9/13/2013 1:21:00 PM Simulator gives guardsmen training
BARTONVILLE, Ill. (AP) — The sound of gunfire caused Spc. Christopher Wilson to perk up and look around quickly. He peered over a ridge and saw two trucks with machine guns firing at him.
“Back up, you don’t want to get shot,” said Master Sgt. Jon Oliver to Wilson who slowly backed off the ridge.
Within minutes, an F-16 made a strafing run and returned to launch a missile, destroying the vehicles. Wilson, 20, of New Athens, took a swig on his bottle of water, put down his radio and put the video game controller back on the table.
He and other artillery spotters from the Illinois Army National Guard’s 33rd Brigade Combat Team were training in a highly advanced simulator located at the 182nd Airlift Wing in Bartonville. The simulator is among the most advanced of its kind and was developed by members of the Bartonville-based wing to teach its joint terminal air controllers (JTACs) how to coordinate air support between the pilots in the sky and the troops on the ground.
Imagine a Sony PlayStation or Xbox on steroids and you might be getting close. The simulator has terrain that is accurate for Afghanistan, so much so that Oliver said you can go onto Google Earth and compare. In one room are the trainees, either airmen with the 182nd’s specialized squadrons of JTACs or the soldiers who came to Peoria to train with the JTACs to learn how to integrate the two service branches better.
Such realism is essential as the airmen are often on the ground with infantry troops or artillery spotters like Wilson.
Lt. Cols. Brian Filler and William Wheeler, head of the 168th Air Support Operations Squadron, are proud of the cooperation between the branches and even more so of the fact that airmen here in Peoria helped to design the system which is the model throughout the Air Force.
“And just wait until you see the next one,” Filler said of an improved version will feature surround sound and a dome-like screen, both of which are designed to give the JTACs a more real world feeling.
The room is kept warm, the volume is turned up and there is a dizzying array of information thrown at a person. The effect, said Filler, who commands the 169th Air Support Operations Squadron’s JTACs, is to recreate as much as the chaos on the battlefield as possible in a controlled environment.
Added Wheeler: “The real reason there are Air Force JTACs is not to deliver an effect upon the enemy but to make sure that we don’t do that to the good guys. Remember everyone looks like an ant from 30,000 feet.”
And that’s an issue on the battlefield where miscommunication or having a plane fly in the path of an incoming artillery round can have disastrous results. The simulators, the two men say, allow their airmen and others to practice their skills so when they are deployed, things go more easily.
On the other side of the room, are the trainers, experienced JTACs, many of whom have received Bronze Stars in the past for their actions in the midst of combat. Many have been deployed three or four times.
Drawing upon what they have seen and lived through, they are training the new generation. With a bank of a half-dozen computer monitors, they can create any scenario they want.
Need a tank? Want to call in artillery? Want to create a situation where unless bombs hit properly on target, everyone dies? All are possible. There is even an option for pilots like Filler to fly the airplane called in for the support mission, adding another human element to the equation.
Filler took the controls and “piloted” an A-10 Thunderbolt II. A device attached to his hat caused the view to change whenever he turned his head. It was almost like real flying, he said.
It’s a long road to become a JTAC. Filler said from start to finish, it takes at least two years and more likely four to finish the program. And simulators like the one at the 182nd allow people to stay proficient without incurring the costs of flying actual planes and dropping actual bombs.