A F-35 pilot straps in for a flight at Nellis Air Force Base at Las Vegas, Nevada. Courtesy, USAF photo.

USAF pilots may soon be battling Russia and China and engaging their best combat tactics — but thankfully, nobody will get hurt on these missions.

With the great power competition heating up, the US Air Force is looking at a virtual solution that will save the service and the Pentagon millions of defense dollars.

The answer is the US$38 million Virtual Test and Training Center at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., that will let USAF pilots face virtual threats on top of those they are seeing in air-to-air combat training, Gina Harkins with Military.com reported.

Major General Chuck Corcoran, commander of the Air Force Warfare Center, said the new 60,000-square-foot center, which had its ribbon-cutting ceremony last week, will prep pilots on a much grander and efficient scale.

“There’s no live training venue for the joint force — and certainly for the Air Force — that’s big enough or that has the threat density that can replicate what China or Russia can do,” Corcoran said.

“So the live training venues … and testing venues we have, we have to do what we can on those, collect data, and then feed that into the virtual world and scale it to the size and scope we need.”

The Air Force plans to install F-15E Strike Eagle simulators in the new building. The Virtual Test and Training Center’s campus will also include F-35 Joint Strike FighterF-22 Raptor and F-16 Fighting Falcon simulator buildings, Military.com reported.

“Any conflict in the world could be simulated here,” said Lieutenant Colonel Chris “Slam” Duncan, an F-35 operational test pilot and commander of Detachment 1, 29th Training Systems Squadron.

The US$38 million Virtual Test and Training Center will be based at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas, Nevada. Courtesy: USAF photo.

That could include virtually adding other services’ or allies’ aircraft into a Red Flag mission, so they’re all flying in the same airspace simultaneously. Eventually, Duncan said, participants from around the world could join in the training, Military.com reported.

The Air Force wants the new virtual center linked with the Joint Simulation Environment, a government-owned modeling environment where fifth generation-plus aircraft and systems can be tested.

“This is a generational leap in the way we train,” Duncan said. “This allows us to validate tactics, techniques and procedures we otherwise could not do [on this scale].”

It’s going to cost the Air Force to get the networking and processing tools and simulators that allow it to carry out the type of ambitious testing it wants to do here, Military.com reported.

But Duncan said there’s no other way for the services to train for this level of fighting, and the initial investment is far less than what it would cost to even try doing so in real life.

“The bang for the buck far surpasses what we can do in live flying,” he said.

“Just like anything, it’s a large initial investment to get to where we want, but … however many thousands of dollars those airplanes cost to fly per hour, you wouldn’t have that here.”