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Kirtland "Virtual Flag" exercise spans the globe

Several joint and coalition personnel operate several air entities in Virtual Flag exercise in September. The 705th Combat Training Squadron at the Distributed Mission Operations Center is preparing for Virtual Flag 14-2, which begins Feb. 21.  (Photo by Capt. Kandis Rich)

Several joint and coalition personnel operate several air entities in Virtual Flag exercise in September 2013. The 705th Combat Training Squadron at the Distributed Mission Operations Center just completed Coalition Virtual Flag 14-4. (Photo by Capt. Kandis Rich)

KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- Kirtland's Distributed Mission Operations Center has been very busy the past few days as the epicenter of a worldwide "Virtual Flag" simulated training exercise.

The annually staged exercise is bringing together armed forces units and services to practice major battlefield operations without the time, effort and expense of bringing planes, troops, support staff and others together at a single geographical site.

Through the DMOC, around 300 personnel in command centers and simulators around the world are networked together, making it a true, real-time coalition exercise that allows participants to operate from their home units and bases.

"The exercise helps prepare warfighters for combat situations through operational integration of forces," said Maj. Dave Cunningham, the exercise's director. "As the armed forces advance their technologies and capabilities, we can expect our enemies to do the same. We must be ready for a highly contested combat environment."

Though most aspects of the exercise are classified, the assistant technical director, 2nd Lt. Christopher Reis of the 705th Combat Training Squadron, said that such exercises are important for coalition militaries' ability to react to major world crises.

"The neat thing about an exercise like this is the unique opportunity to interact with joint and coalition forces you rarely see outside of real-world combat operations." he said.

There is also a significant cost savings, Reis said. And then there's the ability to tailor the exercise to a very specific combat scenario.

"(Participants) get to do in-theater training," he said. "They're not able to do that flying in most live-fly events."

Air operations are a major part of any exercise, but Virtual Flag includes other aspects, such as ground, maritime, space, cyber and intelligence.

Staff Sgt. Adam Reichold, who works on the intelligence side, said that in an era of increasingly international military operations, practicing alongside peers from coalition partners is vital.

The unique integration opportunity of a coalition virtual flag also allows for the building of a training exercise that includes multiple mission areas that operate concurrently.

"It forces operational and tactical units to prioritize and work together to meet the combatant commander's mission requirements," Maj. Joseph Michaelson, the squadron's director of operations. "There is no single desired learning objective in the exercise more important during execution than meeting the commander's intent."

Exercise partners at the DMOC include personnel from the Army and Marine Corps, as well as military members from Australian, Canadian and United Kingdom air forces.

"It's a very rare kind of training opportunity for us in the Army to see," said Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Joseph Kenna. "The ability to work with coalition partners and higher headquarters gives it huge training value for us in how tactical operations can support strategic goals."

Royal Australian Air Force Leading Aircraftman Liam Miller said he appreciates the expanded scope of the operation as well.

"Australia has a small air force, so it's great to come here to the USAF and see things on a grander scale," he said. "For me, it puts things in a much larger perspective."

The exercise is also supported from DMOC-Space at Schriever Air Force Base, Colo., and the 505th Test Squadron at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. Overall, 28 different locations spanning 15 time zones are involved.