In an effort to strengthen distributed training capabilities, the U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa Warfare Center hosted a multinational exercise at their facility and various facilities around the world, Sept. 22 – 28.
The exercise, Spartan Warrior 20-9, utilized the Warfare Center’s robust simulation assets to introduce air and ground scenarios for U.S. and NATO participants. The scenarios tested the players’ abilities in countering threats while building cohesive protocol for real-world events.
“It’s a validation exercise for the NATO modeling and simulation group,” said U.S. Air Force Col. Christopher Zuhlke, USAFE-AFAFRICA Warfare Center commander. “They have a charter, established a few years ago, that is trying to drive certain requirements, capabilities and development steps for how we do better distributed training. Across NATO and across the theater, we want to be able to connect from our home-stations rather than travel to do an exercise, and this is one of the validation exercises for that.”
The Warfare Center pulled participants from Geilenkirchen, Germany, for the NATO Airborne Warning and Control System; Netherlands’ Control Reporting Centers; MQ-9 Reaper operators from Creech Air Force Base, Nevada; and other entities to include fighter assets from France.
“We’re connecting them all within the scenario and are able to execute our tactics, techniques and procedures to gain better interoperability, integrate our capabilities and practice how we would actually go to war,” Zuhlke said.
With this proficiency, the Warfare Center is able to control the scenario as the hub while NATO participants remote into the simulation from their home-stations and engage in the training, real-time.
“This is the first time NATO is doing distributed training with different nations at their sites,” said Italian air force Col. Filippo Zampella, SW 20-9 NATO exercise director. “We are not having people flying their jets in one base, but we have people flying from their sims in different sites. It’s a new capability, and the objective of this exercise is to see how valuable this kind of training is.”
While virtual reality could never fully replace reality, the simulators provide a staggering replication.
“We have high fidelity sims (simulators) that really are replicating the jets,” Zampella said. “The only thing they can’t give you is the total physical sensations.”
In addition to the realism the simulators provide, this capability delivers a strategic advantage.
“You can drive a scenario based on your best intelligence to go against the most advanced threat or adversary that’s out there,” Zuhlke said. “The second thing that it does is it allows us to protect our most critical capabilities. I can execute within the simulated environment and practice making the switch actuations and using the systems as I would in a time of war. I don’t have the opportunity to do that in a live training environment because I’m trying to protect those capabilities from being seen or exploited.”
As USAFE-AFAFRICA’s largest combined air operations distributed simulation exercise to date, SW 20-9 improves operational fluidity for NATO allies and partners.
“Integration and interoperability with our NATO allies and partners in the region is key to our success,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Steven L. Basham, USAFE-AFAFRICA deputy commander. “Spartan Warrior is a major step forward in the continued development of a shared training environment that includes a combination of both live and virtual training within operationally relevant scenarios. The ability to tailor scenarios to a myriad of joint and coalition audiences enables global reach and power projection. Testing our integration and interoperability with allies and partners ultimately results in a more adaptive, responsive, synchronized force.”
As the Air Force continues to look for innovative ways to accomplish the mission, the Warfare Center will continue to conduct these exercises by leveraging innovation.
“Future Spartan Warrior exercises will become venues to validate NATO tactics, techniques and procedures including fourth and fifth-generation integration, and further develop the vision for Joint All Domain Command and Control, and Agile Combat Employment,” Basham said.