2015-02-04 By Robbin Laird and Ed Timperlake
During our visit to Nellis AFB we had the chance to sit down with Col. Ted “Vader” Dempsey, the Commander of the Nevada Test and Training Range.
According to a local Georgia paper (in a piece published in March 2014) which highlighted Dempsey’s promotion to Colonel (it is good to see we still have local communities proud of what our warriors do!):
A 1988 graduate of Coosa High School, Dempsey attended the United States Air Force Academy, graduating in 1992 with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering.
He entered flight training in 1998, becoming a certified pilot for the Air Force’s F-15C Eagle.
He has flown missions in Operations Southern Watch (Iraq) and Noble Eagle (Homeland Defense) and has deployed to Saudi Arabia and Iceland.
The Nevada Test and Training Range is a unique national asset managed and run by the USAF.
According to the official USAF Fact Sheet:
The Nevada Test and Training Range (NTTR), formerly the 98th Range Wing, provides the warfighter a flexible, realistic and multidimensional battle-space to conduct testing tactics development, and advanced training in support of U.S. national interests.
The NTTR also provides instrumentation and target maintenance support for Green Flag-West at the National Training Center and Leach Lake Tactics Range (LLTR).
As a Major Range Test Facility Base (MRTFB) activity, the NTTR supports the Department of Defense advanced composite force training, tactics development, and electronic combat testing as well as DOD and Department of Energy testing, research, and development.
The NTTR hosts numerous Red Flag and U.S. Air Force Weapons School exercises each year, as well as various test and tactics development missions.
The NTTR coordinates operational and support matters with major commands, other services, DOE and Department of Interior, as well as other federal, state, and local government agencies. The NTTR acts as the single point of contact for range customers.
Even though the range is very large indeed, with the evolving threat environments of the 21st century, training is not confined simply within the confines of even this large training area.
Similar to what we discovered at Fallon, the USAF and the USN are focused on how to operate in the expanded battlespace of 21st century operations.
The size and role of the test range was identified in the Fact Sheet as follows:
The NTTR is the largest contiguous air and ground space available for peacetime military operations in the free world.
The range occupies 2.9 million acres of land, 5,000 square miles of airspace which is restricted from civilian air traffic over-flight and another 7,000 square miles of Military Operating Area, or MOA, which is shared with civilian aircraft.
The 12,000-square-nautical mile range provides a realistic arena for operational testing and training aircrews to improve combat readiness.
A wide variety of live munitions can be employed on targets on the range.
In our discussion with Col. Dempsey, he provided an overview on the nature of the range, its training role, the challenges in preparing for the next decade of 21st century combat, and ways to work towards more effective training for the 21st century battlespace.
The Role of the Range
The range is obviously designed to train airpower to operate in the various mission settings which today’s Air Force needs to operate in.
But it is not just about the mechanics of flying; it is about “multi-domain mission readiness,” according to Dempsey.
“Warfare is the synergistic combination of desired effects.”
This means that the air component of warfare is a key element but only part of a synergistic whole, and the training environment needs to reflect this.
We raised the question of the important role, which the US Army is playing with missile defense and Col. Dempsey noted that in coming training exercise, US Army air defense units are part of Red Flag 2015.
A Training Gap
Col. Dempsey discussed the historical role of the NTTR, when training done on the range was for preparing for Desert Storm.
The air-land battle approach was tested and trained on the NTTR.
With the post 9/11 focus on what would become the Iraq and Afghan conflicts, resources and focus of attention shifted to operations on the ground.
This meant an atrophy of technical capabilities for the type of higher end conflict required post Desert Storm.
As the land wars draw down, and conflicts, which are either hybrid or near competitors, need to be anticipated and trained for.
The training environment must be calibrated for the next decade of operations, the NTTR must be properly configured to deal with evolving threats, and prepared for the introduction of new capabilities such as the F-35.
In fact, the F-35 coming to Nellis at a time when the USAF was relooking at the threat environment and the appropriate tactics to deal with that environment provides an interesting historical convergence.
The convergence is productive two ways, both in terms of evolving the F-35 approach to combat operations and shaping overall tactics for the combat air force.
“We are opening up our aperture with regard to training for 21st century operations precisely as the F-35 enters the Air Force fleet.”
Synchronization to Deal with 21st Century Threats
The synchronization of air, space, and cyber elements and with the joint and coalition force is the core task of training to operate within the 21st century battlespace.
The F-35 will be a key element within which synchronization approaches evolve.
As at Fallon, Col. Dempsey underscored the importance of Live Virtual Constructive Training as a key part of the range’s future.
“The live part is operators that are affecting things are actually doing it in the environment that they are likely to do in combat.
A person is operating their platform or combat space by actually doing their task in real time.
Virtual means that I’m sitting still in a building in a mock up of my plane and getting some training.
The constructive piece of that is that an environment is generated by computer models in which the training takes place.
But here’s the confusing part.
If you’re a space operator going to war and you’re sitting at your space console to generate and train the effect, we’d say that’s live, right?
It’s as live as we know it because that’s where they’d go to war.
When they simulate that activity they’re sitting at the same console they were sitting at when they’re live, and so when you try to delineate virtual and constructive, it depends on the context.
A robust environment presents relevant training, and an appropriate combination of live, virtual, and constructive inputs provides the best environment for current and future needs.
Going forward what that means is our flight crews operating on the Nevada Test and Training Range will need to be tied into a Live Virtual Constructive Environment, they have a realistic sense of the threat and the challenge of leveraging joint and coalition assets in shaping the effects needed to defeat that threat.”
The Challenge: Crafting and Evolving Realistic Training
Given the nature of the expanded battlespace for 21st century operations and the complexity of joint and coalition operations two difficult challenges need to be met.
First, the threat needs to be as realistic as possible and to be simulated as rapidly as possible.
“We do not have years to craft a threat scenario; we need to find ways to develop realistic threats into a combat training environment, that prepare us for real world operations and optimizing the synergy of our tools to deliver real combat capability.
Second, there is the challenge of working the synergy among the assets to be used in operations.
It is challenging to orchestrate only USAF assets, let alone joint and coalition ones.
But this is the challenge, which must be mastered in the real world.
“Our long-term goal here is to present a realistic environment which is agnostic of country. And it must be a realistic environment which is complicated enough to train the crews to maximize the performance of their systems. And to do that we need to be able to master the process of Live Virtual Constructive Training. ”