505th CTS Supports 7th AF in UFG 2013
HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. -- The Korean Peninsula has been called the most tension-filled border on Earth, and military exercises there are closer than most to pragmatic reality.
Late every summer, the Republic of Korea Armed Forces and the Combined Forces Command practice for that moment no one wishes for...armed confrontation between the north and the south.
The air war portion of Ulchi Freedom Guardian 2013, a computer-driven exercise pitting 7th Air Force and its ROK air force counterpart against a North Korean adversary, historically has two parts. The first is the gradual buildup of Allied power with ever-increasing intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) support, an increase in aerial refueling capability, and the planning for strikes if, and only if, the north attacked.
Part two, lasting only a few days, witnesses a simulated air war with hundreds of sorties flown from bases throughout the ROK, as well as from off-peninsula airfields. UFG 2013 was somewhat different, utilizing the "fight tonight" scenario with virtually no buildup prior to combat.
The success of this game, this attempt to plow through various means, methods, and options, falls on the capability of 7th AF's Air Operations Center (AOC) to hear the commander's plan and convert it into a meaningful apportionment of air power.
The understanding of the commander's intent and the "management" of the assorted pieces of air power becomes evident on the COP, or common operating picture, which portrays on computer screens the flight of every airborne object, including joint, allied and enemy aircraft and missiles, as well as ground targets... and the creation of that COP falls to a small unit from Hurlburt Field, Fla.
The 505th Combat Training Squadron supports dozens of exercises throughout the year, but none any more important to a commander than UFG 2013. Osan maintains the Korea Air Simulation Center, or KASC, which houses scores of computers and screens, servers, networks and switches that make up the federation of programs that accurately portray all air, ground, and naval assets in the exercise.
The centerpiece, though, is the actual "flying" of air objects on the screens which follow the air tasking order produced by the AOC every day.
The 505th CTS brought a small team of people to Osan, leaving a few more at home to "fly" air refueling, airlift and ISR missions. Close air support strike, counter-air, personnel recovery, and more were all flown from the KASC during two weeks of 24-hour per day exercise play, all coordinated through a humongous collaboration of programs which allows the AOC to actually watch a four-ship of Kunsan Air Base F-16 Fighting Falcons refuel with a KC-135 Stratotanker from Kadena Air Base, Japan, in an orbit off the west coast of Korea, and then follow the F-16s to their target.
The 505th CTS is a small squadron with fewer than 150 members, more than half of whom are retired U.S. Air Force members who flew, controlled, or maintained the aircraft they now "fly" on computer screens.
They're called the professional control force, and retired Brig. Gen. Barry Barksdale, who was the exercise director of UFG 2013, told the PCF members, "Without your experience and expertise, this exercise could not be run."
The 20 controllers working this exercise "flew" over 13,000 missions during 10 days. UFG13 involved the participation of about 50,000 ROK soldiers and 30,000 U.S. military personnel. A small contingent at Camp Courtney in Okinawa, Japan supported U.S. Marine Corps computer flights.
The 505th CTS, part of the 505th Command and Control Wing, was ably supported by a sister squadron, the 505th Communications Squadron which worked closely with the KASC to keep the systems up, the models running, and the computer blips on the screens.
It is a 21st Century marvel, but accurate nonetheless, that a suite of computers sitting on desks at Hurlburt Field was, in fact, part of the computer network emanating from Osan. That portion of the PCF located at Hurlburt had the same COP, used the same phone lines, and monitored most of the same systems as the larger part of the team in the KASC.
The financial savings in that distributive layout was a trade-off for certain parts of the system which could not be replicated halfway around the globe. The lack of face-to-face access with the AOC in Osan, as well as with ROK controllers doing the same mission for ROKAF aircraft add to the plus/minus value of the savings.
Some balance of travel costs versus monetary investment in increased network capability versus enhanced firewalls will be the focus of discussions in the future, but for two dozen exercises in the past, and for exercises into the foreseeable future, the 505th CTS will continue to provide the view from 60,000 feet.