JSTARS trains in world-wide exercise from the comfort of home

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Roger Parsons
  • 116th Air Control Wing
Team JSTARS spent the week participating in a worldwide training exercise called Coalition Virtual Flag 13-4 without a single E-8C Joint STARS aircraft leaving the ground.

During the weeklong exercise, aviators from the 461st Air Control Wing and exercise planners from the 116th Air Control Wing, put their skills to the test in a large virtual battlefield along with units from 23 different locations worldwide including Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom.

Working from a robust simulator housed within the 116th Air Control Wing, JSTARS aviators were linked with other exercise participants on a network maintained and operated at the Distributed Missions Operations Center at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M.

"Coalition Virtual Flag provided the opportunity for us to participate in simulated operational areas and scenarios we aren't normally involved in," said Capt. Rolando, an exercise planner with the 116th Operations Support Squadron, Georgia Air National Guard.

"We were able to practice a wider variety of command and control and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance skill sets while communicating with more assets than we normally experience with other exercises or during our real-world missions," shared the Capt.

This exercise provided a unique opportunity for JSTARS to not only operate over a land based battle space; which has been their forte since the inception of the platform, but to also integrate more in a maritime environment working directly with a strike group from the U.S. Navy's Third Fleet.

U.S. Navy Cmdr. Mike Reed, U.S. Third Fleet liaison officer, spent the week at Robins Air Force Base to learn more about how the Navy can benefit from the capabilities of the Joint STARS platform.

"The platform has a lot of capabilities which are completely different than what the Navy uses," said Reed. "I've seen at least four scenarios where JSTARS can easily flow in the maritime environment. Virtual Flag gave us the opportunity to test new tactics, techniques and procedures, learn how to fully integrate JSTARS over water and help us solidify that relationship."

One scenario involved melding the broad area surveillance capability of the JSTARS platform with current Navy radar capabilities. The E-8C operators provided threat and target data during an exercise providing Maritime Infrastructure Protection for four simulated oil platforms.

Not only did the exercise provide an opportunity for aircrews to practice new scenarios with a wide range of assets; many of the JSTARS operators were fresh out of training or had no previous experience in an exercise of this magnitude.

"For people new to the platform like me, Virtual Flag gave us an opportunity to learn how to do our jobs better and how to integrate better in a coalition environment," said Capt. Titus, 16th Airborne Command and Control Squadron senior director. "It's been a challenge, especially in robust large force scenarios."

A unique aspect of Virtual Flag that enhanced the training opportunity was the execution, planning and debrief process the crewmembers followed.

After each mission, a mass network conference was conducted giving every platform a look at the overall picture followed by local debriefs.

"We would execute our missions, immediately debrief what we did right and wrong, then go straight to mission planning for the next day," said Lt. Toby, 16th Airborne Command and Control Squadron air weapons officer. "The lessons learned and mistakes we made one day, we were able to work on the next day and continually improve as individuals and as a team."

With budget constraints allowing for fewer live opportunities for training,
Coalition Virtual Flag provided a realistic and affordable means for JSTARS operators to prepare for real-world scenarios.

"In live exercises there are many barriers from cost, environment, maintenance and safety issues that affect our planned scenarios," commented Toby. With this exercise all those barriers were eliminated and we were able to focus more on training in a safer more cost effective environment."

(Full names of JSTARS aviators withheld for security purposes)