In 2005, the U.S. Air Force harnessed the power of technology to allow groups of Airmen across the world to train together on virtual battlefields; all without leaving their unit. Now, with the recent accreditation of the 89th Attack Squadron at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., Remotely Piloted Aircraft Airmen will be able to harness that power as well.
Distributed Mission Operations allows participants from U.S. Armed Forces and allies to train together in highly complex campaigns, using a mix of local, distant and virtual participants. Although DMO is not new to many units across the military or the Air Force, it is for the Remotely Piloted Aircraft enterprise.
“DMO is a very new capability for the MQ-9 enterprise,” said Col. Timothy Monroe, 25th Attack Group commander. “We first installed a [network] with one of the squadrons in early 2018, and we’ve been working aggressively to connect our combat units to the DMO network ever since.”
With the groundwork for other RPA units laid by the recent DMO network accreditation of the 89th Attack Squadron, on Sept. 14, 2020, the Air Force will be able to accelerate change in the program and bring the future faster to the platform.
“One of the challenges the MQ-9 enterprise has dealt with since its inception in 2003, is the overwhelming majority of our tactical resources have been committed to combat,” Monroe said. “For the first time in the history of the MQ-9 enterprise, we have a synthetic training aid that allows us to connect with platforms and different services anywhere around the world at any point in time to train together.”
According to Monroe, the DMO network will help MQ-9 units fight more effectively with joint and allied forces and is essential to the reconstitution of the MQ-9 enterprise going forward. The accreditation also fulfills command priorities by developing a future ready force by modernizing in three foundational areas: multi-domain operations, agile resilient communications, and battle management.
“A major effort for the Department of the Air Force right now is rethinking force generation and force presentation concepts for all of our weapons systems,” Monroe said. “The DMO conductivity supports our force generation by providing us the opportunity in reconstitution to build readiness in our current and our future mission set in a variety of areas of operation around the world.”
Not only does DMO afford the ability to train anywhere at any time, it allows units the flexibility to participate in small, medium and large scale virtual exercises without the cost and mission impact of sending aircrews and intelligence professionals for weeks. DMO provides the ideal training environment to aircrews and intelligence professionals by providing customizable and complex training environments.
“[DMO] allows us to stay ahead of the adversary,” Monroe said. “We can anticipate the environment and plan for very specific or general scenarios to give our crews and partners the most advanced and most complex training experiences outside of the real-world mission execution.”
Although the 89th ATKS is currently the only RPA unit capable of utilizing DMO in-house, it will not remain so for long. Squadrons across the 25th ATKG at Shaw AFB, South Carolina are scheduled to receive their DMO accreditation in 2021.
“This DMO accreditation is specific to the 89th ATKS at Ellsworth AFB, but what this does is pave the road for other units in the 25th ATKG to come online,” said Maj. Philip, 89th ATKS simulator training chief. “The simulators approved at Ellsworth will create a blueprint for other units to follow and gain accreditation.”
According to Philip, the accreditation process for DMO takes approximately three months and the 89th ATKS began the process in January. However, due to COVID-19 and quarantine procedures, the training and network testing were initially postponed until conditions became better.
“Completing DMO network testing during the COVID-19 pandemic proved to be extremely challenging,” Philip said. “It was only made possible by the hard work and flexibility from members of the 89th ATKS, civilian contractors, the Distributed Training Center and participating fighter, bomber and joint terminal attack controller units.”
The recent accreditation came at an opportune time for the 89th ATKS, as they prepare to participate in Virtual Flag — an upcoming joint exercise that serves as a training as you fight exercise by integrating the full spectrum of air, land, surface, space, and cyber warfighters in a virtual battlespace in joint and coalition environments.
Philip said that Exercise Virtual Flag is an optimal solution to the precautions that continue to place limitations on travel and training both internationally and at home. Not only does Virtual Flag allow warfighters to get the same experience they would get out of a real flying exercise without using costly fuel and deployment time, but also keeps troops safe by limiting their exposure to COVID-19.