By Jacob Boyer
Special to American Forces Press Service
Nov. 6, 2009 - Coalition and joint terminal attack controllers used a simulator to hone their skills in calling in close-air support during U.S. Joint Forces Command's advanced-concept technology demonstration Bold Quest 09, which concluded here and at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., yesterday. The JTAC Virtual Trainer is a system of training applications and simulators providing joint terminal attack controllers with an opportunity to hone their aircraft-control skills in a field environment with pilots in aircraft simulators that could be located anywhere in the world, said Phil Shevis, who works in the operations office of Joint Forces Command's joint training directorate.
Shevis said the trainer saves time, money and resources.
"We are trying to enable realistic JTAC training in a field environment," he explained. "Although it is preferable for JTACs to train with live aircraft and live ordnance, this is costly, and oftentimes the aircraft are diverted due to weather or mechanical issues. This capability allows the JTACs to get the training even when the live assets aren't available."
Additionally, simulations provide opportunities to train in realistic conditions without going to the combat theater. "You can work with coalition forces," Shevis said. "You can use terrain that is in theater even though you're at home station."
The simulator was brought to Bold Quest 09 to give JTACs from the United States and its allied partners a chance to use and give feedback on the system to the development team. JTACs used a remotely operated video-enhanced receiver, or ROVER -- a durable laptop computer with wireless capability and a radio over a network system -- to communicate with a pilot "flying" an F-16 simulator in Germany, enabling them to see what the pilot saw.
The pilot simulated an F-16 flight over Lejeune's training areas. The "target" - in one case a typical sport-utility vehicle - was replicated in the simulation as a target for a close-air-support mission. Using the ROVER and a piece of equipment on loan from the United Kingdom's defense ministry, the JTACs called in simulated air strikes on the vehicle.
U.S. Air Force Maj. Garret Lacy, director of current operations at the Warrior Preparation Center in Germany, said the ROVER allows JTACs to help pilots find the correct target in a chaotic battle space.
"We're using simulations connected over a network to feed that information," Shevis said. "In this particular instance, what we're doing is connecting through the Joint Training Experimentation Network to the Warrior Preparation Center in Germany. They're running two simulators: an F-16 simulator and a Predator simulator. Those two systems are going to generate video, which we're going to transmit to the JTACs on their issued equipment."
The WPC has been working on JTAC simulations of its own for some time, and Lacy said their work came about because JTACs often were being deployed before they could train with the equipment they would be using.
"We noticed with the Afghanistan conflict and in Iraq, some of the JTACs were going downrange without getting the chance to work with the gear that they were actually going to be using," he said. "They were using it for the first time in combat, which we thought was unacceptable."
During the demonstration, JTACs from several countries tried the JTAC Virtual Trainer. A Norwegian army special operations JTAC said it could be a very useful tool in training his nation's warfighters.
"We think that it might be very suitable for us, because we have a simulator training program where we are based as well," he said. "It could be very useful for us to do some training without real aircraft."
(Jacob Boyer works in the U.S. Joint Forces Command public affairs office.)