By Lisa Terry McKeown, 43rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs

POPE AIR FORCE BASE, N.C. (AFPN) 2-16-06 — How do you get 30 bases, hundreds of personnel and tons of aircraft and equipment together in one place?

The answer: cyberspace.

For the second time since its conception in September, aircrews from the 23rd Fighter Group stepped into a simulated exercise called Virtual Red Flag.

The virtual war recently fought here via the cyber-super highway included Airmen from various military installations around the world. Air crews and ground operators linked up to “fight” the enemy in a completely virtual environment.

The exercise created scenarios based on information and tasks in specific areas of the world. The simulated data can include geographical features, maps, weather and movements of the forces.

The participants are briefed at the beginning of their day through a multi-view video conference. Plans, charts and other pertinent information are also sent to each location so they can be referenced during the meeting. From there, the participants head to their simulators and into “combat”.

“The simulators do everything but burn gas and pull G-forces,” said Steven Callich, 23rd Operations Support Squadron. The 23rd Fighter Group’s A-10 Thunderbolt II simulator was only one of many types of aircraft involved in the exercise. F-15 Eagles, F-16 Fighting Falcons, B-52 Stratofortresses, B-1 Lancers and helicopters were all tied into the event.

“Working in a simulated environment gives us a training capability that we wouldn’t get otherwise,” said 1st Lt. Joden Werlin, 75th Fighter Squadron. “We also get to see the tactics used by other squadrons. It makes inter-operations much cleaner.”

One of the biggest benefits of Virtual Red Flag is its versatility. Pilots can train with numerous aircraft in all types of weather, all types of combat environments, day or night, in most any location in the world. Another benefit is cost savings. The Air Force estimates that one hour in a simulator costs less than six minutes of flying an actual aircraft. Virtual Red Flag also removes the need for transporting, lodging and feeding aircrews — additional cost savers.

A key difference between training in a virtual environment and training live is that exercise controllers can modify the intensity or even freeze the action while the program is running. This enables air crews to train and learn from situations in ways not possible in real-world training.

Virtual Red Flag has not replaced the Red Flag exercise that takes place every year at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. However, Mr. Callich hopes that in the future, the simulator will be able to mirror more of what happens at Red Flag. “Our goal is to be able to link up and meet training requirements that match what we do in the air,” he said.

With imagery upgrades and ever-advancing technology, that goal may be reached before long.