NORTH ISLAND, Calif. (NNS) -- Tactical Training Group Pacific (TACTRAGRUPAC) and four ships of Commander, Carrier Strike Group (CCSG) 11 conducted a virtual exercise Oct. 26-27 via secure wide area network and satellite, while they remained in port at bases in San Diego and Hawaii.
The training, known as BGIE-WC - pronounced by exercise participants as "Biggie WC" - stands for the Battle Group In-port Exercise for Warfare Commanders. It is an important step in command and control proficiency as the strike group strives to become surge ready under the Fleet Response Training Plan (FRTP).
"This was an integrated strike group operations simulation," said Cmdr. Robert Hospodar, CCSG 11 surface operations officer. "It allowed us to practice our warfighting skills, our pre-planned responses and our interoperability with each other."
San Diego-based USS Nimitz (CVN 68), USS Princeton (CG 59) and USS Higgins (DDG 76), and the Hawaii-based USS Chafee (DDG 90) took part in the exercise, along with the staffs of CCSG 11 and Destroyer Squadron 23.
"The San Diego-based ships connected via Link-16, Chafee connected via Link-11, and we all saw the same picture," said Lt. Rob Hauck, the CCSG 11 tactical flag command center officer and a key training leader for the BGIE-WC. "All the ships see radar, video, IFF (Identification Friend or Foe); there's no difference. You can't see the difference between real world now and what the operators were seeing during the exercise."
According to Hauck, the U.S. 3rd Fleet-recommended exercise was monitored and coordinated with the help of TACTRAGRUPAC and Combat Systems Training Teams aboard each ship.
"We assigned a senior group staff guy at each warfare commander's unit," he said. "That is how we as a staff got our direct feedback on the things we need to work on for our next training event."
Hauck said the exercise also saved valuable defense dollars, because the no-cost simulations replaced the expensive burden of getting the strike group ships under way and military and civilian-hired air services, including Lear jets.
Aboard Nimitz, Hospodar claimed his favorite aspect of BGIE-WC was similar to what real estate agents often emphasize as the main ingredient of valuable property: location, location, location.
"The best part," he said with a smile, "was being able to run this scenario using our own equipment - in our own spaces."
"What used to happen was you would take all of the ships' combat crews and you would train up at TACTRAGRUPAC on equipment that wasn't truly our own and usually wasn't similar to ours," Hauck explained. "They would spend so much time trying to get familiar with what that specific system did that they would lose a lot of valuable training time. Now we can sit right here [and use] our own equipment; that is what BGIE was designed for, so that a strike group can train in a strike group environment without leaving the ship."
"It takes away the pain of going out to sea for weeks," agreed Operations Specialist 1st Class Cleatus Smith. "Now you can do this in port, do the training all day, and go home and come back the next day and do it again."
A force air watch officer for CCSG 11, Smith said his enlisted watchstanding team gained valuable experience.
"They were making mistakes, but they were the kind of mistakes you would expect to see of them at this point in their training," he said. "It's a lot less risk potential learning this way instead of being out at sea. It's a really controlled environment. If they (CSTT) see that we are really struggling with certain areas, they can ramp down [the difficulty level] a little bit, or if we're doing really well, they can ramp it up."
"I think it went really well," said Ensign Eric Watkins, air warfare officer for Princeton. "The value I saw come out of this was maximum participation of the strike group combat systems and operations air defense watchstanders."
BGIE, which replaced team trainers on the West Coast about two years ago, is repeated at three levels of training, said Hauck. The BGIE-U is a unit level exercise that each ship performs to become proficient in basic operations. The WC version exercises a strike group, and the BGIE for group commanders is at a fleet level of combat operations.
The BGIE training as a component of the FRTP has contributed significantly to decreasing the time it takes to get the strike group surge ready, Hauck claimed.
"Everything we used to do over a 12 month time period, we now do in a six- to eight-month time frame," he explained. "FRTP has raised the bar a bit. We now train a little harder a little faster."
The next step in the FRTP process for Carrier Strike Group 11 is completion of basic phase training in preparation for emergency surge status by the end of the year.
For related news, visit the Commander, Cruiser Destroyer Group 5/USS Nimitz Strike Group Navy NewsStand page at www.news.navy.mil/local/cdg5.