New Yokosuka battle lab has advanced training capabilities

By ERIK SLAVIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 5, 2010

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — The Kamarians prepared to strike the Legaisian nation hard Monday, buoyed by a world-class navy and cutting-edge fighter aircraft.

Sailors manned their battle screens and joined the sea of communications traffic moving among navy battle groups, army batteries and air force planes. The Americans radioed the Australians and formed a joint defense against the Kamarian onslaught.

If it sounds a bit like a video game, that’s because it is. But it’s a far more complex game than multinational forces had ever been able to play in Japan before Monday.

Operation Coral Dagger served as the official grand opening for a new battle lab that can plug forces from all over the world into the same real-time conflict, whether they are aboard a ship in Norfolk, Va., or operating a flight simulator in a foreign country.

The $6 million project included renovation of an abandoned bunker dug into the side of a hill on base that serves as home to the base’s lab.

The updated communication system includes more radio channels and terminals, allowing complex battle simulations that the cramped prior facility couldn’t host, said William Rossi, director of Tactical Training Group Pacific, Detachment Yokosuka and de facto emperor of the invading Kamarians.

The four-day Coral Dagger exercise is the culmination of those new capabilities. It includes sailors from Yokosuka’s Commander Task Force 70 and the Sasebo-based Commander Task Force 76, Army Patriot missile batteries, Air Force personnel and sailors from the Australian navy’s HMAS Darwin operating from HMAS Watson.

While graphics differ aboard some of the ships, the essentials found in the lab — the ship notations, communications and tracking — are what servicemembers would encounter at sea.

Sailors from the USS Cowpens and other commands familiarized themselves with the lab’s equipment during the first few hours of the exercise Monday.

“[Cowpens] is in the yard right now, so we’re doing this all in the battle lab,” said Lt. j.g. Doug Martin, USS Cowpens air defense officer. “They can sit two ships in here side by side, so there is some training value when maintenance is being done and [ship] systems are down.”

Japan and other allies should be able to plug into future simulations, said Rossi, whose staff of 15 throws everything it can at the “good guys.”

“We get to play video games against the best navy in the world,” Rossi said. “It sure beats playing Halo 3.”

Dignitaries and Navy officials attend the grand opening of the new battle lab. The new facility, built in a renovated bunker, allows multinational units based throughout the world to plug into battle simulations run from Yokosuka Naval Base.

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