After covering Gladiator in Issue 3/2020, the Royal Air Force’s synthetic training initiative, MS&T Europe Editor Dim Jones explores the Royal Navy’s equivalent programme.

DOTC(M) Aspirations and Status

MS&T readers will be aware of the plans for the future of synthetic training in the Royal Air Force under the Defence Operational Training Capability (Air) (DOTC(A)), also known as Gladiator. Similarly, the Royal Navy is looking to transform the way it trains its people and also the way in which it mans and deploys its forces. The Defence Operational Training Capability (Maritime) (DOTC(M)) is key to this transformation. I visited the home of the Royal Navy in Portsmouth to learn more from the RN and industry about plans for the maritime equivalent.

DOTC(M), being still in the Concept phase, is less mature than its light-blue equivalent but shares many of its aims and aspirations and will strive for maximum commonality of systems. It was established as a Programme of Record in 2019, comprises both shore-based and ship-based elements, and is scheduled for delivery in the FY 23/24 timeframe. The aim of DOTC(M) is to provide a network of shore- and platform-based capabilities which will allow the RN to train both live and synthetically while alongside (i.e. in port), in UK waters, and ultimately at sea. Its raison d’être is Operational Level training, but it must also be able to support the work-up and deployment of individual units. The Programme Manager is charged with developing the programme in the context of the following high-level requirements: to support and enable the new RN force generation and sustainment operating model; to inject more realism and lethality into the training machine; and to achieve a 50/50 Live/Synthetic mix in operational training by 2030.

The first of these requirements must reflect the RN’s increased Maritime Task Group (MTG) focus, specifically Carrier Strike Group (CSG) and Littoral Strike Group (LSG) and the need to operate ‘at reach’ away from the UK. In terms of realism and lethality, the RN shares the constraints of the Air domain, in that a progressive and dramatic reduction in assets, plus considerations of cost, operational security, environmental impact and training space availability, mean that it is impossible to create a live training environment sufficiently complex and realistic to replicate peer- and near-peer threat levels. Hence the increasing reliance on simulation which can also be used to support operational analysis and the development of tactics and capabilities. DOTC(M) will make use of legacy systems, develop and introduce new ones, and pull in external training systems. An example of a legacy system is the Maritime Composite Training System (MCTS); one new system is the Combat Systems Operator Trainer (CSOT), which will eventually form part of the Future Submarine School at Faslane; and associated systems will include the Merlin Crowsnest Airborne Early Warning simulator, plus links to DOTC(A) - which will enable the involvement of assets such as F-35, P-8 Poseidon and Typhoon - and to the US Navy.

Delivery of the programme will be in tranches; Tranches 1 and 2 are already funded, and include Core Systems and Services (CS&S) – to include a White Force element - and the development of a DOTC(M) hub, which will enable connectivity with: DOTC(A) and the USN through JMNIAN and JTEN datalinks; a Maritime Command and Staff Trainer (MCAST), which will be used to train Task Force Battle Staff; and RN assets, such as CSOT, Wildcat, Merlin and Crowsnest simulators, and MCTS. Tranches 3 and 4, as yet unfunded, will provide connectivity to actual platforms, current and future, and in time both DOTC(A) and DOTC(M) will be connected to the Army’s Joint Fires Synthetic Trainer (JFST).

The necessary enabling work will be undertaken as individual projects which, when completed, will blend into the DOTC(M) system. These projects are: the Core Systems and Services, to include the Hub and the RN Synthetic Environment (SE); MCAST; the Venue and Facilities infrastructure required to support the various elements; Exercise Support Services; and Platform-Enabled Training Capability (PETC). MCAST will train the battle staff, whose role is to plan operations on-shore before embarking in formation flagships for deployment, and will support aspirations for the first Carrier Group deployment, scheduled for 2021. Exercise Support will involve the RN, Civil Service and Industry, and comprises exercise script-writers, and the White Force who run the exercises.

PETC is the platform on-board architecture which will allow access by ships to the training environment. In support of this work, two ship-borne Capability Concept Demonstrators (CCD) are planned. The first, which will be taking place during this financial year, is based on the Type 23 frigate; it will be closed-system, and is intended to show how the RN could run a local synthetic training exercise in a ship alongside in the UK. The aims are to: test the feasibility of the concept; exercise target audience stations in the Ops Room; inform safety and security implications for ship-alongside capability; and report on the feasibility of the Combat System Highway (CSH) as an option for PETC. The second, a distributed CCD which is planned for FY21/22, will be based on a Type 45 destroyer, using the Gladiator CS&S, which will already be in service, and involving MCTS. The aim is to show how PETC would allow a T45 alongside to be integrated into the RN SE, thereby: exercising multiple-location target audiences participating from shore-based simulators and informing the roadmap towards a Ship At Sea capability. Both CCDs will also test the operational compatibility of the simulation equipment with existing ship’s systems.

Maritime Composite Training System

Since it will be such a key part of the RN’s future training system, particularly in the early phases of DOTC(M) development, a review of MCTS’s capabilities may be useful at this point (I attended the opening of the MCTS headquarters in Cunningham Building, HMS Collingwood, Portsmouth in 2011 (MS&T 1/2012)). MCTS is used for both individual and team training, and comprises Computer-Based Training (CBT), Classroom-Based Skills Trainers (CBST) and Warfare Team Trainers (WTT). It uses sea-going operational software running on COTS hardware, and the facility was developed, and is run by, BAE Systems, staffed by a mix of RN, BAE Systems, and Babcock personnel.

MCTS Warfare Team Trainer (WTT) with 'Martian' reconfigurable workstations that can replicate any function to be found in a ship's Ops Rooms and enable WTT to be configured to a different ship within an hour. Image credit: BAE Systems.

There are three WTTs at Collingwood, and two in a smaller facility at Devonport. The basic element of the WTT is the ‘Martian’, a reconfigurable individual workstation which can replicate any function to be found in a ship’s Ops Room. A maximum of 42 Martians can be accommodated in a WTT, each of which can be subdivided into four ‘Quadrants’, and an entire WTT can be reconfigured in an hour. In terms of representing all functions of the Ops Room, a Type 23 or Type 45 can be replicated using two quadrants, whereas the QEC would occupy a whole WTT. However, MCTS caters for a broad range of skills and team training and, for any given exercise, only those functions which contribute to it would be replicated. To allow close instruction, the Martians are more widely-spaced than would be the case on board, but the relative positions of the various Ops Room functions remain the same. The WTT environment provides a high level of immersion, recently enhanced by the addition of ambient and transitory sound effects.

The MCTS remit remains the facilitation of individual career training through sub-team to full-team training and, to this end, there is a suite of some 85 different warfare courses, of which up to 30 may be running at any one time. However, in the future, MCTS will also be required to have the ability to respond to fleet activity requirements; with activity levels already three times what they were in 2011, the system is operating at capacity, and course activity is capped. In the past, ships would bid for their own training to support their operational requirements, but some of this activity is now directed by HQ and necessitates detailed scheduling at MCTS.

During my recent visit, MCTS was hosting the final one-week assessment exercise of a year-long Principal Warfare Officer’s (PWO) course. However, there were many more courses running at the same time, from newly-trained ratings doing basic picture compilation, through team training on the Phalanx Close-In Weapons System (CIWS) and Sea Viper Anti-Air Missile System, to the crew of HMS Kent conducting a gunnery exercise with personnel of 148 (Meiktila) Commando Forward Observation Battery, a specialist Naval Gunfire Support Forward Observation (NGSFO) unit within 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery of 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines. Meanwhile, at Devonport, the crew of HMS Lancaster, a Type-23 frigate, were undertaking an 8-week bespoke Operational Sea Training work-up.

Future training will be conducted under a three-tier system, Tier 0 being team and sub-team training, Tier 1 ship’s company training, and Tier 2 and above training required to work ships up into larger formations, such as CSGs or LSGs. This will also involve the Battle Staff, and the nature of these Battle Staff events means that many of the scenarios can only be replicated in simulation. HMS Queen Elizabeth (QNLZ), with escorting vessels, is already taking part in Exercise Joint Warrior, a live exercise off the coast of Scotland, during which they will practise carrier group operations. The ships will then return to port, and the second phase of their training will take place, synthetically, in MCTS. Five ship’s companies will take part: QNLZ herself, two Type 45s and two Type 23s, of which one will be in the Devonport facility. There will be a White Force element running the exercise from the Cunningham Building, and the Battle Staff – who would normally be embarked in the flagship – will be practising their operational functions, co-located in MCTS. Higher Control (HiCon) will be exercised by those formations who would exercise operational level control for real. Realism will be enhanced by a TV studio, and social media injects. Upon completion of this phase, the group will return to sea, where the scenario will ramp up, including the embarkation of F-35s in QNLZ; the carrier group will then depart UK waters for its first operational cruise. The synthetic phase will be the largest exercise ever mounted by MCTS; even so, other training mandated by the RN’s Maritime Warfare School (MWS) will be conducted in parallel.

Surface Fleet Crew Rotations

One example of the pivotal role of MCTS in current RN operations is that of the Type 23 frigate, HMS Montrose, now on a three-year deployment to the Persian Gulf and, from her base in Bahrain, helping to keep Middle Eastern sea lanes open and illegal activity in check. This is part of the RN’s new Forward Presence programme, aimed at ensuring that vessels spend more time at sea in an operational theatre, and that their crews enjoy more settled lives. To this end, and uniquely for the RN surface fleet, HMS Montrose has two full assigned crews of 200 sailors and Royal Marines, which rotate by air transport on a four-monthly cycle.

HMS Montrose flexes her warfighting muscle with the successful firing of a Harpoon missile. Image credit: MoD.

During each crew’s ‘down’ period, they will take a period of leave, and then start the work-up for their next deployment. There will be also be some rotation of personnel, so that the work-up involves initial individual skills, refresher and team training, specifically tailored to reflect the rotation of key personnel, such as the CO or PWO. This training is conducted in Devonport, and includes mission rehearsal for Montrose’s unique role, which is largely maritime policing and surveillance. The training package is run by FOST, with MCTS providing the scenario fidelity, which must reflect the complex and unique Rules of Engagement (ROE), and also – thanks to the presence of threats like the Iranian Navy fast-attack boats – situations which can develop from a relatively slow-moving seemingly compliant ‘at-arm’s-length’ state, to a non-compliant close-quarters fight with alarming rapidity. This potentially rapid transition requires the closest possible co-operation between Ops Room and Bridge.

The Training Element of Fleet Transformation

The HMS Montrose model may, in the future, have wider application to RN operations. In his address to the 2019 Defence & Security Equipment International (DSEI) conference, the then newly-appointed First Sea Lord, Admiral Tony Radakin summarized his five priorities for transforming the RN: the North Atlantic, specifically ‘changing Anti-Surface Warfare (ASW) from delivery by individual platforms to a battlespace of networked sensors’; Carrier Strike, and ‘the need to shift the whole Navy to being a Carrier Task Group Navy’, delivering, alongside the RAF, Carrier Air Power; a future Commando Force, manned by ‘Fifth-Generation Commando Warriors’, enabled by technology; Forward Presence; and Technology & Innovation. He also highlighted ‘the five enablers that underpin the five transformation priorities: Infrastructure; Support; People; Training; and Acquisition’.

Regarding Forward Presence, Adm Radakin pointed to the ‘success of forward basing in Bahrain’, and his intention to ‘have a conversation about whether we could deploy more ships, permanently stationed forward in areas where we have significant interests.’ This would almost certainly involve double-crewed ships, operating for long periods at distance from the UK, reducing costly and inefficient deployments and recoveries. It would also permit a system of ‘up’ ships and ‘down’ ships, whereby scheduled maintenance and refits can be carried out on the ‘down’ ships and, depending of the scale of this work, these vessels maintained at a state of readiness with a trained crew on hand, should a higher availability of ships be required.

This new posture would require the RN to be able to train and sustain from the UK and also test and modify its TTPs as operations dictate. As previously stated, the primary role of DOTC(M) is to enable training in support of these aims at the Operational (Tier 2) Level, but it must have utility at the Tier 1 collective training level to support the deployment of individual units; in this latter, MCTS clearly has a pivotal role to play. DOTC(M)’s live/synthetic balance aspirations are also supported as training alongside is still using a platform (albeit partially), but without the expense of having a ship at sea, and with the added benefit that other training on board is still possible.

DOTC(M), although as yet relatively immature, not only has the potential to revolutionise RN operational and collective training, it is an essential element without which the First Sea Lord’s transformation plan would be nigh on impossible to achieve. MS&T will follow its progress with interest.

Maritime Collective Training – An Industry Perspective

The First Sea Lord’s five ‘enablers’ of the planned transformation of the RN to a Carrier Task Group Navy are Infrastructure, Support, People, Training and Acquisition. The DOTC(M) programme covers the whole spectrum, and industry is playing an increasingly pivotal role in all five. The equipment necessary to enable the training system is, in financial terms, small beer compared with a QEC carrier or a Type 31 frigate; nevertheless, timely and efficient acquisition of this equipment is also essential to the success of the mission and, as Adm Radakin acknowledges ‘We need to speed up our acquisition processes’. One of the ways in which he sees this being achieved is by adapting systems already proven and in use in different applications.

RN training is currently being overhauled under a number of projects, principal among which is Project Selborne. Elements of the training system are already out-sourced, and Selborne will, inter alia, bring together a number of existing contracts, with the aim of delivering all levels of naval personnel training; indeed, in the time that I have been reporting on Selborne, the scope of the project has markedly widened, apparently to make it more attractive to industry. The contract is due to start from 2021; the bidding consortia are iMAST, including Babcock, Thales and QinetiQ, and Fisher Training, involving Capita, Raytheon, Elbit and Fujitsu. Many aspects of DOTC(M) will be informed by the outcome of Selborne.

Although not a part of any of these teams, BAE Systems has a long heritage in S&T across Maritime, Air and Land domains, and will certainly have a major part to play in future RN Collective Training (CT), not least through MCTS. Their Head of Training Services Group, Neil Stewart, believes that the aim of individual training should be to enable progressive participation in team training, platform-based CT and, ultimately, Task Group CT, undertaking joint and combined mission rehearsal with coalition partners and allies. Further, that success in CT is underpinned by the appropriate environment, threat and fidelity; and that the key to success in realising Adm Radakin’s transformation aims will be refocusing from single platforms to Task Groups. To this end, training needs to add complexity and realism, and must also be measured, analysed and debriefed. The wider use of simulators, networks and synthetic training offers scope to do this with greater use of Live Virtual Constructive (LVC) training events. The Company is also alive to opportunities to improve the training experience by suggesting low-cost enhancements - an example is the 'Bridge-in-a-Box', a multi-flatscreen representation of the bridge visual corresponding to the situation being played out in the MCTS WTT, thus allowing the Officer of the Watch (OOW) to be included in the Ops Room training, and enabling Mission Rehearsal, for example in the Persian Gulf fast-attack boat scenario

BAE Systems has also responded to the requirement from the Maritime Combat Systems (MCS) team for an MCAST capability to provide CT for Maritime Battle Staffs (MBS). This calls for a cohesive and innovative solution which will transform the current training model without compromising the delivery of the Carrier Strike Group (CSG) or the Littoral Strike Group (LSG). Building on its experience in MCTS and wider joint and international exercises it has worked collaboratively with leading COTS software providers, whose products are optimised and proven for simulation services, exercise management and delivery. Regarding the PETC requirement to enable synthetic training alongside in UK, deployed in well-found ports and at sea, the Company’s findings suggest that a comprehensive training environment, mirrored but separate and isolated from the live operational environment, would be possible. BAE Systems believe they have a unique position in the UK to broaden training beyond the current platform-centric approach, however, they recognise that it will need a defence enterprise approach to bring this to life.