MS&T Europe Editor Dim Jones reports on Project Gladiator, the UK’s networked air collective training, capability development, and mission preparation initiative.

The mix between live and synthetic flying training has been a hot topic within the military aviation fraternity for some while now. The arguments for synthetic training (ST) have been well rehearsed: the reduced cost per training hour of a simulator as compared with live flying; the environmental benefits, in terms of both fuel and noise; and the improved longevity of an aircraft fleet resulting from reduced flying hours, fatigue consumption and attrition. To these, more recently, have been added some operational considerations. First, the increased weapons envelopes of modern weapons mean that the airspace required for realistic training has expanded exponentially, at a time when competition for airspace with civil users has never been fiercer. Secondly, security considerations preclude live practice of profiles which might risk compromise of sensitive capabilities, tactics or other intelligence to unfriendly observers. And lastly, the resources required to replicate the complex scenarios which might be encountered in conflict are not generally available to any air force outside major exercises and, to many, not at all.         

The counter-arguments for live flying are also well-rehearsed: the adrenalin, and the physical and mental stress associated with live flying cannot easily be replicated in a synthetic environment, no matter how sophisticated; ground support staff also require the training which only live flying can provide; and it’s what most aircrew joined air forces to do. The case for synthetic is further predicated on the ability of the equipment to provide the required performance, in terms of both capacity and capability; the former demands both high serviceability and accessibility, and the latter depends crucially on the connectivity of simulation systems allowing realistic Collective Training (CT) at both main and deployed operating bases.

These requirements and, to a large extent the advantages, disadvantages and constraints, apply in all three operational environments – Land, Maritime and Air. A new direction of policy travel was established in the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) which, inter alia, directed the RAF’s Typhoon Force to achieve a Live/Synthetic Balance (LSB) of 50:50 by 2020. This target has subsequently been reinforced by every Defence and Security Review and Defence Strategic Direction, although it has not yet been fully achieved; a similar goal has since been established for the F-35B Lightning II Force. Parallel changes of focus were required in the other two traditional military domains (Land and Maritime) and, with this in mind, the UK MoD implemented a programme known as Defence Operational Training Capability (DOTC), with ‘L’, ‘M’ and ‘A’ components. Now that Space and Cyber have been recognised as independent warfighting domains, the expectation is that Gladiator will evolve to include them in its scenarios and effects.

It has long been apparent that the RAF is unable to meet the full spectrum of its training requirement, without making more, and more effective, use of ST; direction on future LSBs contained within the Chief of the Air Staff’s ASTRA innovation initiative underlines this. Accordingly, DOTC(A), also known as Gladiator, is required to ‘deliver a paradigm shift in Air’s use of synthetics’ by creating ‘a rich, operationally relevant ST environment that can be easily accessed from any compatible synthetic training device. Gladiator, a synthetic Collective and Team operationally-relevant mission training capability, will enable Air (and other Force Elements (FE)) to exercise together in an agile, secure, immersive training environment to prepare for operations and develop capabilities and tactics.’

Hub and Spoke

Inzpire Limited will provide the Project Gladiator (DOTC(A)) Interim White Force. Image credit: Inzpire Limited.

Gladiator is designed to be a ‘hub-and-spoke’ system, comprising several elements. The hub will be at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire, where a new-build secure facility will replace the existing infrastructure which has for many years been used by the Air Battlespace Training Centre (ABTC) to deliver Distributed Synthetic Air-Land Training (DSALT) to Army and RAF units [MS&T Issues 4/2010 and 4/2017 refer]. The White Force (WF) element of ABTC has been provided by Inzpire, a local Lincoln-based civilian contractor [see MS&T 4/2017]. The RAF is taking advantage of Inzpire’s experience in delivering DSALT to derisk the transition to Gladiator as part of the Interim White Force (iWF), a mix of Regular, Reserve, Contract and Civil Service personnel which will be 40-strong at Initial Operating Capability (IOC), expected in Summer 2021. Also at the hub, and following extensive research by Dstl and Niteworks and an open competition, the DOTC(A) Core Systems and Services (DCS&S) will be delivered by Boeing Defence UK, supported by MAK Technologies, Antycip, Pitch Technologies and other key suppliers. DCS&S maximises the use of Commercial Off-The-Shelf (COTS) products in an open, standards-based, modular architecture to provide a Core Synthetic Environment and exercise management system, which the iWF will use to develop and execute scenarios and exercises based on front-line training requirements. The aim is that UK MoD Defence Modelling and Simulation Coherence (DMaSC) compliance will enable maximum use of a common set of components, models and data. Systems that do not share DOTC(A) architecture and components may need some integration to optimise interoperability and ability to use common data, while systems (such as Typhoon Future Synthetic Training (TFST)) using DOTC(A) components and data will be more easily integrated.

Security is a major consideration in distributed synthetic training, and Gladiator will deliver a holistic security solution covering Physical, Personnel, Information, Network and Cyber Security. In addition, the Cross-Domain Security (CDS) Solution will enable FE operating at different security levels to exercise together in a single exercise environment. Operating in a similar way to a step-down transformer, the CDS will prevent transmission of highly classified information while allowing passage of less sensitive information required to retain the operational relevance of the scenario and the utility of the exercise. Gladiator will use the existing and secure Joint Multi-National Interoperability Assurance Network (JMNIAN) to connect the DCS&S at RAF Waddington to wider UK and coalition FE simulators and synthetic training devices.

The WF at Waddington will facilitate training for the front-line (FL) units and will debrief CT elements of the missions. FL simulator instructors will debrief individual and team learning points, and facilities will exist for the WF to conduct remote collective briefing and After-Action Review activities. The FL units will determine the training they want and the training objectives they wish to meet, and the WF will develop and deliver scenarios designed to satisfy those requirements, delivering a more demand-driven system to deliver mandated force readiness states; effectively, a pull rather than a push mechanism.

Although DCS&S and the infrastructure at Waddington is the hub, and pivotal to the whole Gladiator concept, the real capability is delivered at the ends of the spokes, where the users sit, and these will be developed incrementally. At IOC, the E-3D Sentry Rear Crew Trainer (RCT) at Waddington will be connected to TFST cockpits at nearby RAF Coningsby, one of the two Typhoon Main Operating Bases (MOB). Implementation of TFST at the other MOB, RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland, is planned for Q2 of 2023, and the aim is to connect to Gladiator at that time. Connectivity to the F-35 Lightning MOB at RAF Marham is planned for 2021, and Gladiator will also connect to the US-based Distributed Mission Operations Center (DMOC), which itself is the hub for users throughout the US Armed Forces. All these programmes are funded; the as-yet-unfunded aspiration is to connect to other compatible platforms, capabilities and training networks in the future.

The Joint Context

Within the UK Armed Forces, DOTC(A) has not been proceeding in isolation, logically enough since air operations, particularly in a contested environment, would normally be prosecuted in co-ordination with at least one of the other two components or as part of a joint campaign. The closest related land capability is the Joint Fires Synthetic Trainer (JFST), for which a £31m contract was let August 2019 to Ferranti Technologies, a subsidiary of Elbit Systems UK, who will be partnering with QuantaDyn, specialist providers of Joint Terminal Air Control (JTAC) simulators. JFST, part of the Army’s Collective Training Transformation Programme (CTTP), is to provide an individual and collective immersive joint fires training capability for operators in both mounted and dismounted roles in the land, littoral, and air domains. It will replace existing capabilities currently provided by DSALT2 and the immersive Close Air Support Simulator (iCASS) at the Joint Forward Air Controller Training and Standards Unit (JFACTSU), as well as other legacy capabilities. A Level 3 JFST capability is to be provided at the Royal School of Artillery at Larkhill, and Level 2 capability at JFACTSU and up to 15 unit locations, plus a collective training location supported by a training and management team, and in a deployable system including, interestingly, the potential to train on Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers (although this is likely to be a stand-alone capability, at least initially). Gladiator connection to JFST is planned for Q2 of 2022.

If links were required with the Army/RN/RM Apache, Wildcat and Merlin simulators, they would probably be directly through JMNIAN. There is currently no planned permanent connection with the Medium Support Helicopter Aircrew Training Facility (MSHATF) at RAF Benson [see MS&T Issue 5/2010]. JMNIAN could also be the conduit for connection with the USAF’s F-35A Wing at RAF Lakenheath, subject to policy and security accreditation. It is not yet known whether CDS will satisfy all the US’s security requirements, but the plan is to use UK accreditation as a stepping-stone; the UK MoD is engaged with the US on this, but it is likely to be a slow process. Finally, discussions are already in train regarding integration of the P-8 Poseidon Multi-Role Maritime Patrol Aircraft, replacement for the cancelled Nimrod MRA4, and of the Protector Remotely Piloted Air System (RPAS), successor to Predator and Reaper, and the E7 Wedgetail Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C), planned to replace the E3D Sentry, for which the synthetic training suites are being designed from the outset as Gladiator-compatible.

Maritime Composite Training System (MCTS) HMS Collingwood. Image credit: BAE Systems.

DOTC(M) is at least a couple of years behind Gladiator and is just starting the Certification and Accreditation phase. DOTC(M) will use the same architecture and standards, may use some of the same components and, as a DMaSC-compliant capability, will make maximum re-use of Gladiator data and models at no cost. In the same way that, although unacknowledged, it was assumed from the outset that DOTC(A) DCS&S would make use of the expertise and facilities already established at ABTC, so DOTC(M) will almost certainly utilise existing capabilities such as the Maritime Composite Training System (MCTS) facilities at HMS Collingwood, Fareham, and Devonport, Plymouth, which would be federated into the DOTC(M) architecture. [See MS&T Issues 2/2011 and 6/2015]. It has to be said, however, that, although its shore-based team and collective training facilities are impressive, and MCTS has achieved a level of distributed CT, it is not capable of delivering the step-change in capability which the RN needs today. The ability to connect with Ops Rooms in warships alongside in port has never been fully exploited, and that of connecting with vessels at sea remains a distant dream. The F-35B Deployable Mission Rehearsal Trainers (DMRTs), which will be available for training in the Queen Elizabeth Class (QEC) carriers whenever Lightning is embarked, can only connect to distributed training networks through a co-located F-35 Full Mission Simulator, and so will not be able to connect into Gladiator or DOTC(M). The intent is for DOTC(M) to link to Gladiator at IOC, giving RN access to Lightning; however, interim integration of MCTS directly into Gladiator may provide some earlier capability. DOTC(M) would then take advantage of any advances in connectivity with other naval elements ashore, alongside or deployed.

Wider Context

The final component of Gladiator is the Development and Engineering Laboratory (DEL), which will be used to assess new technologies, and select components and capabilities worthy of further development or integration. It will also be used to improve the existing system of systems and de-risk integration of additional platforms and capabilities. The Gladiator infrastructure is due for delivery in Q2 2020, with the DCS&S equipment being installed and system software being developed and tested during Q3 and Q4. System acceptance and capability integration will take place during Q1 2021 with IOC planned for Summer 2021. The impact of Covid-19 on these plans is, as yet, unquantified. Strategic Direction is that all new Air Environment synthetic training capabilities should be Gladiator-compatible and, while currently unfunded, detailed discussion on the integration of a number of other ISTAR and Air Mobility platforms are underway. In addition, development of a targeted fidelity, platform-specific Role Player capability is under way, to allow FE without the ability to access Gladiator from their existing simulators to participate in meaningful synthetic CT. Furthermore, while Gladiator will concentrate initially on training, its expansion is likely to include support for other functions such as experimentation, test and evaluation, and mission rehearsal.

Readers of MS&T may be familiar with the Air Support for Defence Operational Training (ASDOT) programme [reviewed in MS&T Issue 6/2016], which was concerned with training support for front-line units; although complementary in objective, there was a clear division between DOTC(A) (synthetic) and ASDOT (live). ASDOT was formally suspended in March 2019 [MS&T 2/2019 refers], apparently due to a general acceptance that the contracted services required could not be provided within the available budget. It has been replaced by a new programme, provisionally titled Next-Generation Operational Training (NGOT), a portfolio-style capability approach which will embrace both live and synthetic components. NGOT and Gladiator are discrete, but linked, programmes, which will together facilitate a coherent approach to Operational Training across the Live and Synthetic environments. Under ASTRA, Gladiator will become part of NGOT’s portfolio-level approach and it is likely that most operational training will be completed in the Synthetic environment, with Live training being used for activities such as Coalition Building, Defence Engagement and Deterrence.

DOTC(A), driven by SDSR2010 and subsequent reviews and directives, has been some time in gestation, but represents a step-change in the RAF’s approach to collective ST. It is a change driven by operational as well as budgetary considerations, and there is no doubt that the intervening period has allowed the programme to take advantage of emerging technology and the increased availability and capability of COTS components. The initial elements of Gladiator are fully funded, and it is to be hoped that departmental financial pressures, which will be an inevitable economic fallout from the current global pandemic, will not prevent the programme from realising its full potential. Paradoxically, it may be just those pressures which secure Gladiator’s future.

Gladiator - Industry 

On 16th May 2019, the UK MoD announced the award of a 6-year, £36m contract to Boeing Defence UK (BDUK) as the prime contractor for the DOTC(Air) Core Systems and & Services (DCS&S) element of Gladiator. DCS&S ‘will support the DOTC(A) Programme and enable distributed training by providing a common synthetic environment and a range of training delivery services, which will ensure coherence and interoperability across the DOTC(A) Programme’. On 20th November, Pitch Technologies of Linköping, Sweden, announced that ‘it had been awarded a long-term contract from the prime contractor, Boeing Defence UK, to deliver simulation infrastructure tools and support services for the development of Gladiator. In line with UK Ministry of Defence’s strategic direction towards High Level Architecture (HLA) standard for modelling and simulation interoperability, Pitch will provide commercial- off-the-shelf interoperability tools for simulation development, distributed real-time execution, data recording and synchronised playback. Pitch will also provide key software components for Cross-Domain Security (CDS), enabling training across different levels of information security.’ 

On 2nd December, Singapore-based ST Engineering reported that BDUK had selected its subsidiaries MAK Technologies and Antycip to provide simulation and visualisation software as ‘core components’ of the contract, their role being to deliver and support COTS products which will ‘get capabilities into the hands of customers as early as possible, while incrementally adding new capabilities. MAK products provide off-the-shelf functionality, ease-of-use, open architecture, modularity, and support for open standards. Antycip Simulation will customize, enhance, deliver and support MAK COTS products for DCS&S. High fidelity flight and electronic warfare models will be integrated into VR-Forces by MAK and Antycip partner, RTDynamics. VR-Forces, VR-Vantage, and VR-Engage will become the DCS&S Common Computer Generated Forces, Common Image Generator, and Common Role Players, and will be the primary tools to support the exercise preparation and execution of DOTC (A) exercises managed by Boeing and the Inzpire White Force.’    

Unsurprisingly, this will not be the first commercial and industry involvement in the project. Niteworks was established by the UK MoD to provide a commercially neutral environment in which to address the complex defence challenges through a partnership between MoD, industry and academia. Through Niteworks, Ascentor – a cyber information and security consultancy - conducted four stages of research during the C&S phases of the DOTC(A) programme, looking at existing research (including that of the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) at Porton Down) and potential solutions for a distributed mission training systems. Meanwhile, Bristol-based Nova Systems have provided extensive subject matter expertise, particularly in the fields of capability integration and CDS development, building on individuals’ experience in the Niteworks research.

A more comprehensive coverage of industry participation in the Gladiator project will be included in Issue 4/2020 of MS&T.

Covid-19 has affected all of us in various ways. For me, in my MS&T role, travel restrictions and social distancing have rendered my normal ‘hands-on’ MO untenable, and I have been forced into a more remote style of information-gathering. For this article, I am much indebted to Wing Commander Ruari Henderson-Begg, the DOTC(A) Programme Manager, and his colleagues at the RAF’s Air Command Headquarters for their invaluable assistance – Dim Jones.