MARINE CORPS AIR STATION YUMA, Ariz. --
Much of the benefit from training missions comes from the debrief that takes place after the mission.
Thanks to a group of people who maintain a high-tech tracking system, all of an aircraft’s information can be collected during a mission and immediately displayed for debrief afterward.
The tactical combat training system uses global positioning technology to provide continuous real-time tracking of air and ground exercise participants up to 240 miles from the station’s range operations control center.
Used throughout Naval aviation, Yuma was the first site equipped with this type of technology, which was originally developed in the 1970s and could originally track only four aircraft, said Jim Bradford, Yuma range systems manager.
As the systems progressed, the name changed and new technologies were added. It now provides real-time tracking for up to 72 aircraft at a time, making it a valuable asset for everything from one-on-one training flights, to large-scale exercises such as the Weapons and Tactics Instructor course.
The TCTS department also has electronic warfare simulators that detect and track aircraft and simulate surface-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft artillery fire on the Barry M. Goldwater Range to add to the realism, said Bradford.
A TCTS pod attached to the participating aircraft collects the data and relays it to the control center.
The system gathers data from a no-drop bomb scoring system, which doesn’t require the aircraft to actually drop a bomb to determine where it would land. For live ordnance drops, there is a weapon impact scoring system, a strafe scoring system and mobile land targets for pilots to engage with the aircraft’s weapons.
All of that information, along with data collected from other tracking technologies, such as surveillance radar and aircraft weapons systems, combines to form a total picture of what occurs during an exercise, from zero to 50,000 feet in elevation, takeoff to landing.
“We set up an electronic environment for people to train in, then provide an electronic blackboard for debrief as far as tracking, scoring and communications,” said Bradford.
The facility here in Yuma is also linked to facilities at the Naval Air Facility in El Centro, Calif. and Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego allowing the TCTS to track participants from near Tucson in the east to more than 200 miles over the ocean west of Miramar, said Bradford.
The three facilities employ eight government employees and approximately 80 contracted personnel.
In addition to the aerial tracking, the TCTS can be used to track ground based units by placing tracking beacons on vehicles or in backpacks.
The TCTS center, in conjunction with the Marine Corps and station range management office, installed a ground tracking system, which provides range control and added safety to personnel on the ranges, said Bradford.
“These systems are used every day,” said Bill Sellars, station range operations director. “The ground tracking system provides an additional layer of safety to personnel operating within the training complex by providing constant geographic positional feedback.”
This feedback allows the range management office to accurately track the location of personnel on the range that may be engaging in dangerous activities and, in the case of an emergency, provide their exact location to medical and rescue personnel.