Fort Sill_Fort Sill tries to make its training as realistic as possible even though troops can't actually shoot down 'enemy planes' or missiles on the base. Instead, their training is simulated. A computer program shows an enemy's location and soldiers aim - but, they don't launch missiles. However, Thursday was a little bit different for those training. In a joint 'kill chain' exercise, soldiers still do not shoot, but those targets are very real - actual airplanes.
It was Fort Sill's very first Air Defense Training Mission. "This is a Smart-1 aircraft being used in the exercises this week. It's about 12-feet long, weighs only 500 pounds, and it's just about the same size as a cruise missile. So, it provides an experience just as close as they can get to the real thing."
As the smallest piloted jet, the Smart-1 aircraft's size puts air defenders to the test. "One of our other pilots says it's like sitting on a ping pong ball trying to keep it balanced and headed in the right direction," said Pilot John Lamb. "I enjoy that feature of it because it is so responsive." The aircraft can swerve immediately while flying 300 miles per hour.
To track something so small - as stealthy as a cruise missile - there are two radars: the long-range Patriot Radar (which has Patriot Missiles) and the short-range Sentinel Radar. "You've got all sorts of different threats when it comes to training, so this is good for them," said Sentinel Radar Chief SGT Chris Columbus. "We have 360-degree capability, so if there are any targets or tracks that get behind them, we have the ability to pick that up." First Lieutenant Jeff Scott says it's exciting. "What we're used to doing is looking at a scripted air battle that someone actually builds for us," he said. "When we actually have live planes, it makes us feel like we're really getting in the fight a little bit more."
Each Sentinel Radar is paired with an Avenger System - each holding eight stinger missiles and a machine gun. The radar tracks targets dozens of kilometers away, and the gunnery can spin up to 30 miles-per-hour to fire at a target up to 17 kilometers away. "We're all tracking at the same time, the same thing - we're just going to determine who has the best shot," said Avenger Squad Leader SSG John Forbis.
As the real plane flew in on Thursday - barely close enough to see with the naked eye - the team already had been tracking it for several minutes, making it a perfect way for them to train. "They realize that one day there could be a real threat in the air, and it's something that we can give them to validate their jobs more, and definitely take it a lot more seriously than just compared to the simulated air battles that they do," said Battery Commander CPT Marcel Hickman.