FORT SILL, Okla. --With a point of a finger the Air and Missile Defense Crewmember team-in-training spotted simulated aircraft in the digital terrain of the Joint Fires Multipurpose Dome. The rumble of the plane was heard and felt Friday, as Soldiers from Avenger class number 10-10 stepped onto the platform with a stinger missile in hand.
In Building 2765, the new training equipment sits like a giant bubble of simulation. The $3.5 million dome was designed after the original simulator in Fort Bliss, Texas, but includes major upgrades like 84 projectors, seven computer units, three catwalks for maintenance, four subwoofers and a partridge in a pear tree. OK, not the last part, but the list is impressive and that fact is not lost on the Soldiers.
"When they walk in here they have a 'wow' reaction. This age of Soldiers is used to computers so when they see this game room type of simulator they're excited. Once they pick up the stinger weapon and see that they have to know their job to successfully engage aircraft reality sets in. So it's a great tool," said Alvin Kennedy, electronic technician.
Jim Dawson, the director of Training Instruction said it's the newest and largest target engagement trainer for gunners giving each Soldier 16 hours of training on the Man Portable Air Defense System. Fort Sill was lucky enough to house it as the Air Defense Artillery transitioned onto post.
Two bunkers sit in the middle of the firing platform enabling up to four Soldiers to train simultaneously. With a few clicks of the mouse, the technician chooses a scenario from the operator station and the Soldiers stand ready and waiting. Rotating a full 360 degrees, they searched the projected skies for the 100 possible simulated aircraft.
Anything from cargo planes, helicopters and jets, friendly or otherwise, zoomed across the screens. Some aircraft appearing only as far away silhouettes, the Soldiers were expected to correctly perform the steps in their training: detect the target, identify friend or foe, activate, tone, uncage the seeker, super elevate and fire.
With the proper technique and a squeeze of the trigger the stinger missile shoots a virtual round onto the screen leaving a trail of smoke and hitting the aircraft.
"It doesn't beat the real thing of actually going out and firing a live stinger missile but this training device is the next best thing," commented Dawson.
While the teams trained, eight Soldiers sat patiently waiting their turn. They watched on a television screen nearby which showed the gunner's view helping them learn from their peers victories and mistakes.
"I think it's a great piece of equipment and it's nice to actually use it for training," said Pfc. Beau Pendleton.
From desert terrain to the Arctic mountains, different sceneries and weather conditions keep the Soldiers on their toes. The technicians said they frequently change not only the scenario, but the visibility level to test Soldiers' skills and to make the training as realistic as possible.
"Wherever Soldiers have a mission going on we can take a photo and incorporate it as the background. It gives the Soldiers a better sense of the environment," said Kennedy.
He said if the Soldiers have a current mission in Afghanistan for example, the mountainous terrain helps them hit the ground running or rather standing and looking to the sky for possible enemy targets. The JFMD has been used to train the last three classes of Avenger Soldiers despite some minor glitches in the software which Dawson expects to have fixed by next month.
In the future, Kennedy also explained the dome will be used to train different jobs on the force.