By Staff Sgt. Siuta B. Ika, 99th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
/ Published March 04, 2015
NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. -- NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. - For 40 years, Red Flag exercises have sharpened the "tip of the spear" for its participants. While in the beginning that meant exposing warfighters - specifically aircrew - to their first 10 combat sorties as a way to increase their survivability in aerial combat, the exercises have evolved to now include overcoming advanced electronic threats in more contested combat environments.
Red Flag's evolution continues in the exercise's second iteration of 2015, taking another step into the virtual world.
"Red Flag 15-2 is the first time we will do the 'v' part of the live, virtual and constructive, also known as LVC," said Col. Jeffrey Weed, 414th Combat Training Squadron commander.
What that means, Weed said, is for the first time during a Red Flag exercise, hundreds of virtual participants in simulators at their home stations or in simulators at the Distributed Mission Operations Center at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico, will participate in taking down enemy "Red Forces" by providing ground surveillance to support attack operations and targeting to delay, disrupt and ultimately destroy the opposition.
Combining elements from Virtual Flag exercises, executed out of Kirtland AFB, with Red Flag exercises will usher in a whole new age of integrated "Flags," said Lt. Col. Kenneth Voigt, 505th Test Squadron commander.
"The benefits to the warfighter of integrating 'virtual' into Red Flags are that it allows us to bring in more of the combat-realistic threat envelope, and we're now able to maximize the air tasking order with the most amount of 'Blue Forces' in both the virtual and live sides of a joint air operations area that is 1,200 by 1,100 nautical miles, compared to the Nevada Test and Training Range which is about 100 by 100 nautical miles," Voigt said.
While elements of Red Flag have moved into the virtual realm and expanded the area of operations more than 10 fold, it does not take away from the importance of the NTTR.
"Core to the execution of any integrated LVC flag-level event is the range. In fact, because of their range and the environment they are creating, virtual (battle management command and control) and (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) entities will interface directly with live aircraft to prosecute live dynamic targets that are part of the combat readiness scenario," said Col. Todd Seger, U.S. Air Force Warfare Center, Programs and Requirements director. As the range commander, Col. Thomas Dempsey, articulated, 'Our experts have been working for nearly a year to make this and other capabilities a reality. As we work towards a fused environment, the integration we achieve in 15-2 will pave the way for the next two flags and beyond.'"
Although operating in the virtual theater's expanded area of responsibility allows more friendly forces to be deployed on the ground and air, the addition of more virtual enemy forces greatly increases the complexity of training missions; however, Weed said it's not a new concept to Red Flag exercises.
"For the last three years, we've operated significantly in the constructive aspect of LVC, so for players at the operational level - whether that's command and control in an AWACS (or E-8C Joint Stars), or command and control in the (Combined Air Operations Center-Nellis) - they've already dealt with a much larger war than just the (NTTR) ranges," Weed said.
While the ability for live assets to see virtual assets is still in its infancy, integrating all three elements of LVC will be on full display during Red Flag 15-2.
"What we're going to do is take a virtual Joint Stars, or VSTARS, to pick up movers - live trucks on the range - and broadcast that to live strike assets, F-16 (Fighting Falcons) or F-15 (Eagles), to go employ on a dynamic target mission," Voigt said. "The Nellis Test and Training Range personnel on the range are a crucial partner for LVC integration. The ability to track and send location data to the VSTARS is due to their experts."
U.S. Army Patriot missile units will also make their first trip to Red Flag to join in the LVC integration.
"It will be a little complicated, but we'll have live Patriots on the range playing constructive and we'll have virtual Patriots in the constructive and virtual battlespace playing as well," Weed said.
While Weed said most future Flags will feature only virtual Patriots - it costs more than $1 million to bring a live Patriot unit to Red Flag - the biggest benefit of virtual training doesn't come from financial savings, but from increased mission readiness for participating units across the board.
"I think over the course of time, if it can adequately replace the live play we'll save money. But from the Red Flag perspective, this is about advanced training and the more opportunities we give aircrew, Patriot operators and Joint Stars teams to participate and learn to fight together, the better off our forces will be," Weed said. "And it's that training focus that's driven us to this LVC arena in great detail."
Although the DMOC will serve as the hub or "brain" for all things virtual during the exercise, the 505th TS and Combined Air Operations Center-Nellis will serve as the "belly-button".
"The air operations center plays a critical role during Virtual Flag and a critical role during the integrated Virtual and Red Flag," Voigt said. "What we provide is the operational-level command and control - the node that connects the virtual players to live players and the constructive players.
With Red Flag now in its 40th year, Voigt said the integration of the virtual aspect will keep the 'Flags firmly entrenched as the service's premiere combat training exercise.
"By combining LVC training, we'll be able to show how we can maximize our footprint in LVC, push the technology envelope, see where we need to go in the future with our end-goal being able to integrate fifth-generation fighters and bombers with our fourth-generation assets, while being able to provide them with realistic threats to go against," Voigt said. "The combined efforts in the months leading up to 15-2 will pay huge dividends for all the participants, as they're going to get the most combat-realistic environment in the Air Force."