The capability of conducting Multi-Domain Operations is currently an aspiration of both NATO and some member nations.  However, this is easy to say, more difficult to define, and harder still to do. MS&T’s UK-based special correspondent Dim Jones explores how far down this road the UK is and, crucially, what plans it has for training to achieve its objective. 

The five domains involved are: Land; Air; Maritime; Space and Cyber.  Of these, the first three have been practised for decades as joint operations, although the vast majority of joint exercises have involved two domains only; the closest the UK has come to involving all three has probably been the Joint Warrior series of live exercises which have involved air support for maritime operations, including an amphibious landing. Integrating the remaining two is more challenging. Responsibility for implementing Multi-Domain Integration (MDI) in the UK is vested in Strategic Command, and MDI is defined by the UK Government as: “ensuring that every part of defence can work seamlessly together, along with other government departments and the UK’s allies and partners, to deliver a desired outcome.”  

As an example of how this might work in practice, the Government cites the Russian operations in support of the Assad regime in Syria, in which “we saw: cruise missile strikes into Northern Syria from the Caspian Sea; the gathering of missile-capable submarines in the Eastern Mediterranean; the establishment of a sophisticated and integrated air defence system; strong and enduring sustainment chains setup to support forces through Tartus Port and the Khmeimim Air Base; autonomous aerial systems used for reconnaissance and target acquisition; an information and influence campaign, where the people of Syria were bombarded with positive information about the Assad and Putin regimes; and, although we couldn’t directly observe them, undoubtedly intelligence operations from space.

The Defence lead for UK space operations is UK Space Command, a tri-service, 2-star HQ co-located with the RAF’s Air Command at High Wycombe. The National Cyber Force, established in 2020, “is a partnership between defence and intelligence, responsible for operating in and through cyberspace to counter threats, disrupting and contesting those who would do harm to the UK and its allies.” In addition to Government Communications HQ (GCHQ) and the MoD, the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) and the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) are core partners.

In addition to progress in national MDI, the UK contributes to a wider NATO capability, the development of which is vested in Allied Command Transformation but as their source document points out: “The responsibility for developing Multi-Domain capabilities falls on every aspect of NATO. Allied nations’ domain-focused military forces have a crucial role to play; yet equally important is the synchronization of military capabilities with nationally integrated Instruments of Power and external stakeholders. The term ‘National-level Instruments of Power’ refers to the numerous Departments, Agencies, and/or Ministries that are responsible for specific sectors within Allied nations’ governments.” The involvement of external stakeholders - agencies outwith military and government - is one of the key differences between joint and true multi-domain.  

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MDO missions are a reality for the UK MoD, witness the ships operations room onboard HMS Diamond (above) shortly before firing Sea Viper missiles against a Houthi drone. Source: Royal Navy.

Beyond Structure – to Action

So much for the structure; what is actually taking place?  The Defence Operational Training Capability (DOTC) programme has morphed into three, single-service initiatives, corresponding to three of the domains. Air, the most advanced, is centred on Gladiator which is already up and running in the Air Battlespace Training Centre at RAF Waddington. Gladiator provides a synthetic environment into which any compliant simulator can be plugged, and has conducted joint exercises with the US, through their Distributed Mission Operations Center (DMOC) and, through them, with the Australian forces. Gladiator has also acted as part-host to a NATO exercise at Red Flag Plus- level. According to the RAF website: “Air, Land, Maritime, Space and Cyber capabilities will be integrated over coming years, alongside increased connectivity with Allies and Partners, further strengthening Gladiator’s capability to deliver world-class synthetic Multi-Domain Integration training.” Gladiator itself, however, is currently focused on combat air, and there is work to do to integrate other air elements such as transport and rotary-wing.

The Maritime domain, now titled Project Spartan, is centered on Platform Enabled Training Capability (PETC), and enhancement of the Maritime Composite Training System (MCTS).    In terms of commonality of aim and requirements, Spartan has more in common with Gladiator than either has with ACTS and, indeed, Gladiator has been assisting Spartan with technology and best practice.  In late June 2023, a team from QinetiQ, Inzpire and BAE Systems delivered a demonstration under Phase 2 of PETC, operated from Portsdown Technology Park and delivering connected training to three platforms docked at HM Naval Base in Portsmouth: HMS Kent, HMS Diamond and HMS Queen Elizabeth. Again, the emphasis is single-service, and the capability is somewhat lagging behind that of the US, which has for some time been able to link shore-based synthetic trainers with ships alongside and ships at sea, the latter having the capacity to run in parallel an ops team dealing with the real world and another taking part in a synthetic collective training exercise.

Turning to Land, the Army’s Collective Training Transformation Programme (CTTP), recently clarified its intention to select a strategic training partner (STP) to deliver an Army Collective Training Service (ACTS). This will transform the soldier experience, digitize the service and introduce a more agile acquisition culture. It seeks to be “integrated and expeditionary,…allowing the Army to train globally…in challenging, realistic, multi-domain and world leading environments – including instrumented urban,” according to the authority. In terms of physical developed STE, the army has a legacy of old, stove-piped simulation solutions and is probably the least mature of the three services, although the Army’s Joint Fires Synthetic Trainer (JFST) has reached IOC and will be able to connect to Gladiator for air-land integration training. The bidding for the STP role is underway with seven consortia declaring their intention to tender for the £2Bn ($US 2.5Bn), 15-year contract. The ACTS emphasis is somewhat different to Gladiator, in that ACTS (notwithstanding the aspirational language) concentrates on the Land environment training at a variety of levels; it does include HQ training, whereas Gladiator focuses on complex Air Operations and Air Component collective training, but also enables lower-tier training by providing the synthetic environment and connectivity within which platforms can operate. Gladiator and Spartan currently have no Command and Staff Training (CAST) capability, although it is an aspiration. A Navy competition for Maritime CAST is also underway begging the question as to whether cross-service HQ training is a candidate for rationalization.

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Last February, Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston KCB CBE ADC, opened Gladiator, Air’s new Distributed Synthetic Multi Domain Integration Training capability at the Air Battlespace Training Centre at RAF Waddington (above). Source: Royal Air Force

Eyeing Jointness   

For all three programmes, tri-service joint exercises and LVC capability are currently ambitions rather than hard targets, and are mostly unfunded. The characteristics which will give them a joint capability, and potentially multi-domain – but can also be stumbling blocks – are connectivity, interoperability and security. According to Andy Fisher, Head of Collective Training Division at Lincoln-based defence training providers Inzpire, “The aspiration of Gladiator is to connect to any synthetic device that is compliant. This includes all three UK services and coalition partners. Inzpire, in conjunction with the Air and Space Warfare Centre, is on the cusp of merging its live and synthetic training teams, with the aim of blending the live and synthetic worlds to create a training environment that is greater than the sum of its parts.” From a NATO perspective, several European nations have expressed an interest in Gladiator and, subject to national requirements and security considerations, it could set the standard.

DOTC as a defence-wide entity is essentially defunct, but responsibility for coherence in UK programs remains vested in Strategic Command and the Defence Modelling and Simulation Office; it is strange, therefore, that there does not appear to be a common approach to CAST, driven by StratCom or the Directorate of Joint Warfare (DJW). As regards Space and Cyber, and while integration of the 5 domains in combat operations is of paramount importance, it is less clear how these two should be integrated in exercises at lower levels, although Gladiator is being used as a model for Space Command to develop its own ST capability. Co-ordination of activity in combat operations is exercised through HQs and Government and, although Space and Cyber inputs add value to exercise scenarios, the other players may not know, or need to know, where the injects come from. On the aspiration to a truly multi-domain LVC capability, I will leave the last word to Gp Capt Paul ‘Zig’ Froome, Assistant Head of Air Capability Delivery Combat Air at HQ Air Command: “As an Air Force, and probably across Defence…as a culture, we still see live training as the ‘gold standard’ but, having seen Gladiator in action, synthetic – and certainly LVC - can be better than live.  The challenge is getting that message across, that buy-in, that this is the future.”         

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