Network Offers Top-Notch Training to More for Less

June 2009
By Rita Boland


The Distributed Mission Operations (DMO) system allows operators to hone their homeland defense skills using a combination of real and virtual tools. Here, operators use simulators to train on a homeland defense scenario.

Simulations geared to protecting the United States are scalable, high fidelity and ready to go.

The U.S. Air Forces Northern Distributed Mission Operations program hit a new milestone recently, with the successful completion of the first-ever individualized warfighter training event. In the past, the program, which supports homeland defense missions, could only accommodate large-scale team training efforts. With the new training capability, learning opportunities are open to more people, and with the improved infrastructure, daily events are a practical option.

The initial individualized training event was held in January at the 601st Air and Space Operations Center (AOC), known as America’s AOC, at Tyndall Air Force Base (AFB), Florida. It culminated more than four years of effort to create the infrastructure necessary to support such practice opportunities. Air Forces Northern (AFNORTH) Distributed Mission Operations (DMO) personnel built the capability from the bottom up, with all of the command and control systems requiring design and integration for stand-alone training. System personnel created the network and backbone to make joint simulators around the nation operate together.

A key piece of the puzzle to delivering individualized training was the development of an AOC training room in tandem with the maturation of the DMO technology. The 601st AOC created the room for practice or for use in an actual crisis and made it fully DMO-capable. Col. Vincent Mancuso, USAFR, was the first person to participate in the individualized training. The colonel normally is assigned as the mobilization assistant to the Headquarters U.S. Air Force Director of Operations, but is serving his Air Expeditionary Force tour as a chief of combat operations in the 601st AOC.

The AFNORTH DMO team’s specific mission is to enable the AFNORTH commander to conduct homeland defense warfighter training within a high-fidelity virtual training network. The DMO team chose the Air National Guard’s Air Reserve Component Network (ARCnet) to establish its persistent low-cost connectivity between the 601st AOC, defense sectors and mission-critical headquarters at North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and U.S Northern Command (NORTHCOM) as well as in Washington, D.C.

Distributed training allows the DMO technology to present the battlespace across the whole spectrum and tailor it to specific user needs. The DMO training concept combines live-virtual-constructive systems, simulations and environments that are connected via networks in support of training, tactics development, experimentation and testing. For example, an F-16 simulator in California can fly with an F-16 in Maryland, and they can both fly virtually over Chicago and show up on NORAD command and control displays.

By linking geographically separated simulations, trainees can play from their home station and use realistic warfighting capabilities in a common network. In a homeland defense scenario, a soldier in a Stinger simulator could fly the aircraft over the National Capital Region while connected with Army ground defense. A command and control operator could participate simultaneously while sitting at an air management system that replicates the capabilities in a mission training facility or center offline.

By leveraging cross-domain solution technology, the homeland defense ARCnet players can connect to the entire fleet of joint force weapons systems simulators. The network has attained a security level that allows it to maintain its daily, persistent connectivity. It began with eight initial locations in 2005 and has expanded to 25 persistent locations, or locations constantly connected into the network, as of the end of 2008.

The locations include the Transportation Security Operations Center (TSOC) in Washington, D.C, which is important to the AFNORTH DMO because interagency coordination is a defining characteristic of the homeland defense mission. The node enables collaboration with TSOC components including the U.S. Secret Service, the FBI and U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Future growth of the network includes adding persistent ARCnet nodes at all Air National Guard air defense alert fighter bases.

According to Larry Christie, a Booz Allen Hamilton Incorporated senior analyst with the DMO program, the DMO training is now scalable and can be tailored to its training audience. Booz Allen and its subcontractor, ARINC Incorporated, have employees working alongside government employees on the AFNORTH DMO team. Until recently, DMO personnel lacked the capability to provide short-term, high-fidelity homeland defense training events. With the infrastructure in place, they can train individuals on short notice with less preparation, and the training is cost-effective even for persistent, daily use.

D.W. Smith, ARINC AFNORTH DMO senior analyst, says the constant-use capability requires a culture and paradigm shift to the understanding that realistic training is available on that persistent basis. The shift mandates that DMO personnel continue to work collaboratively with external agencies and other military branches, including the Air National Guard. Smith says that all the parties involved will refine how they work together closely, as well as how they will make scheduling decisions. Various groups involved in homeland defense already are operating with one another in the DMO arena. For example, Army air defense missile crews who were trained and certified via the DMO simulation with AFNORTH are protecting the airspace over Washington, D.C.

In the past, the military has insisted on live training for certain functions because leadership did not believe fidelity in virtual training was high enough to equal the experience of live events. Christie says the new DMO training capabilities can change all that. Before, trainees could not be fully immersed, but now they can enter sanitary training environments and make decisions in total immersion.

The streamlining of the preparation process, which includes network management and database building, makes scenarios ready for use more quickly at the individual level. Smith explains that all the advancements enhance individual training, offering more realism and making the technologies scalable to different training events. Previously, when a pilot entered a training simulator, DMO personnel acted as role players to feed the pilot necessary information. Now, those pilots can talk to actual battle managers, allowing the military to embrace and accept the simulated training as a substitute for live training. “We’re doing everything except firing up the plane,” Smith states.

The AFNORTH DMO ability to connect to all the networks composing the Joint National Training Capability (JNTC) enables training in a variety of Air Force, NORAD and joint force exercises. U.S. Joint Forces Command hosts the JNTC, which uses a mix of live-virtual-constructive models and simulations in an integrated network of more than 40 persistent training sites to provide the most realistic collective joint mission experience possible.


Dwight Herndon, a computer network and systems analyst with ARINC, sets up a training mission using DMO technology.

In August 2008, the DMO capabilities were used in a large homeland defense Virtual Flag exercise with participants on both coasts of the United States using various simulators, including two for the Airborne Warning and Control System. Air defense personnel from the Western Air Defense Sector participated as well, using real-world systems, and all participants saw the same picture. Pilots in simulators could see intercepts on their radar scopes, including when a target blew up. The same scenario executed in 2006, using actual aircraft and personnel deployment, exceeded $6 million in operational flight hour and deployments costs. By comparison, DMO personnel conducted the scenario during Virtual Flag 12 times in one week at a fraction of the cost.

AFNORTH DMO partnered with the Air Force’s DMO at Kirtland AFB, New Mexico, to execute the first homeland-defense-focused Virtual Flag. If the exercise had been conducted in a live-fly manner, the costs for the event, which featured eight distinct, 90-minute worst-case scenarios, would have exceeded $20 million. The AFNORTH DMO program operates on an average annual budget of $2.5 million a year, and personnel say the program generates a 20-to-1 return on investment.

Saving money on travel and logistics is one major benefit of using the DMO for homeland defense scenarios. Reduced logistics also eases coordinating across the services. Another benefit spins off of eliminating travel—allowing warfighters to stay at their home station with their families instead of traveling for several weeks.

Training through simulation from home station is not only less expensive, but it also enables scenarios not feasible in the real world, such as flying low to the ground in Washington, D.C., or chasing a cruise missile in New York City. “That would just cause pandemonium and panic,” Smith says. Using the live-virtual-constructive simulations in the DMO training, the participants have the realism to exercise scenarios effectively over large metropolitan areas where safety otherwise would prohibit them. Unlike other theaters of operation, the homeland defense arena is highly constrained by flight safety issues and interagency coordination.

Currently, the DMO training accommodates several hundred trainees a year. Steve Boe, AFNORTH DMO program manager, expects that number to increase to several thousand over the next few years. Potential system users reach out to the DMO staff members who bring them online into the training infrastructure. “We’re forever educating the homeland defense community on our training capabilities,” Boe says. Most people in the community already are aware of the efforts and are encouraging and supportive of them.

The DMO training also has relevance to civilian emergency response agencies, and ground-based civilian responders are logical partners in various scenarios because what happens in the air affects events below. The training currently tends to stop at the final engagement decision, and it is Air Force-centric. The next level addresses how responders on the ground react when an airplane is shot down. That level would focus on how the military would work with the civilian community to respond to the aftermath, as well as how it would coordinate response with civilian emergency management agencies. The DMO virtual networked training could provide solutions to those and similar concerns.

Christie states that many civilian agencies would want to receive the air picture to facilitate response on the ground when an event such as Hurricane Katrina occurs. Bridging the military and civilian communities for integrated training is a growth area for the live-virtual-constructive training environment. “That will be our next training area,” Christie explains.

The biggest barrier to incorporating non-U.S. Defense Department organizations with the existing DMO capabilities is information security. Christie says connecting all the players together on a Defense Department secret network creates problems. Exporting information to civilian agencies causes network integration hurdles that are not insurmountable; however, the military needs to ensure that its networks are protected at all times. Christie shares that many of the hurdles are related more to policy than technology from the information security standpoint.

Other future plans for the DMO training capabilities are underway as well. Dave Cronk, ARINC DMO program manager, says the next step is to make the training audience more aware of everything available to it through the DMO technologies. He states that DMO personnel want to make their efforts more easily available to users and incorporate the capabilities into more training cycles. That work should come to fruition shortly.

Also on the horizon is connecting into the system organizations that the DMO routinely simulates such as the Federal Aviation Administration, some law enforcement agencies and other interagency partners. Currently, the DMO technology is not established with those groups. In addition, DMO personnel are working on creating a cross-domain solution that will provide better interoperability with Canadian allies by allowing U.S. forces to integrate Canadian partners into the DMO training. It would directly enable more realistic cross-border training events by allowing Canadian and U.S. operators to train in the same virtual battlespace, while ensuring a high level of information security.

The DMO capabilities also are effective as a means to develop new operational concepts. The Missile Defense Agency partnered with the AFNORTH DMO staff to plan, design and execute a missile defense exercise. NORAD and NORTHCOM operationally sponsored the event to assess seams and gaps in the homeland defense decision-making process. The commands specifically focused on future asymmetric threat missile attacks.

601st Air and Space Operations Center:
1st Air Force/U.S. Air Forces Northern:
U.S. Northern Command:
Joint National Training Capability:



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