Power, influence; Baron Controllers lead the fight
By Staff Sgt. Shawn Nickel, 354th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
/ Published May 13, 2015
EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- A baron is described as a man who possesses great power of influence in some field of activity along with being a class of individual who holds his rights of title because of military superiority and honorable service.
Baron Controllers from the 18th Aggressor Squadron earn this title as experts in enemy aerial battle tactics from around the world who teach others how to combat these threats.
"Being a controller is the best job that nobody has ever heard of and it's the best job I've ever had," said Staff Sgt. William Heines. "Our mission statement at the Aggressors is 'Know, teach, replicate.'"
This mission statement shows the basis for a Baron Controller's duties. Both Aggressor pilots and Barons spend a large amount of time studying the tactics and capabilities of threat countries located around the world.
"As subject matter experts we are responsible for teaching others how to combat these threats," Heines said. "We are responsible for replicating these threats as accurately as possible during airborne missions."
From the ground, Barons are responsible for assigning targeting to aircraft, providing close control vectoring to threats, and ensuring safety of flight during execution to all 'red air' players; most of the time Aggressors fly specially equipped F-16 Fighting Falcons.
"This prepares 'blue forces' for combat by showing them what actual combat against a specific threat may look like in the real world," Heines explained.
The big show for the Aggressors and Barons comes during RED FLAG-Alaska. RF-A exercises are vital to maintaining peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region and allows participating units to exchange tactics, techniques, and procedures as well as improve interoperability.
During RF-A, robust and accurate air war scenarios are aided by the Barons. However, the threats they produce are not just air threats. The flag also present ground threats and different types of jamming, which provide problems blue forces will have to solve in order to gain and maintain air superiority.
"The countries the Aggressors replicate use a system of close control ground control intercept, meaning the radar operator on the ground controls the tactics and what the pilots do; the pilot is the tactical extension of the ground controller," said Capt. Todd Possemato, an 18th AGRS pilot. "Barons are important here because they replicate how the enemy doctrinally employs its GCI to give blue forces the most realistic representation of the enemy forces."
While controlling, Barons face a number of challenges on their screen while simultaneously managing busy radio traffic and making quick decisions. These decisions are not only life-threatening to the simulated portions of the exercise, but to the live players as well.
"During a fight, any number of things can be going on all at the same time," said Heines. "You have to figure what the highest priority is at that given moment, whether it's targeting, finding weaknesses in your adversary's game plan, or ensuring the threat you are replicating is represented with accuracy. It is a lot to think about in a fast-paced environment where every event will influence your next radio call."
All the while, Barons must maintain safety of flight, which is always their number one priority.
"The biggest reward for me is when I have eight aircraft take off and eight aircraft land," Heines said. "When we are in the airspace training, things can get wild. It can be a really 'push it up' type of mindset. That type of fast paced and dynamic environment is a lot of fun to work in, but everyone who took off must land safely on the ground. That's what it's all about for me."
The enlisted Barons work alongside Aggressor pilots daily who fill the same role, yet each brings a unique set of cards to the table.
"While enlisted and officer controllers poses the same skill set, they bring different levels of expertise to the mission," Possemato said. "The enlisted Barons who come to this assignment have to put in a package and are selected to become the elite, so they are a highly motivated group of people."
Possemato explained how Barons have more situational awareness in the airspace than pilots in the cockpit do because the Baron's radar has a 360-degree picture of the airspace and all the players in it.
"Following Baron's instruction will typically end up in a red pilot living longer in the scenario and causing more problems for the blue air, which drives good problems and lessons for those players to learn from."
As a controller in the combat Air Force, Heines said he constantly prepares to deploy, honing skills by controlling live and simulated missions, and mobilizing for expeditionary exercises.
"As a Baron, my focus has shifted to preparing participating units from around the world for a real conflict," he said. "The lessons learned here come into play in combat and if that training helps only one pilot return home who maybe wouldn't have without our help then our job has been successful."