Air Force takes virtual exercise to new heights

Exercise Virtual Pitch Black 2018 (VPB18) has taken virtual training to a new level for the Royal Australian Air Force even before the "live" exercise launched on 27 Jul 18.

VPB18 was conceived as a work-up to Exercise Pitch Black 2018 as a highly-complex, multi-national large force exercise that provided integration and training opportunities for the Air Force to work with key coalition and regional partners. 

The main training audiences for VPB18 came from 41 Wing who provided ground-based Command and Control (C2) of air assets, Number 2 Squadron who provided airborne C2 with their E-7A Virtual Wedgetail and Number 37 Squadron operating in the low-level tactical environment using their C-130J full-motion cockpit simulator.

Wing Commander Mick Tully, VPB18 Exercise Director, said the exercise was about taking the highly complex Pitch Black live environment into the virtual space.

"This is to provide training opportunities and exposure to environments ahead of time for the aircrew and operators to experience on Exercise Pitch Black 18," Wing Commander Tully said. 

“A highly experienced team was contracted through MilSkil in order to develop a set of scenarios that would adequately prepare the training audience for the “live” Pitch Black exercise.

“This MilSkil team filled key white-force roles to ensure maximum realism for briefing, planning and execution - the exercise was able to fully meet intent.”

VPB18 was enabled by the Air Warfare Centre’s – Distributed Training Centre (AWC-DTC) at RAAF Base Williamtown, a system developed by the Defence Science and Technology Group.

Simulator sites across Air Force are networked using the Defence Training and Experimentation Network (DTEN), with the AWC-DTC enabling exercise control as well as blue and red force injects. 

Beyond the ability to connect remote simulators for mission execution, VPB18 provided the opportunity for Air Battle Managers, ground and air, to actively plan with fighter aircraft (MilSkil) and C-130J Hercules aircrew as it will be done in the live Pitch Black exercise.

“VPB18 was a perfect introduction for junior C-130 crews. Scenarios facilitated the airlift role nicely and allowed crews the opportunity to practice establishing contracts with the Offensive Counter Air, Strike and Command and Control packages” said VPB18 C-130J Hercules Lead Planner, Flight Lieutenant Chris Bennie.

The AWC-DTC will continue to expand the networked virtual capabilities for Air Force, with these types of exercises becoming more and more common. The future intent of the AWC-DTC is to provide a standing capability within Air Force to conduct distributed training in the virtual environment on demand, rather than as discreet activities. 

“We are merging simulators that have existed separately, but not together as one. We are creating a training system that is integrated and enables a level of complexity, density, scale and fidelity that can work for all,” Wing Commander Tully said. 

“Live, Virtual and Constructive (LVC) activities allow Air Force to integrate and exercise our advanced capabilities and tactics in a safe and secure environment without the necessity and cost of getting them airborne.

“Exercises like Virtual Pitch Black demonstrate the value of virtual training while enabling the continual development and expansion of Air Force’s distributed training capabilities.”

By FLGOFF Belinda Scott

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