Warfighters Practice for Live Combat, Virtually

March 2007
By Henry S. Kenyon

Rising fuel and operational costs are limiting the size of many U.S. Air Force exercises. To keep the service’s personnel trained, the U.S. Air Force Agency for Modeling and Simulation (AFAMS) is managing a global network of flight simulators linked in a virtual environment, designed to allow warfighters to train anytime, anywhere.
Networked equipment, sophisticated models facilitate cost-effective military exercises.

Advanced software tools and simulators are allowing hundreds of U.S. Air Force personnel to train together in cyberspace. The agency responsible for managing these electronic events also maintains interoperability standards for automated training applications and integrates the latest technologies into its models and simulations.

This organization, the U.S. Air Force Agency for Modeling and Simulation (AFAMS), CentralFloridaResearchPark, Orlando, Florida, supports the Air Force’s large-scale training needs. The group develops, manages and integrates applications ranging from acquisition, testing and evaluation models and standards to operations support software.

A major aspect of AFAMS’ work is supporting the Air Force’s Air Operations Center (AOC), the service’s strategic-level organization responsible for command and control of air and space forces for combatant commanders, says the agency’s commander, Col. Louis Olinto, USAF. The colonel explains that the AOC is similar to a weapons system with specific training requirements. However, unlike an individual aircraft such as an F-16 Falcon, the AOC is staffed by 200 personnel analyzing incoming data to help commanders make operational decisions.

To assist the AOC, the agency has developed a set of software tools called the Air and Space Constructive Environment (ASCE). The software operates via machine-to-machine communication to help simulate aircraft missions and data from intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets. “It generates information, images, sorties and a lot of different things to allow the people in an AOC to train,” the colonel says.

The ASCE also has applications for distributed mission operations, which combine the modeling software with simulators providing aircrew training. Col. Olinto notes that these tools also are used to train combatant commanders in joint exercises.

The colonel observes that similar to the other services, the Air Force is changing how it functions because of new technologies and operational pressure. To pay for modernization and recapitalization, the service is shifting its internal organization by downsizing some of its major commands while expanding others such as the AOC. Modeling and simulation may affect the Air Force’s determination of whether it can continue to provide the same levels of service with fewer people. “Can the organization still do the same job and be as effective and efficient? What replaces seven [out of 10] people may be some type of model or simulation. How can the Air Force leverage modeling and simulations to augment the loss of some other capability?” he asks.

AFAMS is the executive agent for developing tools such as the ASCE, and it has oversight in the Air Force user community for simulation and modeling requirements, explains division chief Lillian Campbell. The agency is responsible for identifying and translating user needs to its developers, she says.

The ASCE provides several capabilities through the Air Force Modeling and Simulation Training Toolkit (AFMSTT) ,such as an air warfare simulator that connects to the theater battle management control system. This link to a larger operating environment allows the Air Force to fly virtual sorties during an exercise. The AFMSTT also enables logistics support simulation.

Col. Olinto explains that these tools support Air Force exercises simulating major combat operations. He says that the air tasking order during a war may call for thousands of sorties per day. “In the real word, we could not fly 3,000 sorties per day [for training]. It would be too costly to deploy that many aircraft and aircrews. So we accomplish the exercise through machine-generated sorties,” he shares.

In addition, the ASCE has an information operations suite that provides the AOC with simulated sensor data and interacts with the Air Force Synthetic Environment for Reconnaissance and Surveillance, a joint program used by all the services. Campbell notes that these applications work together to simulate data from a variety of aircraft such as Global Hawks, Predators and U-2s.

The agency also directs the simulation aspect of large distributed training events. Individual Air Force bases procure and manage their own simulators for individual pilot proficiency training, but AFAMS is responsible when they are networked into a single mission environment. Though simulation equipment is purchased from different contractors, all simulators need to meet the same standards. “Part of my mission is to work through the issues so that all those simulators can talk to each other,” Col. Olinto says.

In these distributed mission operations, AFAMS links the various assets at the operational theater level. The Air Force is moving toward live virtual training to connect from dozens to hundreds of simulators into one environment. The colonel observes that the U.S. Army has been conducting this type of virtual group training for many years. Until recently, the Air Force used its simulators only as individual pieces of tactical training equipment. “Now we’re tying simulators in from different bases to work together in what we call mission rehearsal or large-force employment. It’s the exact same way we go to war,” he says.

Connecting simulators allows Air Force units to train at the squadron and wing levels. The agency also provides the software tools to support distributed virtual training. For example, the premier Air Force combat training event is Red Flag. But the service’s downsizing is affecting the exercise by limiting the number of real aircraft that can participate.

Events such as Red Flag now use simulators for individual pilot proficiency training and group operations by linking them to the AOC. AFAMS’ software tools also permit a number of training options. For example, if a real U-2 surveillance aircraft has a mechanical problem and cannot fly a sortie for the exercise, a virtual version of the aircraft can be flown to support pilots and headquarters personnel.

AFAMS supports the Joint Training Transformation Initiative (JTTI) by providing modeling and simulation for training events. However, AFAMS tools must meet operational standards to interoperate in a joint environment. The agency alters its models based on JTTI group requirements and objectives. “If they make any changes on their end, we make sure our models can work within that federation,” Campbell says.

The agency also works extensively with the Army, U.S. Joint Forces Command and U.S. Northern Command to meet their specific requirements. But she adds that matching interoperability requirements goes both ways, noting that JTTI members must modify their simulations to meet AFAMS’ needs.

In addition, AFAMS heads an unofficial coalition called the Modeling and Simulation Standards Steering Group, which consists of all the services and joint groups. This body recently linked all of its vetting processes to manage emerging standards more quickly and inexpensively. Col. Olinto relates that a software tool to automate the approval process is being developed.

The agency is the lead standards-setting and -development organization in the Air Force and the service’s voice to the joint community. But the colonel admits that even within the Air Force, AFAMS must deal with competing requirements. “It’s challenging to get my own service to adopt certain standards,” he says.

Although it integrates many technologies into its simulations and models, AFAMS does not direct the service’s research and development efforts. The colonel adds that research is concentrated in the Air Force Materiel Command and the Air Force Research Laboratory.

One example of the organization’s integration efforts is its work with Air Force agencies building directed-energy weapons to model these capabilities and to integrate them into simulation environments. “We are not developers, but we are definitely integrators. When we learn about a capability, we try to integrate it into operational use so that it’s meaningful to the warfighter,” Col. Olinto says.

AFAMS also does not directly acquire new modeling or simulation capabilities, but it does have oversight and control over funding for such programs. For example, it works with the AirForceElectronicSystemsCenter at Hanscom Air Force Base, Massachusetts, on the design and development of the AFMSTT. “Once we understand the requirements, we work very closely with the users and the developers. They’re the ones actually writing the software code, but we have the oversight and we control the funds,” Campbell says.

One challenge facing the agency is deploying personnel around the world to support training events. The colonel notes that the contractors who created the software send staff to exercises as well. AFAMS is developing a distributed workstation that will allow simulations to be managed remotely from anywhere in the world.

This distributed approach is a significant change, not only for the Air Force but also for the other services, Col. Olinto shares. “In the past, when you had a large-scale exercise or training event, the commanders in the field wanted a person to turn to if there was a problem. Today, you might send an e-mail or get on the telephone to find out why your exercise in Korea or Japan is having a modeling problem,” he observes.

Another issue is convincing senior Air Force leadership to believe in the agency’s modeling and simulation capabilities. The colonel states that what was once done in the air now is carried out in a simulator and that exercises requiring mass deployments are less frequent because they can be simulated. “We are moving to a time when less people actually have to fly. You augment training such that you can use simulators or constructive [software] tools,” he says.

AFAMS also is seeing increased demand for mission rehearsal training based on real-world events. This new training requirement, coupled with homeland-defense-based exercises, has exceeded the agency’s support capacity, Campbell shares.

Col. Olinto adds that until recently, it was only special operations forces that regularly conducted mission rehearsal training. “Now we’re finding on the conventional side—such as Army or Marine forces training to deploy to Iraq—that bringing all of a force together to mission rehearse is a challenge. But it’s a challenge that will be met with the capabilities that modeling and simulation bring to the table,” he says.


Web Resource
U.S. Air Force Agency for Modeling and Simulation: www.afams.af.mil