Gladiator Steps Into the Distributed Synthetic Training Arena

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In 2010, MS&T’s Dim Jones visited the Air Battlespace Training Centre (ABTC) at RAF Waddington, at that time the host of the Iraq/Afghanistan era Distributed Synthetic Air-Land Training (DSALT), which ran until 2019. By then, the Defence Operational Training Capability (DOTC) programme had commenced, the air element of which (DOTC(A)) became known as Gladiator. MS&T reported progress on this in 2020 – but much water has flowed under many bridges since then.


The arguments for synthetic training over live, while accepting that a mix of both is essential, are well-rehearsed, principal among them operational security, the environment, battlespace and weapons envelopes, cost and platform life; no such constraints exist in the synthetic world. However, in order to “train as you fight,” live and synthetic have to be coherent and complementary, and the blend of the two optimised. Gladiator was conceived as “a paradigm shift in Air’s approach to synthetic, multi-domain operational training,” to fulfil the remit of DOTC(A) and to interact with the Land and Maritime domains. It is not a simulator, but rather a synthetic environment in which users operate their own equipment from their own bases in a “hub-and-spoke” configuration of which ABTC is the hub. Gladiator is multi-domain, Air-led but with capability for Land, Sea and Space and with Cyber effects superimposed. It is the synthetic component of a wider programme (NGOT – Next-Generation Operational Training), the live element being Modernisation of UK’s Training Air Infrastructure for the Next Generation (MUSTANG).

Gladiator, Air’s Distributed Synthetic Multi Domain Integration Training capability at the ABTC at RAF Waddington (right), is not a simulator. Rather it is a synthetic environment in which users operate their own equipment from their own bases in a “hub-and-spoke” configuration of which ABTC is the hub. Source: RAF

Acquisition & Development

Gladiator’s claim to represent a paradigm shift is nowhere better illustrated than in its acquisition and development model. The UK MoD and Treasury have historically liked to spread programme costs over time, and have shown marked reluctance to fund unspecified future upgrades. Gladiator required significant up-front investment (though modest in defence-wide terms), but development and running costs thereafter are reduced. A main component is software licensing and, where it is economical to do so, enterprise licences will be obtained, allowing programme-wide sharing. Gladiator is funded until 2043, and Initial Operating Capability (IOC) was declared in January 2023; however, there will be no FOC, because no-one knows what that will look like until we get there. It is an “adaptive spiral development programme” in which there are planned upgrade milestones, which could be in terms of platform integration, domain capability or software. There have been four major upgrades already, with a 5th planned for the end of 2024. Only after each upgrade is it clear what the subsequent step should be but, as an example, the next combined software version, “Javelin,” will produce a 30-times step change in capability from the current “Nighthawk” version.

Gladiator is UK MoD- owned, including Foreground Intellectual Property Rights, entities and their capabilities, and the system architecture; these can be shared with whomever the MoD chooses. The Gladiator capability was developed, and is now delivered, in partnership with Boeing Defence UK who, as the prime technical services provider and integrator, maintains the complex Gladiator systems and supports future enhancements in collaboration with UK MoD; however, in contrast to other programmes MoD is not beholden to Boeing as a prime, but as a team they can take and share development risk. Failure at any point results only in reversion to the previous proven standard, and involves minimum loss of time and money.  Gladiator can be used for both team and collective training, and can link with other domains (Land and Maritime), currently in development. The basic Space capability will be enhanced, following an on-site demonstration in July 2024. This new capability will be able to model any satellite in any orbit, with any capability currently embodied in satellites, and can work in the EM spectrum to simulate effects such as GPS jamming – all capabilities which cannot be exercised in live training. Gladiator is part of the RAF’s Air & Space Warfare Centre, which includes a unit which delivers cyber effects, allowing a mission commander to integrate his planning with cyber without direct connection; cyber has to operate in the real world, and Gladiator intentionally does not.


The Gladiator hub is comprised of seven separate environments: four live environments, which support exercises, from pre-brief and execution through to After-Action Review (AAR); one pre-live environment (for scenario development, planning and rehearsal); and a further two separate development and test environments. New software is first proven in Test & Development, then tested in pre-live before general release. The system is designed to run three exercises concurrently 24/7/365, with no maintenance shut-down period. The size of the exercises is resource-constrained, but they can run at different classification levels, from Official Sensitive through NATO Secret to Secret UK Eyes Only (SUKEO), and a security filter system ensures that players receive only information allowed by their clearance. For instance, a simulated weapon employed by a Typhoon or F-35 operating at SUKEO level, once fired becomes an ABTC-owned entity, the parameters of which can be modified and transmitted to other players at NATO Secret level. Since Operations Security (OPSEC) is a key discriminator in “ST versus live,” physical and cyber security – both intra-system and cross-domain – are tight. There are two stand-alone external versions of Gladiator: one at Farnborough, also operating at UK Secret level and serving the Rapid Capabilities Office Air Information Experimentation (RCO AIX) team; and an unclassified demonstration facility, ARENA. Gladiator is COTS-based, and compliant with UK Joint Service Publication (JSP) 939, which sets architecture and connectivity standards; future UK systems must be JSP939-compliant in order to secure funding.

System fidelity is at the level required to achieve the training aims. Security is a particular issue with F-35, since the FMS is permitted to connect only with another F-35 FMS or, in the case of the UK, with a Deployable Mission Rehearsal Trainer (DMRT).  The solution to this is the Effects-Based Simulator, a GOTS- and COTS-based Mission Training Device, which acts as a Mission Part-Task Trainer, embodies all the capabilities of the platform and can easily be kept up to date with the aircraft.  It facilitates 4th-/5th-Gen joint training and has no negative training implications.  The EBS was initiated by the F-35 Joint Program Office, and will be used by all F-35 operators.  There are 2 EBS at ABTC as Concept Demonstrators, and there are plans to deploy 8 operational versions to RAF Marham during 2025, at a cost for all 8 less than one FMS; unsurprisingly, work is ongoing to determine whether this model might be employed elsewhere.

The core ABTC workforce is currently about 90 strong, split into three elements: military experts in the various disciplines, including an Army GBAD specialist; professional “White Force,” provided by Inzpire, and including SMEs in Combat Air, ISR/C2, Space, Multi-Engine and Rotary-Wing, Intel, Land (JTAC) and Maritime (PWO); and Boeing, supported by a plethora of other companies. VR Forces, produced by MAK, is the primary Computer Generated Forces (CGF) application used to run the Gladiator environment; other companies provide specialist plug-ins and services which support system functionality, including radio comms and tactical datalink (Link 16), both within the synthetic environment and linking to the real world to facilitate true LVC. White Force directs and controls the exercises, generating Airspace Control Orders (ACOs) and other exercise instructions, enables fully interactive remote briefing and debriefing, and provides computer-generated (constructive) inputs, programming entities to perform pre-planned tasks, or directly controlling them. The system currently hosts exercises from Tier 0 (sub-Force Element) to Tier 2+ (Joint Force Air Component), and can involve higher-level C2.

Connectivity and Future Plans

The Gladiator hub is linked to a MOB (Main Operating Base) RACK at each UK connected site, through the Joint Multi-National Interoperability Assurance Network (JMINIAN), to the US Distributed Mission Operations Center (DMOC) though the Joint Training Enterprise Network (JTEN), and to NATO through two separate routes: the USAFE/Africa Warfare Center (UAWC); and the Combined Federated Battle Laboratory (CFBL), the latter funded by 22 NATO nations whose air, land, maritime and C2 forces Gladiator is already training.

RC-135W Rivet Joint (one above) one of the most complex and challenging platforms, is already connected to Gladiator, "with aircrew reporting that this is the best synthetic training they have ever had." Source/credit: RAF/ Sgt Neil Bryden

The current domestic focus is on expanding the UK network; the more players connected, the greater the training audience and the more flexibility to employ the White Force on tasks other than representing force elements. Rivet Joint, one of the most complex and challenging platforms, is already connected, with aircrew reporting that this is the best synthetic training they have ever had. The F-35 EBS at ABTC are connected, and will be used, in-house only, this year; the Marham EBS will be fully connected in 2025. Next will be Typhoon, through the Typhoon Future Synthetic Training (TFST) programme, followed by the Control and Reporting Centre (CRC) at RAF Boulmer, the future E-7 Wedgetail fleet, Protector, P-8 Poseidon, the Army’s Joint Fires Synthetic Trainer (JFST), the enhanced space capability, and the UK’s Air Mobility and Rotary-Wing forces, reflecting the need to integrate their tactical support missions into combat air ops.

Gladiator delivers its principal remit through the Warrior series, a suite of exercises meeting all requirements across the force elements and C2; it is Air-led but multi-domain-capable, and uses operationally-relevant scenarios. ABTC provides the environment, and its staff orchestrate the exercise to assist the key players and provide maximum training value through the various phases, all conducted remotely: mission definition, including Special Instructions (SPINs) and ACO; building the plan; the White Force brief; the mission brief; the Execute phase; hot and cold debriefs; and lessons learned. Designed for team and collective training, Gladiator can also involve and train higher command and operations staff, an area for future development. It can: undertake a level of synthetic OT&E - what would be the effect of Meteor vice AMRAAM on F-35, or a Growler pod on an A-400M?; conduct mission rehearsal; evaluate plans; and identify strengths and weaknesses. At a more specialised level, it will enable Qualified Weapons Instructor (QWI) course mission command training to be enhanced through synthetics, and eventually executed remotely.

The Gladiator hub's linkages include the US Distributed Mission Operations Center (DMOC) (above at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico) though the Joint Training Enterprise Network (JTEN). Source/credit: US Air Force/Ms. Deb Henley

Exercise Athena Warrior

My visit to ABTC coincided with Day 2 of Exercise Athena Warrior, the first UK-led NATO exercise, a resume of which, with lessons learned, will be covered separately. The ABTC staff and the RAF see Gladiator as a key element in optimising Defence’s operational training, by preparing the warfighter for a contested, denied multi-domain operating environment through regular national and global testing and training in a classified secure environment, part of a complementary live and synthetic exercise plan enabling operational C2 training through participation in CT. ABTC itself will also assume responsibility for live UK air element training from January 2025, allowing more flexible use of personnel resource, both military and contractor SME support, and merging of live and synthetic to achieve a truly optimised blend of LVC, enabling the benefits of both environments.

These are early days, but the momentum and the belief are certainly there, and the rapid spiral development programme will hopefully see Gladiator reach its full potential.


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