Northwest Military Blogs: McChord Flightline Chatter

March 4, 2016 at 6:49am

Air breathing threats

Big Buffaloes winning team members from Barbarian Flight, are Staff Sgt. Anthony Milton, Senior Airman Matthew Stephens, Staff Sgt. Nathan Lucas, Tech. Sgt. Joseph Carey, and Capt. John Dalrymple. Photo credit: Capt. Kimberly Burke

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The Western Air Defense Sector's (WADS) annual Top Scope competition was held Feb. 16-18, testing operations crew members in their ability to detect, identify, and defend against air-breathing threats in difficult simulated scenarios.

Three teams of five members competed in the local competition with individual top performers advancing to the NORAD Top Scope at Tyndall AFB, Florida in April where they will compete against teams from the Eastern Air Defense Sector, Canadian Air Defense Sector, Alaska NORAD Region 176th Air Defense Squadron, Hawaii Regional Air Operations Center 169th Air Defense Squadron, and the 552nd Air Control Wing.

The individual top performers from each duty position are: Capt. John Dalrymple, senior director; Staff Sgt. Brian Kulp, weapons director; Tech. Sgt. Joseph Carey, identification technician; Staff Sgt. Anthony Milton, air surveillance technician; and Senior Airman Matthew Stephens, tracking technician.

The winning team with the top combined score is "Big Buffaloes" from Barbarian Flight. Team members included: Capt. John Dalrymple, senior director; Staff Sgt. Nathan Lucas, weapons director; Tech. Sgt. Joseph Carey, identification technician; Staff Sgt. Anthony Milton, air surveillance technician; and Senior Airman Matthew Stephens, tracking technician.

The WADS Top Scope competition is made up of a written test and two simulated scenarios. In order to provide challenging simulations, Tech. Sgt. Ryc Cyr, Top Scope planner and non-commissioned officer in charge of contingency plans in Weapons and Tactics shop, spent nearly six months planning with DMO (Distributed Mission Operations) contractors and subject matter experts to ensure the competition covered all desired top learning objectives.

"There was an extremely difficult fifty question in-depth written test tailored specifically to each specialty where any information contained in the supporting guidance was fair game," explained Major Antony Braun, chief of Weapons and Tactics.

The simulated scenario execution phase is comprised of two vulnerability periods per team. One replicates a standard peacetime scenario similar to Operation Noble Eagle, which is the prime mission focus of WADS. Operation Noble Eagle was named for the military response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The mission has been ongoing since the attacks, serving to provide air sovereignty of North American airspace.

The wartime scenario simulated an enemy deliberately attacking an island with cruise missiles. The teams were responsible for defending 10 high priority targets on the island with only the assets already pre-positioned there. The scenario was designed so teams had to prioritize the centers of gravity and the assets needed to protect those targets. "The intent of this exercise was to test the decision making ability of the team by making it nearly impossible to successfully protect all ten high priority targets," according to Master Sgt. Bryan Villanueva, Weapons and Tactics superintendent.

"DMO is a system we have in operations that simulates virtual combat," explained Villanueva. "Real pilots from Iowa Air National Guard's 132nd Wing - Detachment 1, Distributed Training Operations Center (DTOC) run the simulation for us."

DTOC electronically connects pilots from across the country in realistic simulation training opportunities all over the world. DTOC is able to create enhanced virtual battlefields that challenge pilots with realistic and demanding scenarios. The end result is that pilots and command and control operators from all over the United States can participate and collaborate in high fidelity mission training events in the virtual environment without ever leaving their home bases.

"To be successful in this competition the participants had to think outside the box - at a graduate level," said Braun. "The scenario required competitors to be able to prioritize and quickly make decisions when faced with multiple targets at the same time to include other possible issues such as in-flight emergencies or refueling issues. An error in decision making at the onset of a scenario could possible lead into a very challenging and nearly impossible winning outcome. The decision making process and managing the air picture is the heart and soul of what we do."

Each five member team was made up of one tracking technician, air surveillance technician, identification technician, senior director, and air weapons officer/weapons director.

The tracking technician is responsible for determining whether data is a potential threat based on its heading, speed and altitude and has to account for weather and radar background noise. The air surveillance technician assesses the information from the tracking technician and determines the validity of the object. The identification technician is responsible for running an ID matrix on the data which is based on the object's position, altitude, speed, origin and heading. If the object stays "unknown" the senior director will determine which air asset to launch to intercept. The weapons director is responsible for talking to the air assets and gives direction to the pilot to complete the intercept.

During each scenario, there were critical areas of evaluation for all team members which included checklist adherence, crew coordination and situational awareness. Specifically, the air surveillance technician and tracking technician positions had special emphasis on air picture management and accurate track initiation. The senior director /weapons director position critical areas were rules of engagement, treat evaluation and tactical decisions. Finally, the identification technician position critical area was adherence to the ID matrix.

"I am extremely proud of our team members," said Col. William Krueger, Western Air Defense Sector vice commander. "The Top Scope competition encompasses the most challenging scenarios that continue to sharpen our air defender's skills for the real world 24/7 mission we conduct at WADS on a daily basis. I know our team will represent us well at the NORAD Top Scope competition."

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