The RAF and Army are now using a synthetic training facility developed by QinetiQ and Boeing to deliver potentially life-saving pre-deployment training for UK forces before they leave for Afghanistan. The Distributed Synthetic Air Land Training (DSALT) demonstration facility at RAF Waddington has been enhanced to enable soldiers to experience the complexities of controlling aircraft, artillery and other assets in a fast moving engagement within a safe, simulated environment.
In a series of training exercises known as Mountain Dragon, Army Forward Air Controllers and Tornado GR4 bomber crews are being put through their paces on simulators which represent realistic scenarios they may face on Operation Herrick, without ever leaving RAF Waddington.
The facility allows ground forces to practice talking with aircrew flying simulated aircraft within the same environment and directing them onto specific targets within the defined rules of engagement and operational constraints.
“The soldiers experience first hand the challenges of communicating clearly and concisely with aircrew in a risk free environment,” explained Jon Saltmarsh, QinetiQ’s programme director for the project. “Often this is the first experience many have of talking to an American pilot under operational conditions. They get to experience the subtle differences of our two languages and operating procedures and the potential confusion this could cause.”
The QinetiQ and Boeing-owned, built and operated DSALT facility at RAF Waddington is a key element of the Air Battlespace Training Centre, a partnership between the RAF and industry to improve the training of UK frontline forces. Originally established to determine user requirements for a new aircrew mission-training programme involving a network of simulated aircraft, the facility has been expanded to support the training of ground-based forces in the control and strategic use of aircraft and artillery.
The actual training is provided by the RAF and the Royal School of Artillery with support staff from Inzpire, a company that specialises in supplying staff with recent military experience.
“Mountain Dragon exercises are very much a team event with the RAF, the Army, QinetiQ, Boeing, and Inzpire all working together to deliver a unique and operationally critical training event to our forces,” explained Wing Commander Mike ‘Elvis’ Costello. “This is no longer simply a demonstration – we are making a difference to our soldiers on real operations.”
Boeing and QinetiQ are currently working together to improve the facility to enable it to provide even greater training value. “Converting a concept demonstrator into a robust and reliable training system presents huge challenges,” concluded George German, Boeing’s DSALT programme manager. “Boeing and QinetiQ are working extremely well together to ensure we can continue to meet the UK forces’ need for land-air integration training. I feel hugely privileged to be part of such a successful team.”
The Air Battlespace Training Centre contains simulators for the Eurofighter Typhoon, the Tornado GR4 bomber, AWACS early warning aircraft and the AH-64 Apache helicopter. Its simulators can also represent the effects of Harrier GR9 aircraft, A-10 “Tankbusters”, F-16 fighters, C-130 Hercules transport aircraft, attack helicopters and support helicopters. These all operate within a common synthetic environment, within which the ABTC can create computer generated forces from almost any nation in the world to act as allies, neutrals or adversaries.
The system allows teams to train in a realistic high-threat environment and carry out tactics, techniques and procedures that cannot be practiced in normal peacetime training. A key element of the training is the debrief, where the centre’s software allows users to view the exercise; in a two dimensional view from above the battle space; in a three dimensional representation of the complete battle space from any position in it (including from the cockpits); to a ‘through the eyes’ viewpoint of the soldier on the ground calling in artillery and air support.
But the ABTC is not limited to the four walls of a hanger at RAF Waddington. Its technicians have used secure long-haul networks to securely link up with simulators operated by the Army Air Corps, Royal Navy and United States Air Force.
DSALT builds on the Mission Training through Distributed Simulation Capability Concept Demonstrator (MTDS CCD) programme, developed and delivered over the past three years by TeamACTIVE (Aircrew Collective Training through Immersive Virtual Events), a QinetiQ led industry team that also includes Boeing, cueSim, Rockwell Collins, Aviation Training International Ltd and HVR Consulting.