News: WTI 1-14 missile strike simulation attacks students from all angles
Story by Lance Cpl. James Marchetti
MARINE CORPS AIR STATION YUMA, Ariz. - During the Weapons and Tactics Instructors Course 1-14, volunteers with Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron-1 had the opportunity to spend a day firing small unguided missiles at the Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Range in a simulated aircraft missile strike training exercise Oct. 3.
Commonly known as “Smokey Sams,” these relatively inexpensive and harmless rockets are comprised of phenolic paper and Styrofoam. During training, the white plume produced by the rockets simulates takeoff surface-to-air missile.
“The purpose of the Smokey Sam rocket is to provide WTI pilots and aircrew students with defensive maneuver tactics through the use of simulated anti-aircraft munitions,” said Sgt. Christopher Thompson, the training non-commissioned officer with MAWTS-1 operations, and North Haven, Conn., native. “This successfully increases the survivability of aircraft and crewmembers while deployed to a combat environment.”
In order to intensify the missile strike simulation, scientists and engineers with the Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) based in Crane, Ind., set up camp at the training site and took the operation a step further.
Using an SA-18 infrared homing seeker, the NSWC workers locked on to the heat radiated by the CH-53 helicopters in order to trigger the automatic Direct Infrared Countermeasures (DIRCM) response inside of their cockpits. Combined with the visual plume of the Smokey Sam, the sounding of the DIRCM alarms inside the cockpit greatly enhanced the authenticity of the simulated missile strike.
Then, as a defensive countermeasure to the infrared seeker, the aircraft set off a flare in an effort to misguide the missile.
“Pilots like to see what missiles look like coming at them and that’s what the Smokey Sam is for,” said Logan Tharp, an engineer with NSWC. “We use the seeker to make sure the pilots properly activate the aircraft survivability equipment (ASE) on board and that the DIRCM sends a jam signal back at us as the aircraft sets off a flare.”
To give WTI students an even broader understanding of a missile threat, the NSWC crew adds the threat of radar homing.
With the ability to scout out the aircraft from miles away, the NSWC radar-equipped vehicle tracks the out-of-sight aircraft. While still recovering from their encounter with infrared weaponry, the aircraft crew must be weary of a long-range, radar-homed missile strike.
This addition to the exercise is designed to keep the WTI students on their toes at all times, ensuring they are cautiously observant of missile strikes, even if the visual indicators of a missile strike were obscured by weather or battlefield geography.
“Flares are automatically set off by the aircraft when they are locked on from an infrared seeker, but with radio wave missiles it’s more complicated,” said Jordan Roehl, an engineer with NSWC. “Pilots have the ability to set off chaff, a bunch of metal coils that radar can pick up, to disperse from the back of the aircraft to give the long range missiles a false target. "
“The problem with that is if the chaff is dispersed too early, the aircraft can pretty much give its position away on radar. That’s why chaff isn’t dispersed automatically by the aircraft and is in the hands of the pilot,” explained Roehl.
As with any skill, practice make perfect, making the simulated aircraft missile strike a significant training exercise for WTI students.
The exercise allows the student pilots and crew members to progress in their tactics and maneuvers, while giving them a better understanding of the versatile threats they may encounter in combat.
“Over the course of the day the pilots started using the vegetation to block off our seekers, and they did a good job in making sure their ASE was activated before the strike,” said Tharp. “It’s a big deal for us to be out here making this simulation as effective as possible with these Marines.”