By: Mr. Nick Marchuk, Director of Training, Atterbury-Muscatatuck Center for Complex Operations
The constraints of today’s battlefields place greater importance on using small ground teams that can operate in hostile territory and coordinate precision airstrikes against a variety of targets.
During the month of October, a ground team from United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), Special Operations Forces personnel from the country of Sweden, 113th Air Support Operations Squadron, Joint Terminal Attack Controllers from the Indiana Air National Guard and fixed-wing pilots from Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana came together for exercise Iron Express to conduct pre-mission training for five days to prepare them for future deployments throughout the world. Iron Express is a joint, multinational, training exercise sponsored by Atterbury-Muscatatuck Center for Complex Operations in southern Indiana.
Iron Express provides a realistic and challenging environment for ground teams and JTACs to work in concert while conducting full-mission profiles with live and simulated integrated fires. JTACs are specially trained armed forces personnel who, from a forward position, direct the action of combat aircraft conducting close air support and other offensive air operations.
“Atterbury-Muscatatuck hosted Iron Express due to the complex terrain, availability of air to ground ranges, and the ability to layer commonly separate scheduled training into one comprehensive event,” explained Major Nick Roukas.
“Due to Muscatatuck’s proximity to Jefferson Proving Ground, A-10 aircraft have the ability to conduct air-to- ground missions followed by simulated close air support to ground forces maneuvering on Muscatatuck. It is an ideal location to conduct pre-mission training because of its sprawling urban terrain that encompasses over one thousand acres of cityscape with two hundred buildings”, he continued.
The 38th Combat Aviation Brigade, Indiana Army National Guard was able to provide realistic rotary-wing infiltrations into one of the many helicopter landing zones located at both Muscatatuck and Atterbury. The combat aviation brigade was to accomplish their own training objectives while conducting hasty medevac missions for the ground unit. Augmenting the exercise with rotary-wing aircraft further enhanced the realism of each vignette and provided both the ground force and air crews an opportunity to train collectively in a realistic environment.
The Indiana Army National Guard DET 1 D Co 776th BEB, 76th IBCT Shadow Platoon supplemented the exercise and added another level of complexity and opportunity for joint training. The shadow platoon provided the JTACs and ground forces a target acquisition platform to use for target interdiction. JTACs utilized live video from DET 1 Shadows to conduct target acquisition and pattern of life satisfying mutual training objectives.
“It is always good when our capabilities can be used as a force multiplier. We know that we are providing a service to another unit that extends their reach, capabilities, and mission success," said CW2 Daniel Brown, platoon leader for DET 1. "Ultimately, this joint experience helps each user understand how best to utilize and support one another."
During full- mission profiles at Muscatatuck, the ground teams along with the embedded JTACs, were able to work with virtual Predator Unmanned Aerial Systems being operated from the Air Force Research Lab at Wright-Patterson Airbase. The simulated Predator UAS conducted reconnaissance flights over Muscatatuck while providing the Soldiers and JTACs more capabilities and refinement of Air-to-Ground integration skills by using previously collected terrain data. Virtual predator UAS were also injected into live-fire scenarios with F-16s while at the Camp Atterbury Air-to-Ground range. The simulated UAS presence forced embedded JTACs from 113th ASOS to not only manage the live munitions being dropped, but also the real and simulated layers of airspace being utilized.
The United States Army Special Operations Command (USASOC) Ground Force Commander commented, “Because of declining budgets, Iron Express provides a comprehensive, complex training environment with low costs.”
As commanders look for cost-effective training solutions that replicate real world complex missions, live-virtual-constructive training will be a vital component. USSOCOM ground forces and Swedish SOF Soldiers were also able to take advantage of Joint Training Enterprise Network 2.0 at Camp Atterbury to conduct a day of training with Air Force Special Operations Command‘s AC-130 gunship simulator located at Hurlburt Field, Florida. By connecting online and using Virtual Battle Space 2, Soldiers at Camp Atterbury were able to do multiple missions with live AC-130 crews in a simulated environment. By conducting this portion of the exercise in a virtual environment, users reduced exercise costs (aircraft and munitions) by $88,500.00, according to analysis conducted by Mr. Scott Moore, AFSOC Joint Training Support Center.
Iron Express, which is a quarterly scheduled exercise, aims to create an incomparable joint training environment for US and partner nation SOF to participate in unique air-integration training scenarios. Participants involved with Iron Express will train in a joint environment, commonly found on the battlefield, to increase their readiness and wartime capabilities.
“Camp Atterbury and Muscatatuck allowed for a unique, complex environment to serve as pre-mission training. JTACs from the 113th ASOS allowed for Air-to-Ground integration and communication that could not have been replicated without JTAC support,” said USSOCOM GFC.
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