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Druid's Dance Exercise Yields Major Training Milestone

By Army Spc. Andrew Orillion
Special to American Forces Press Service

SUFFOLK, Va. , May 2, 2008 – A forward air controller spots an enemy target during a training exercise.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Air Force Lt. Col. Joe Schulz, an action officer with Air Combat Command’s Joint Air/Ground Combat Division, provides virtual close-air support to troops on the ground in Great Britain during the Druid’s Dancer exercise. Schulz, using the U.S. Joint Forces Command’s Joint Training and Experimentation Network, communicates and interacts with British controllers on the ground nearly 3,700 miles away using the same equipment, tactics, techniques and procedures as if he were there in person. Defense Department photo by Air Force Staff Sgt. Joe Laws

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Using a standard-issue radio, he relays the coordinates for an air strike to a pilot.

Communications are sent back and forth until the target is locked on and eliminated.

It all sounds very ordinary until you realize the controller is standing on the Salisbury Plain west of London and the pilot is flying a simulator at the Joint Warfighting Center here.

As little as two years ago, this scenario would have seemed almost unimaginable, Steve Kostoff, communications planner for the Joint Warfighting Center, said. With recent advances in live virtual constructive training and network connectivity, communication between allies has improved training dramatically, he explained.

"We've demonstrated this capability before in the United States. But now, we're extending it from a U.S. network into a British network," Kostoff said. "It's taken us a long time to solve that problem effectively, but we pretty much have solved it in the case of training. ‘Druid's Dance’ is the first time we have done this network connection with the United Kingdom."

Druid's Dance is a joint United Kingdom and U.S. Joint Forces Command training exercise designed to train a battle group of soldiers to deploy to the Afghan theater. U.S. forces are experiencing Druid's Dance as a simulation, but U.K. troops are living it as a live exercise.

The new network capability provides better and more cost-effective training by allowing the U.S. and U.K. forces involved in Druid's Dance to communicate through normal methods of communication without having to be in the same area of operations or needing special equipment in the field.

Kostoff said the only field equipment required is a standard radio, replicating the real-world experience. The forward air controller uses a radio to send out a signal. Software converts the signal to data sent through a U.K. network and relayed to the network in Suffolk. A pilot at a work station here receives the transmission and responds with a simulated air strike.

All this happens in real time, with the controller and the pilot in constant communication.

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Joe Schulz, an action officer with the Air/Ground Combat Division of Air Combat Command, is one of the pilots who provides simulated close-air support for Druid's Dance and had high praise for the new network and its potential to improve training.

"It's nothing but a positive. I used to be stationed over in England and did a lot of work with the U.K ground FACs. Now, we have the ability to do the same type of work from the United States," Schulz said. "We crawl into our simulator; we make contact with the U.K. forward air controllers and run through a fairly realistic scenario from our home bases. That is going to allow everyone's training to be exponentially better."

The network not only brings better training, but also helps conserve training dollars.

"It costs a lot of money for a jet to get up in the air and fly around for an hour or two to do training. This will never supplant [live] training, but you can do it a lot more often. You can train with greater frequency when you can do it this way, as well," Kostoff said.

Kostoff said the technology used in Druid's Dance is not completely new. Talisman Saber, a joint exercise last year with the Australian armed forces, used a similar network.

"This is the first time we have ever had this kind of network-to-network connection with this ally," Kostoff said. "I was very satisfied that we were finally able to see success come out of two years’ effort; it was a lot of hard work. But here we are, and we were talking to the British this morning over the radio. When you do that, it's nice to see the payoff."

Schulz added that the British deserve much of the credit for making the new capability a success.

"We'd be remiss if we didn't really thank the British for all the hard work they put in on their side to make this happen," Schulz said.

Druid's Dance will wrap up May 16. If it proves a success, Kostoff said, the Joint Warfighting Center will expand the program to other allies.

"We plan, by next year, to be able to extend the same capability to Canada. And then after that, we're looking at NATO," Kostoff said. "We have a sister installation at NATO called the Joint Warfare Center in Stavanger, Norway. It's very much like the Joint Warfighting Center. And we've begun work on how we can make connections with that installation and train with them."

Kostoff also is looking beyond just close-air-support training. NATO battle staff and naval warfare training could be the next areas for the new capability, he said.

(Army Spc. Andrew Orillion serves at U.S. Joint Forces Command Public Affairs.)

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