New simulator virtually priceless for training

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Brigette A. Waltermire
  • 137th Special Operations Wing
Darkness. It’s night, and the chaos of battle is loud. The sounds reverberate all around, but there are no sights to connect the tumult. Through the cacophony, it is possible to distinguish the barking of dogs, the staccato pops of semi-automatic weapons firing, voices yelling unidentifiable phrases in indistinguishable languages and the squealing whooshes of mortars flying overhead. A lone voice rises above the rest, “Thanks for the work.” With that, the sound cuts off, lights are switched on and the scenario ends. A trainee emerges from a canvas covered simulator dome and is congratulated by the instructors.

“The dome” is one of two new Air National Guard Advanced Joint Terminal Attack Control Training Simulators (AAJTS) at Will Rogers Air National Guard Base, Oklahoma City. It spans a 270-degree field of view and allows for a virtual reality battlefield environment through visual projections and surround sound. It also allows interaction between participants and the simulation by utilizing field equipment. The 138th Combat Training Flight uses these simulators to train and qualify Airmen from around the nation as Joint Terminal Attack Controllers.

The AAJTS system can simulate almost any environment, aircraft and weapons system that JTACs use. These state-of-the-art systems feature technological upgrades such as seamless screens, increased image resolution and infrared projection capability for night ops using night vision goggles. High-quality audio systems paired with the capability to play various audio file types, virtual scenarios are made to feel extremely realistic.

Having a trained simulator operator and maintainer for the systems has been key in keeping the squadron running smoothly throughout training, said Maj. Matthew Emerson, commander of the 138th CTF. For this reason, the Air National Guard specifically developed and funded a position responsible for maintenance, operation and simulation development for AAJTS systems.

“These upgrades have increased as technology improves, and these devices have the ability to stay caught up with the latest and greatest,” said Justin Hamilton, 146th Air Support Operations Squadron AAJTS operator and maintainer at WRANGB. Hamilton is currently supporting the new AAJTS systems for a Joint Terminal Attack Controller Qualification Course with the 138th CTF.

Hamilton said he has a personal goal each year of less than 10 percent downtime of the systems between updates and unscheduled maintenance, and he was able to reach that goal for the 146th ASOS system by working directly with his company for problems he could not solve himself.

In addition to maintenance and troubleshooting, Hamilton devoted 430 hours last year to the development of simulations for new and existing training scenarios using the AAJTS simulator at the 146th ASOS. Out of the 16 Air National Guard dome simulators, instructors at WRANGB processed 371 trainees from squadrons across the country for a total of 376 training hours, which was fifth highest overall.

The various aircraft that can be simulated include the A-10 Thunderbolt II, the F-16 Fighting Falcon, F-15E Strike Eagle, F/A-18 Hornet, AC-130U Gunship, MQ-9 Reaper, AH-1 Cobra, and AH-64 Apache.

“If we flew every real-world aircraft that we use in the simulator, it would be at a cost of about $300,000 per student, per class,” said Emerson. “With these simulators, we are able to save over $7 million to train a class of 24 students.”

The total cost of the simulator is around $2.3 million. It takes around four hours to run and grade a scenario for a single student. With the current simulators on base, it is now possible to train 12 students per day when there are enough available instructors. It is also possible to connect the three WRANGB AAJTS to other simulators around the nation that are run through a distributed training operations center and play out live scenarios involving multiple agencies.

“Our eventual goal is to create a one-stop shop for the operations group to get training in conjunction with the MC-12 simulators,” said Emerson. “If we can integrate the simulators, it would be possible to train in tandem.”

Note: Story was originally written in February of 2018. Maj. Matthew Emerson is no longer commander of the 138th CTF and instead at the 146th Air Support Operations Squadron.