Air Control Squadron Trains for the Fight

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Bryon M. Turner
  • 103rd Air Control Squadron
For many of us, summer is a time for family, friends and travel, but for the men and women of the 103rd Air Control Squadron (ACS) it is a time for war. 

Unidentified aircraft are heading in from the North at a rapid velocity, and within moments, a missile launch is detected in an apparent coordinated enemy attack on friendly ground forces. With only moments to spare, an Air Battle Manager (ABM) from the 103rd ACS identifies the aircraft as enemy fighters and F/A-18s are scrambled to intercept. Seated next to the ABM is an Army Air Defense Artillery Fire Control Officer (ADAFCO), and, through their combined efforts, a Patriot Missile site is alerted and unleashes its deadly payload, neutralizing the incoming enemy missiles.
All in a days work in a war not fought on the ground or in the skies above a distant hostile country, but rather in a realistic simulated training environment, fought within the digital realm with one goal in mind, to prepare for real combat. 

The Fleet Synthetic Training-Joint (FST-J) exercise is a large force joint training opportunity, which teamed the 103rd ACS with members of the Army, Navy and allied military units spread across the globe. Together, they faced a simulated enemy's coordinated land, air and sea attacks within a virtual battle space created by interconnected simulators through numerous globe-spanning secure training networks. 

"The main purpose of this exercise was to prepare a Navy Carrier Group for Operation Iraqi Freedom, by tying them into a realistic simulated battle through the use of some sophisticated technology," said Staff Sgt. Fredrick Bond, network infrastructure systems specialist, 103rd ACS. "We're on the cutting edge here, we're saving the military millions of dollars, and we're providing all those involved with excellent training."

As the Navy took full advantage of this virtual environment to prepare for war, the members of the 103rd ACS seized the opportunity to sharpen their own war-fighting skills. 

"These joint exercises allow us to train using specific scenarios that we'll see while deployed. The exercise planners can insert events that will stress specific aspects of the ACS mission, for example, dealing with a TST (Time Sensitive Target) and having to dynamically re-task aircraft to support an event on the ground. We can brief, execute, and debrief in a robust simulation environment which greatly enhances training," said Lt. Col. William Neri, director of operations, 103rd ACS. 

"Operations was able to upgrade personnel in preparation for future deployments. We practiced tactics, techniques, and procedures used to meet mission requirements. These events pay great dividends to the entire unit, and the Joint aspect exposes ACS personnel to many of the situations we may see in future deployments. These are very worthwhile exercises," said Neri. 

"Team work was definitely a focus area for this exercise. Maintenance and operations personnel worked together to diagnose and solve complex network and simulation problems, enabling a high level of equipment performance for the FST-J exercise," said Lt. Col. Christopher Jones, chief of maintenance, 103rd ACS. 

For the maintainers of the 103rd ACS, the FST-J required long hours of preparation to ensure the unit's operators would successfully connect to the other global sites participating in the exercise. 

"The FST-J exercise provided a 'golden' opportunity for our junior technicians to gain experience on computer, networking, and communication equipment. They definitely took advantage of the opportunity, and were the reason why the exercise was a success," said Jones. 

Members of the 103rd Air Operations Group took this opportunity to observe the members of the 103rd ACS carry out their mission. The Air Operations Group will eventually integrate data from similar units to complete their own mission. 

"One of the main players we will deal with is the CRC (Control Reporting Center), to receive the air picture to use for air coordination," said Chief Master Sgt. William Ahern, chief of Combat Operations Division, 103rd Air Operations Group. "This was a good opportunity for new members of the AOG who are going to become operators to witness a joint command and control exercise first-hand." 

Members of the Army were embedded with the Air Control Squadron to take part in the exercise and make use of the resources at the Orange Air National Guard Station.
"This exercise allowed for joint and combined integration reflective of the current operational environment, facilitating a more proficient integration during actual combat operations," said Capt. Steven Rachamin, air defense artillery fire control officer, 11th Air Defense Artillery Brigade, Fort Bliss, Texas. 

"The 103rd Air Control Squadron's professionalism and knowledge of integrated air defense provides the joint community with a very talented and experienced crew, enhancing the effectiveness of this exercise," said Rachamin.