Advancing the Future Force with Integrated and Realistic Simulation: A Visit with the Leadership of 2d Marine Air Wing’s Training Systems Leadership.


By Robbin Laird

During a July 2021 visit to 2d Marine Aircraft Wing (MAW) I talked with LtCol J. Eric Grunke and LtCol Jessica Hawkins. Grunke just relinquished responsibility to Hawkins for the Marine Aviation Training Systems (MATS) ecosystem within 2d MAW; encompassing all aviation simulators and the necessary infrastructure.  There is a MATS Site at each of the major 2d MAW air stations; MCAS Cherry Point, MCAS New River and MCAS Beaufort.

In order to remain America’s Force in Readiness, the Marine Corps must continue to adapt as the world changes.

Force Design 2030 is focused on designing the Marine Corps that will be needed 10 years from now.

Major General Michael Cederholm, Commanding General (CG) 2d MAW, emphatically believes that training must evolve exponentially to strengthen the Marines enduring advantages, and allow them to prevail in strategic competition with China or any other nation.

Keeping with this vision, the CG directed the integration of multiple, disparate platform simulators along with command and control (C2) systems to better prepare his force and support II Marine Expeditionary Force missions. 

China has fundamentally transformed the operating environment and the Marine Corps must modernize the force and its capabilities in order to continue to deter adversaries.

A key element of the combat learning process is integrating live, virtual, constructive training; a technique that combines simulation with real-world flights and ground maneuver.  This technique is a force multiplier when shaping tactics and concepts for new and emerging technology like the F-35.

War gaming is a time tested element of the planning process for informing a commander of the strengths and weaknesses in an operational plan.

However, advances in modeling, simulation, and workforce integration provide an alternative to the traditional war game.

Commanders that leverage the advancing capabilities in virtual and constructive environments are provided with a dynamic operational environment that truly exercises real time risk and force employment decision making at all levels.

More importantly, it will allow commanders to engage a “thinking” enemy and the associated friction often lacking in a static set of assumptions used by traditional war gamers. Ideally, thereby providing a more accurate assessment of an operational plan’s efficacy.

LtCol Grunke’s experience in Operation ODYSSEY DAWN (OD) provides an example of the operational plan not playing out to script. 

LtCol Grunke was flying Strike Coordination and Reconnaissance (SCAR) sorties in support of the OD, when he had to quickly change mindset and serve as the on-scene commander for an innovative downed pilot recovery effort using a combined flight of Ospreys and Harriers.

The team launched from an amphibious ship to rescue a downed USAF pilot in record time.

His actions were a potential war changing event war game modeling can easily overlook.

Much of my discussion with LtCol Grunke and LtCol Hawkins focused on how to enhance integrated training and increase pilot proficiency against enemy aircraft and weapons systems.

To address the pacing threat, the Marine Corps is evolving and innovating as part of the larger naval expeditionary force.

One theme we discussed is the 2d MAW effort to improve realistic, wing-level training.

One critical step is having real pilots operating in their platform specific simulators (e.g. a qualified Cobra or Harrier pilot flying in the simulators) and integrating with the Marine Aircraft Control Group (MACG) to conduct coordinated missions in support of the exercise scenario.

This concept was recently tested in 2d MAW’s COPE JAVELIN exercise.

An April 29, 2021 article by 1stLt Michael Curtis of 2d MAW highlighted the exercise as follows:

“COPE JAVELIN,” which took place last month, was a simulation that followed a fictional operational scenario that could easily take place in the real world. Marine aviators from various unites across 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing strapped into flight simulators for different aircraft that were located at different bases across eastern North Carolina.

“They were able to connect across different simulation systems and work together to defend against a fictional enemy force. They communicated with each other and integrated forces in order to accomplish a mission without ever getting into the cockpit of a real aircraft.

“This integration of multiple simulation systems gives Marine pilots and Marine Air Control Group 28 Marines the opportunity to accomplish hard, realistic training without leaving their respective bases and saves a tremendous amount of money in fuel, ordnance, maintenance and various other costs associated with conducting this training in real time.

“The brains of this innovative and unique training is LtCol Eric Grunke, the director of aviation training systems for 2nd MAW. He saw the need to integrate all Marine Air-Ground Task Force assets in a virtual training environment in order to improve aviation combat training.

“Linking [systems] is not new, but we are taking it to a new level by incorporating [command and control Marines] training on their own equipment, and we are using a common scenario developed by the Training Support Center – normally a ground-centric agency.”

“Prior to this integration, the command and control Marines of MACG-28 who would be located in the Direct Air Support Center and the Tactical Air Operations Center would run separate simulations with simulated pilots and aircraft.

“Conversely, when a pilot is conducting simulator training, he or she would normally be speaking to a single pilot who would be acting as both the DASC and TAOC.

“While that training is effective, COPE JAVELIN provides additional opportunities to have key roles within the command and control structures manned by Marines who have the requisite skills to act in those specific billets. Normally, two to three integrated systems allow the pilots training in the simulator to conduct realistic communications, albeit with a makeshift TAOC or DASC outside of the simulator.

“Now, they can integrate more than ten simulators that bring together integral parts of the MAW, further allowing the MAW to be more effective in providing the six functions of Marine aviation.”

Achieving this level of integration was described by LtCol Grunke as a crawl, walk, then run process.

“The crawl phase was to get a Cobra pilot in their sim and a Harrier pilot in their sim and make sure they share the same visual representation to both fly and see the same terrain. They can then work together in that common operating picture.”

“The walk phase is to take that pairing and work with a Joint Terminal Aircraft Controller in their sim to execute a single sortie in the simulator. In that phase we still did not have the MACG (the C2 arm of the wing) fully virtual. They were purely constructive and travel to the various sites to participate. They were sitting in our simulator center just talking on the radio, doing their jobs, but not on their own equipment, and not in their own space.”

“The run phase which was seen in COPE JAVELIN was the C2 element at the DASC controlling the close air support assets coming in and out of objective areas on their own gear, while Harrier pilots in their sims and Cobra pilots in their sims participate in the engagement.”

“The goal here is to shape readiness at the wing level – Marines must be ready for anything, anywhere, especially when the nation is the least ready.”

LtCol Grunke highlighted the focus of effort as follows: “This is a working mission rehearsal.

“What I want to happen is a force-on-force exercise.

“We have a red team acting as the Russian commander; they do as they please with their forces.

“I want to ensure no telegraphing to the blue side of their intentions.

“The Harriers and the other air assets get their targets assigned and then the red force take force-on-force action appropriate to the enemy mission.

“This is how we truly achieve a force-on-force event; where we basically get to see whether our tactics work or not, given our assumptions, as the scenario unfolds.”

“They’re met with limited success in really achieving a true force-on-force, which is something we’ll want to work on for the next time.”

A second theme discussed was the challenge of networking individual platform simulators to deliver a more integrated operating space for the training effort.

When I visited Jax Navy, the challenge there is linking MH-60 Romeo with MQ-4C Triton and P-8 simulators, which is crucial as these three platforms operate as an integrated system to deliver a coordinated set of effects.

A similar challenge faces the trainers at 2d MAW.

As LtCol Hawkins put it: “We are working to streamline the data flow across not only the different flight simulators, but the other simulation systems as well, in order to run a more effective exercise.

“All of these systems have been developed somewhat independently and speak their own language.

“To work around that problem all the networking information has to run through a Distributed Information System (DIS) bridge which essentially interprets the various coding languages used by each simulation device, processes and converts it into usable language for each to understand.

“With the scale of COPE JAVELIN, the number of virtual and constructive friendly and enemy entities, the DIS bridge can become rapidly overwhelmed.”

A third theme discussed was training in the environment where operational plans are intended to be executed.  

As LtCol Hawkins underscored: “We need to obtain a more comprehensive visual data base in order to conduct true mission rehearsal exercises.

“All of the different platforms, represented by their own program offices have purchased visual imagery databases based on their own assessed priorities.  This has resulted in a disparity between the platforms; they don’t all have the same images.

“For example, a MV-22 might be able to go to Northeastern Europe in the simulator but the Harrier may not. The Cobra might be able to go to the Horn of Africa, but another platform might not. These are problems Aviation Training Systems are working through.”

A fourth theme discussed was how the training way-ahead will allow warriors to drive innovation beyond traditional war-gaming outputs.

As LtCol Grunke put it: “Instead of war gaming, let’s train for a real war.

“Let’s get into the areas where we expect to fight, with the actual terrain in a simulator, with the G/ATOR where we think it’s going to be, where we think the force is going to launch from, and see how we do.

“There’s no reason why we can’t do something like that, so long as all the imagery is unified in all the trainers, and we can see the effects of operations from the various simulator locations.”

A fifth theme we discussed was the allied aspect of training for an integrated combat effect.

I highlighted the discussion I had with the BALTOPS-50 team where Norwegian F-35s played the F-35 role in the exercise.

As LtCol Grunke underscored: “The Norwegian F-35As carry a much different ordnance load from the F-35B flown by the USMC. They also have different rules of engagement (ROE) considerations. So to work the virtual aspect we need to have a constructive role player from Norway to come over and indicate how they approach the operation.”

We closed with a question I posed to the new Director of the MATS: What key capabilities would you most like to add in the near term to accelerate the way ahead for training?

LtCol Hawkins: “I think there are two things.

“First, would be building and operating from a common global visual database.

“Second, simulators that are easily connected to one another and can talk and transfer data back and forth with ease.”

Also, see the following:

The Featured Photo is from 2012: Maj. J. Eric Grunke, pictured here at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., April 24, 2012 has been named Marine Corps Aviator of the Year by the Marine Corps Aviation Association. The MCAA gives the award to the pilot who makes the most outstanding contribution to Marine aviation over that past year.

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