WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio — When Air Force acquisition program managers meet to discuss the impact of their programs, they frequently talk figuratively about the ability to “put bombs on target.”
But when managers of the Joint Terminal Control Training and Rehearsal System mention “bombs on target,” they are being literal.
The system is a high fidelity mission simulation system that allows operators to interact with weapons, laser designators and even night vision goggles, according to Capt. Richard Lopez, program manager for the 677th Aeronautical Systems Group at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio.
“It is an immersive trainer that creates a virtual environment with 220 degree field of view in a 700 square foot room that looks like half an egg shell,” said Captain Lopez. “The trainee walks in and can interact fully with the system.”
A true “joint” solution, the system can be used to train operators from any military service for three different missions. US Air Force Tactical Air Control Party (TACP), Combat Control, and other service members qualified as a Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) can maintain their proficiency for conducting Close Air Support missions and employing munitions with-in close proximity of friendly forces while engaged in a firefight. At the same time, service certified Joint Forward Observers (JFO) can train to coordinate and operate with a JTAC by providing indirect surface fires from mortars, field artillery, and even naval gunfire for more difficult missions.
Aside from high explosives rounds and JDAMs, the simulator will also provide an Air Traffic Control capability to allow Air Force Combat Control Team (CCT) members to maintain their primary skills of directing the safe landing and departures of aircraft on airfields and austere Forward Air and Refueling Points (FARP).
Interoperability between different branches is equally vital, according to Captain Lopez. Unlike previous systems that trained only specific functions, this simulator can train all the ground controllers, whether Air Force, Army, Navy or Marine, which ensures all services are operating from the same set of instructions.
If everyone is trained to the same standards, it should not matter if an Airman is directing a Marine Harrier to drop a bomb on enemy forces only meters away from Army infantry units, according to Captain Lopez.
“These missions are designed to bring the combined might of the entire DoD to the battlefield. That is the way the real fight is being conducted, so that is the way we must train,” he said.
The system is also designed to work in a distributed environment meaning when a trainee directs an F-16 to bomb a target, he may be talking to an pilot flying an actual mission at a training range halfway around the world or to a pilot sitting in an F-16 simulator in the next room.
“The distributed environment enhances the realism of the training not only for the ground controller in our simulator, but also for the attack pilots or AWACS controllers or anyone else involved in that scenario,” Captain Lopez said.
Richard Brake, a former JTAC currently working as a subject matter expert for the program, stressed the importance of the training.
“During my career, we had the ability to spend plenty of time on live fire ranges directing actual aircraft, but that isn’t possible in today’s budget environment,” Mr. Brake said. “This system allows controllers to leverage assets to keep their skills sharp, and even train more effectively without some of the restrictions found on military ranges.”
At the moment, a production representative article of the system is being assembled from existing technology. Once complete a competition will be held to go into production.
Captain Lopez said the goal is to hold the open competition in 2010 and achieve initial operating capability in 2011.