When you were a kid did you wish a certain game was possible but the hardware of the era just made it a whimsical pipe dream? Well, for me, that game is close to being a reality. Soon, the makers of Lock On Modern Air Combat are going to send virtual fighter pilots up over Southern Nevada. Nellis AFB and Red Flag, here we come.
Built around the Russian software company Eagle Dynamics' ever developing and uber-realistic Digital Combat Simulator (DCS) platform, the Nevada Test and Training Range (NTTR) add-on has been a long time coming. For well over a decade, Lock On: Modern Air Combat and its Flaming Cliffs sequels, restricted players to plowing the skies over Ukraine and the Black Sea in Eagles, Flankers, Fulcrums, Frogfoots and Warthogs.
In the past few years, with the DCS 'sandbox' based software platform, many new highly detailed aircraft have been added, including helicopters, and the graphics have been upgraded, but the scenery has remained the same.
Giving players a chance to fight over the Nevada Test and Training Range is so incredibly logical it hurts. The area is America's largest chunk of over-land restricted airspace, in which there has been an incredibly rich history. From the nuclear tests during the dawn of the Cold War to the establishment of Area 51 at its very center, NTTR is the Federal Government's place to hide and explore its own weapons possibilities while learning how to exploit foreign ones.
Beyond its more exotic and secretive uses, NTTR is active every day with expansive electronic combat ranges, mock airfields, elaborate radar facilities, 'anonymous' installations, austere landing strips and a long list of air-to ground targets dotting the sparse landscape for thousands of square miles.
The NTTR is so important and prominent when it comes to America's air combat prowess that most hardcore military aviation geeks actually know their way around the place via flying over it many times with Google Earth and other mapping programs.
Outside of Area 51, the NTTR is probably most known for exercise Red Flag, which is the world's largest and most elaborate mock air war. Red Flag was founded to give allied pilots from air forces around the globe their first ten 'combat missions,' along with keeping older crews brushed up on their abilities so that they can fight alongside a complex international coalition in a dense and chaotic combat environment.
And yes, the stars of the show are the aggressors with their eclectically camouflaged F-16s, who emulate foreign threat aircraft and tactics.
Once Eagle Dynamics releases the new map and its accompanying campaigns (one for the F-15C and one for the A-10C), players should be able to fly Red Flag just as pilots do, with an evolving story line and increasing mission complexity, all with the incredible realism Eagle Dynamics products are known for. In order to ensure maximum authenticity, they seemed to have hired some good consultants to their team, including ex-USAF pilots and our friend and military aviation author Steve Davies.
Bringing to life the NTTR within the most intricate combat flight simulator of all time is really a genius move. In a way it becomes a a computer combat simulation of the most elaborate real combat simulation around. It also brings a stronger western element to a game that has traditionally been more Russian-minded.
On top of the incredible potential posed by Eagle Dynamics' Digital Combat Simulator NTTR map, they are also hard at work on an F/A-18C Hornet module, which will include (GASP!) complex carrier operations and a Persian Gulf map. This is also a dream come true for flight simulator geeks as the last decent American carrier simulator was Jane's F/A-18 Hornet, a game that was released in almost a decade and a half ago! Thus the demand seems to be incredibly high for such a product, especially one with the realism and attention to detail that the Eagle Dynamics team provides. The introduction of the F/A-18C Hornet to the DCS catalog will also usher in a true multi-role American fighter capability to the the whole LOMAC/DCS universe which has been locked into the strictly air-to-air capable F-15C and air-to-ground centric A-10 since its original release.
What is so cool about the whole Digital Combat Simulator concept is that as it continues to evolve, not only can online players fly realistic combat missions within the same environment in vastly different aircraft (think F-15 Eagle and AH-64 Apache) but the 'sandbox' concept leaves open the possibility of ground and surface vehicles being added some day. Even the ability to play a Weapon Systems Officer in back of an F-15E, an air controller in an airborne early warning and control aircraft such as the E-3 Sentry, or a commander aboard an AEGIS cruiser is a possibility. DCS is literally a virtual simulation world that Eagle Dynamics has created from scratch, an overwhelmingly broad concept to tackle, something that the Russian software developer should be commended on.
So here's to flying combat air patrols high-above southern Nevada and doing touch-and-gos at Area 51, not to mention squinting at the computer screen in an attempt to make out the aircraft carrier's lights in the not to distant future. Finally, finally, us combat flight simmers will have the game we have dreamed of for so many years, and what's even better is that the hardware to actually run it smoothly won't cost you the price of a new economy car as it once did.
So now you have a whole new reason to live a couple more years, even if that reason is just to get your ass shot down by an F-16 aggressor while trying to protect a strike package or losing situational awareness and flying into the sea while attempting to land on aircraft on a stormy virtual night in Persian Gulf.
Photos via Eagle Dynamics Facebook page
Tyler Rogoway is a defense journalist and photographer who maintains the website Foxtrot Alpha for Jalopnik.com You can reach Tyler with story ideas or direct comments regarding this or any other defense topic via the email address Tyler@Jalopnik.com