PEORIA, Ill. — Airmen with the Illinois Air National Guard unveiled a combat simulator they helped create for tactical air controllers during a ceremony with lawmakers Oct. 5 at the 182nd Airlift Wing.
The Air National Guard Advanced Joint Terminal Attack Controller Training System allows tactical air control party specialists to practice coordinating airstrikes while deployed overseas with ground forces. The AAJTS will potentially save the government $95 million through fiscal year 2018, by reducing the cost of qualification training by 48 percent, according to an analysis presented to the Air Force.
Maj. Jason Clifford, commander of the 169th Air Support Operations Squadron that launched the simulator, said that although nothing can replace the experience of controlling live aircraft, the simulator is a cost-effective alternative.
The system is a realistic way for tactical air control parties to train and maintain proficiency, especially in a time of financial restraint when resources are not always available, Clifford said.
The AAJTS also provides an enhanced training environment not available in a live training range.
"We can stop and start events so that guys can learn where they failed or where they did well in their training," he said. "We can pause the mission, pause the aircraft, give a quick debrief, steer them back in right direction and have them pick up right where they left off."
Matt Hruska, simulator operator and maintainer for the 169th ASOS, said that the end result of incorporating simulator training will be Airmen equipped to provide close air support to ground troops in danger.
"I’ve been that grunt that never had air support, so I’ve been in situations where you’re getting shot at and you’re like ‘This is it, I’m dying,’ " Hruska said. "With this, we give hope. Once you hear that (aircraft) come in, it’s like ‘Yes!’ So motivation goes up. They know that Air Force is watching their backs, and that’s the biggest thing — just watching that guy’s six."
The simulator is comprised of a 270-degree dome projection screen, a control station and an aircraft simulator station. The dome contains 14 high-end projectors that immerse the user in wartime scenarios. It can be networked with other AAJTS simulators, allowing TACPs and pilots to train together worldwide without leaving their bases.
State and federal legislators experienced the simulator firsthand after they participated in its ribbon cutting.
State Rep. Michael Unes, R-East Peoria, said he was amazed at the simulator’s realism and its applications to real-world operations.
"I heard about it, but it’s one thing to hear about it and it’s another thing to actually see it in action and how real it is from the ground to the air," Unes said. "It’s great that we’re able to have this type of training to bring our guys home safely."
The Peoria TACPs teamed up with the QuantaDyn Corporation in 2012 to help create the AAJTS by ensuring it emulated the battlefield, from the sound of being shot at to equipment malfunctions.
U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., said she was impressed that the concept originating in Central Illinois has now spread throughout the country and overseas.
"I’m very impressed with that, and I think it shows ingenuity," Bustos said. "It shows that the folks here are not giving up on making sure that they’re always viable, always moving to the next step, and I’m just very, very impressed with the whole operation here."
To date, TACPs with Peoria’s 169th ASOS have completed 101 combat deployments, during which they controlled more than 1,500 aircraft missions. The unit’s Airmen have earned 29 Bronze Stars, 69 commendation medals, 26 Combat Action badges and one Purple Heart.