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Davis-Monthan Air Operations Center tests skills during Virtual Flag exercise

DAVIS-MONTHAN AFB, Ariz.) -- Airmen at Twelfth Air Force (Air Forces Southern) are testing their ability to command and control a theatre-wide air campaign during a flag-level exercise this week at the James Doolittle Air Operations Center here. The Virtual Flag exercise is a cooperative effort between Davis-Monthan based AOC staff, aircrews flying in simulators and network centers at more than a dozen distributed locations across the United States, and exercise planners from the 505th Command and Control Wing at Hurlburt Field, Fla.

The focus of Virtual Flag is to create a realistic, mock-battlespace using networked aircraft simulators and complex computer models to train aircrews and Air Operations Center staff members, explained Lt. Col. Thomas McGrath, the Chief of Combat Operations for Virtual Flag and Deputy Division Chief at the 612th Air Operations Center.

"This exercise, the first of its kind held at the Twelfth Air Force (Air Forces Southern) AOC, was a tremendous opportunity for the members of our Total Force team, contractors, off-station augmentees, Coalition instructors and observers," said Colonel McGrath. "We started as a group of individuals and finished as an integrated team working together towards a single, unified mission."

During Virtual Flag, the AOC is linked to the Distributed Mission Operations Center at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M. There, planners from the 705th Exercise Control Squadron manipulate the course of events as friendly or enemy forces. The results appear on participants screens in real time, in the proper format for their system.

To hold an actual event involving thousands of sorties would cost millions of dollars, but with distributed mission training, missions are 'flown' in a simulator or generated by a computer to appear on screens in the AOC. For Airmen planning air tasking orders or monitoring missions, the exercise sorties will appear to be happening in real time over a fictitious country.

"Our team is used to handling a fairly predictable amount of sorties each day," explained Lt. Col. David Wallace, the 612th Air Operations Center commander. "Virtual Flag allows us to 'ramp up' our systems, processes and procedures to a level one might expect during a large scale contingency response or combat situation."

"We're able to simulate a massive air campaign and react to scenarios that generally do not exist in our area of focus, from kinetic ops to combat search and rescue, without flying an actual sortie. It's a huge cost savings, yet incredibly valuable training -- Virtual Flag prepares our AOC warriors for deployments to Southwest Asia and to respond to contingencies in the U.S. Southern Command area of focus," concluded Colonel Wallace.

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