Keeping track of 60 aircraft from U.S. and allied partners during a two-week exercise could seem to be an impossible task especially in a training space the size of Florida.
To help with the giant task of tracking and collecting data, fighter aircraft are equipped with Air Combat Maneuver Instrument Pods to track actions ensuring pilots can learn from their flying experience and sharpen their war fighting skills.
The ACMI pods, which look similar to the typical air-to-air missile in dimensions, collect data as the aircraft negotiate training scenarios in the 64,000-acre Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex while participating in Red Flag-Alaska. Back on the ground, the information is dissected and used to debrief the crew on what they did well and what they could improve on – education being the key.
“Every participating jet gets a pod,” said Randy Robertson a contractor from Bering Sea Environmental North, the company that provides and mounts the pods. “These 140-pound units are key to training. They give pilots the opportunity to learn from their mistakes and others.”
Robertson compared the information to a scene in the movie ”Top Gun” where Navy pilots are debriefed about their performance.
“This system is similar to the green shapes pilots saw in the film; however, our system is state-of-the-art,” he said.
With five countries and almost every branch of the U.S. military flying simulated combat sorties in a realistic threat environment, this information becomes invaluable on a daily basis.
“The ACMI brings all the time and money spent on sorties to fruition,” said Maj. Sam Stitt, the 354th Combat Training Squadron operations division chief. “We are able to take the information and accurately debrief.”
Stitt said some information can be lost with the fast-paced environment of Red Flag and describes the action in the field as chaotic.
“Debriefing is like a film study in football,” he said. “Every player has a job and even though you can’t replace hands-on flying, it’s extremely valuable to review information from the outside.”