticipated threat. There was a lot of information regarding system capabilities and operation," said Fire Controlman 2nd Class (SW/AW) Robert Hinman, an NSC (NSSMS Supervisor Console) operator aboard Ronald Reagan. "As the NSC, I was responsible for receiving status of target tracking from each of the TIC (tracker illuminator console) operators and passing as necessary to the DWC (defense weapons coordinator)."
Hinman received training on the new capabilities of NATO Sea Sparrow, which were added during the ESSM upgrade before the carrier deployed.
"It is my belief that the ship and my team have gained a lot from this experience. By providing an optimal environment for learning along with the instruction of experts, I believe the training at Wallops provided us with a level of training that could not be achieved aboard a ship utilizing BFTT [battle force tactical training]," said Hinman. "I feel that the training was important because it gave us an opportunity to focus on making our team more combat effective, without all the distractions of a typical day aboard a ship."
The benefits of the training at Wallops Island do not stop with the students.
"The training allowed the members that attended to train other crew members on particulars that are not necessary fully explained in text, also of course is the ability to ask questions for further detailed discussion on why it works the way it does," added Walsh.
According to Anderson there are three key elements from the Chief of Naval Operation's priorities that are embodied in the command's mission and carried out through the hard work his crew at Wallops Island do every day.
He said the first is to build the future Navy.
"We need to build 313 ships. We do that here two ways, one is by helping to deliver the new systems that will go onto the ships of the future," Anderson said. "The second way you get the 313 ships is by keeping what you have."
He said working in ship modernization, helping to bring the new combat systems baselines forward, certifying them, getting the products associated with them, solving fleet problem and providing distance support are all part of the daily work at Wallops that helps keep ships out there working well on the waterfront, so they will stay around longer.
"We support surface combat systems at the platform level, at the battle group level and are now looking forward to the joint task force and coalition level," Anderson said.
Wallops Island supports combat systems from development to deployment and beyond.
"For example, developers and organizations like Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Lab (APL) come here with new mathematical algorithms, which they connect to a radar signal processor. This helps the developer determine how they will design the next generation of Navy radar," said Anderson.
He said other developers might take advantage of SCSC's over-water environment by installing equipment prototypes on the roofs of their ship replica facilities for testing.
SCSC's staff works with developers from the early stages all the way up to mature programs, which are getting ready for delivery to the fleet. They then do the certification tests and burn-ins (beta testing). SCSC also trains the initial crews of pre-commissioned ships on the new capabilities and validates the training packages, technical manuals and documentation.
"We do the hard scrub and the hard work," Anderson said. "We make sure these systems are really ready for the fleet before they get there."
On the training side, Anderson said, they provide the same kind of beginning and beyond support. It starts with the arrival of a new capability. Then, the very first training packages get validated. Subsequently, the trainers provide feedback to the developers on what works and what doesn't work; what the displays need to look like; and how the fleet intends to operate these systems. Next, they move from working at the requirements level through impacting design and maturing the training products.
From this point, Anderson said, they begin training pre-com personnel and fleet training, supporting the console operator courses and the replacement crews as they start to cycle through.
He added supporting the training pipelines to the fleet, which keeps the Sailors sharp and on the edge, is also something they take very seriously. The objective is to develop the 21st century workforce.
"Obviously there is a lot of training that goes on in house with the students who come through," Anderson said. "But there is also lot of professional development that happens with our own Sailors here."
Anderson said having exposure to the civilian workforce, who have been working on these systems their entire lives, working directly with the developers and engineers, gives the Sailors at Wallops broader insight and more expertise to carry back to the fleet with them.
Story and photos by MC1(AW) R. Jason Brunson and MC3 Chelsea Kennedy
Brunson is assigned to Defense Media Activity--Anacostia, Washington, D.C., and Kennedy is assigned to USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 73).
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|Title Annotation:||Wallops Island|
|Author:||Brunson, R. Jason; Kennedy, Chelsea|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2008|
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