Not Just Fun and Games

  • Published
  • By Faye Banks-Anderson
  • Robins Public Affairs
With lines, dots and squares dominating the screen in the Joint STARS Mission and Maintenance Trainer Simulator, it may not seem like much in the gaming world.
But, this is no video game, and the stakes could mean the difference between life and death.

Joint STARS - a one-of-a-kind weapon system - is used to making history. But the innovative approach of marrying the Air Force's premier live exercise, Red Flag, with a Virtual Flag simulated exercise, into a single, simultaneous event provides the most robust and effective training for its crews, said Capt. Caitlin Fox, 461st Air Control Wing J-STARS senior director and Command and Control Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance scheduler.

With more than 13 different types of live assets including bombers to fighters, to tankers and C2ISR aircraft to and Coalition Nation aircraft  participants at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., and over 10 simulated aircraft represented at Robins Air Force Base, Ga., and Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M.,the Red Flag/Virtual Flag exercise provides the most effective and cost-efficient air, space and cyberspace training.

According to Fox, the integrated training provides the most realistic simulated and live training to date - giving crews ground and surface support by looking for anything moving around them.

The exercise provides participants a screening of sorts - getting a snapshot of what's flying overhead and what's on the ground, including water surfaces.

"It removes the element of surprise," she said, when discussing the unmasking of adversaries while hiding J-STARS' own counter tactics.

What's particularly special about this exercise, said the captain, is that with this robust training, it doesn't matter if it's a live asset or a simulated one; it allows us to do our job in two very different environments.

"This is definitely the wave of the future," said Col. John Cooper, 461st ACW commander, who along with the 116th Air Control Wing make up Team J-STARS at Robins.

Cooper explained that it's beneficial to practice in this type of environment.

"You can practice things that you can't always practice live ... things that are too dangerous or too hard to replicate in real life."

He continued, "It's all about connectivity ... more ways to communicate, more ways to move data."

These exercises give crews more opportunities to practice or react to multiple scenarios, said Cooper. It allows crews to build muscle memory so that when dangerous or unexpected situations occur in real time, crews are better able to adapt, to know what to do.

Fox agreed.

Because of the large-scale exercise, sometimes it creates problems the crew has to work through.

"That's not a bad thing," she said. "If something crops up later on, it's not as scary now."

The virtual side offers a simulated ability to test almost anything, said Fox; while the live portion can present situations not normally thought about.

It starts with dots on a screen and live air crews, and ends with a robust understanding of how to better protect and safely accomplish the mission.

And, it's not for play, it's for real.