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Guard, Reserve warfighters assemble to modernize

Lt. Gen. Craig McKinley, Air National Guard director, (left) and Maj. Gen. Allan Poulin, Air Force Reserve Command vice commander, listen to Weapons and Tactics Conference working group chairmen brief their recommendations for tactical development and modernization in the Air Reserve Component (ARC), Oct. 24. The annual conference held at the 162nd Fighter Wing in Tucson, Ariz., gives warfighters the opportunity to tell senior leaders what they need to improve their weapon systems. (Air National Guard photo by Capt. Gabe Johnson)

Lt. Gen. Craig McKinley, Air National Guard director, (left) and Maj. Gen. Allan Poulin, Air Force Reserve Command vice commander, listen to Weapons and Tactics Conference working group chairmen brief their recommendations for tactical development and modernization in the Air Reserve Component (ARC), Oct. 24. The annual conference held at the 162nd Fighter Wing in Tucson, Ariz., gives warfighters the opportunity to tell senior leaders what they need to improve their weapon systems. (Air National Guard photo by Capt. Gabe Johnson)

Brig. Gen. Joe Lengyel, commander of the Air National Guard Readiness Center, walks away impressed by the new capabilities offered by the ANG AFRC Test Center’s hi-resolution center display, Oct. 22. The 6 inch by 8 inch screen, designed to provide F-16 pilots with color maps and images, is a product of input collected at previous Weapons and Tactics Conferences. This prototype served as an example to all conference attendees of what can be accomplished at the annual event. (Air National Guard photo by Capt. Gabe Johnson)

Brig. Gen. Joe Lengyel, commander of the Air National Guard Readiness Center, walks away impressed by the new capabilities offered by the ANG AFRC Test Center’s hi-resolution center display, Oct. 22. The 6 inch by 8 inch screen, designed to provide F-16 pilots with color maps and images, is a product of input collected at previous Weapons and Tactics Conferences. This prototype served as an example to all conference attendees of what can be accomplished at the annual event. (Air National Guard photo by Capt. Gabe Johnson)

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Lieutenants, captains and majors--the warfighters serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, and defending the homeland--gathered here Oct. 20-24 to tell Guard and Reserve leadership what they need to improve capability in the Air Reserve Component (ARC).

Leadership listened.

"Modernization" and "integration" were buzzwords at this year's Weapons and Tactics Conference (WEPTAC) held at Tucson International Airport, home of conference hosts the Air National Guard/Air Force Reserve Test Center (AATC) and the 162nd Fighter Wing.

The conference theme, "Proven Capabilities--Emerging Missions" signified the ARC's commitment to improve on what it does best and to delve into new mission areas.

More than 1,200 Guard and Reserve Airmen representing every ARC weapon system assembled to present leaders with the unvarnished, honest and direct input they need to translate resources into products and capabilities over the next few years.

"It's one of the best events in the Guard," said Brig. Gen. Rick Moisio, 162nd Fighter Wing commander, "It's the beginning of the annual process to improve the combat capability of ARC weapon systems. What comes out of here will continue in the process until we determine the most important improvements in all the various systems and how we will staff, fund and test those improvements."

At the outset, AATC Commander Col. Dan Bader challenged each weapon system working group to concentrate not only on their own mission area, but on the direction of the ARC.

"Look at our current challenges and emerging missions, and then look three to five years into the future and tell us what we'll need to get better," said Colonel Bader.

"Our Air Force is transforming rapidly. Here at the test center we're going to do what we do best, and that's improving the capabilities of modern platforms. Fighters, tankers bombers and mobility aircraft must remain relevant and essential into the 21st century," he said.

Past WEPTACs produced clear goals for test center pilots and engineers. With input from the field they've helped the ARC test logistics programs to make maintenance operations more effective. They've embraced technology and advancement in night vision goggles, tested helmet-mounted cueing systems, constructed situational awareness displays and systems and pushed the limits of targeting pod capabilities.

And while bringing ideas to reality, AATC finds low-cost, highly-capable, off-the-shelf solutions.

One example at the center of attention was a new F-16 center display unit; a 6 inch by 8 inch high-resolution color screen that brings clear maps and targeting pod imagery into the cockpit.

"In the current war in Iraq and Afghanistan, we're providing intelligence and surveillance to the guys and gals on the ground," said Lt. Col. Vincent Sei, an AATC flight test engineer. "This screen allows us to take full advantage of targeting pod capabilities. We can bring in satellite imagery from intel and pass that to the ground forces using advanced communication and data transfer. It also displays a nice color, moving map to keep us in the right area and to deconflict with other aircraft flying in the area."

Currently in the field, F-16s are without moving maps, and no method exists for sending target images into cockpits. The development of the new console originated from feedback at prior WEPTACs; pilots returning from the theater and reporting their needs to better support ground forces.

"We came up with this as a rapid prototype within the last year. We flew it to see if it did improve the areas that pilots wanted. We refined those areas, and now we're going to come out with a formal request to industry to have them built with our specifications with the hope that every Guard and Reserve F-16 will eventually have this system," said Colonel Sei.

According to the colonel, the screen is a minimal modification. It doesn't require cutting metal, and can be moved from one aircraft to another as the ARC continues to retire aircraft and accept newer ones.

"In the active duty, senior leaders dictate what the next requirement is going to be. For the Guard and Reserve, we have WEPTAC for the captain or lieutenant flying to come here to tell leadership, 'This is what I need,' and that's what they go get," said Colonel Sei.