|SLIC Ppens New Era in Communications Training |
SLIC Ppens New Era in Communications Training
By Tech. Sgt. Andrew Gates, 5th Combat Communications Group Public Affairs.
Robins AFB, Georgia -- (ACCNS) November 16, 2001 -- The 5th Combat Communications Group here has a SLIC new way to teach tactical communications.
Using the Systems Learning and Integration Center, the group enhances hands-on training on the systems that combat communicators deploy to the field. It takes the "deployed" out of deployed communication – at least for training purposes.
By taking advantage of this center, trainees can put together tactical networks, simulate satellite connections, and troubleshoot the Air Force’s most advanced deployable communications equipment in a learning environment.
"This is the first time in the Air Force that a combat communications unit has stood up something like this," said Master Sgt. Frank Norris, the SLIC facilitator. Currently, much of the SLIC’s capability is anticipated, as the unit is being put together, drawing together equipment and trainers.
With a routinely hectic deployment schedule, the 5th CCG found that it was losing many of the skilled technicians who had operated its tactical equipment for years. Getting the trainees together with highly skilled technicians was also becoming increasingly difficult.
"This center allows us to bring together the best of the best combat communicators in one location, and allow them to provide standard training to people arriving at the group," Norris said. "We hope to be able to bring people from technical school to the journeyman level of ability."
In the past, one of the best learning experiences for a new trainee was the group’s quarterly field exercises, known as "Crown Jewels." In these exercises, units set up a tactical communications network, incorporating computers, telephones, satellite connections, and air traffic control assets. "This might have been the only practical experience these folks got before they actually headed into a contingency or deployment," Norris said.
With the SLIC, "we want to be able to simulate locally what people used to do in the field," he said. "One of the biggest challenges with training tactical communication is teaching in a realistic environment. With the SLIC, we can set up equipment to simulate satellites, or even to simulate our Standard Tactical Entry Points – the places where we connect into a communications network to send and receive (information)."
Simulating satellite connections will make training group members a lot easier, he said. Since no satellite is set up solely for training, any realistic satellite training requires a lot of coordination with its owners. That can take a lot of time. It also ties up resources that the Air Force might use for real communication traffic. And there was always a chance that a real-world requirement might knock a training connection off the satellite, wasting the training time.
The SLIC gets around this by using satellite simulators -- equipment that the group owns and controls that gives the same responses as a satellite.
"We wanted a central facility that all the squadrons could use – a place where they could all come together and work as a group," Norris said. "This will also provide us an opportunity to let trainees see how systems work together. Since the group’s mission is to put together communication networks, we need to let our trainees get a lot of experience working with the other systems they will use in the field. This allows us to build a networking capability into our training programs. Our trainees can see how the equipment works together."
Another use for the SLIC will be as a test bed for integrating new equipment into a communication network. For instance, a recent field exercise for the group revolved around integrating the pieces of the Theater Deployable Communication package. With the SLIC, these integration tests can take place long before units head to the field.
"We want to provide a facility and an environment where the trainees aren’t under pressure, where they can make everything work together before getting evaluated in a field exercise," Norris said.
The training they get in the SLIC won't replace technical school training, but augment it, said Norris. "For example, the Air Force teaches a lot of information at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., about the Theater Deployable Communication package, but it’s a very sterile environment. Students can learn about the equipment, but because of time constraints, they don’t get to put their hands on the equipment and make it work. Although we can teach a lot of that in individual shops, the students didn’t get the flavor of how their particular equipment fit into and worked with the communication network."
In the end, the SLIC training the tactical communicators receive will help them do their job better and will keep training where it needs to be – at the unit. By the time the trainees get to a deployed location – whether a contingency or an exercise – they can do their job as communication experts.
"With the SLIC, we can ensure our evaluated exercises are just that – an opportunity for the group commander to see, at a glance, how well one or more of our mission squadrons can meet their tasked requirements and set up their equipment," said Master Sgt. Lonnie Michaelson, the 5th CCG’s standardization and evaluation chief.
This, ultimately, puts the "deployed" back into deployed communications