History meets the future at RAF Waddington where an old World War II hangar has become home to a myriad of computers, screens, briefing rooms and imposing cockpit simulators that make up the Air Battlespace Training Centre (ABTC).
The ABTC houses the Concept Capability Demonstrator (CCD), which forms part of the UK’s Mission Training through Distributed Simulation (UK MTDS); a concept designed to enable pilots to train in composite air operations and fly with coalition and other Services in a realistic virtual combat environment.
The CCD is an advanced networked computerised system that shows how British Forces can exercise simultaneously on both sides of the Atlantic with their American counterparts. With an emphasis on training for tactical operations, as opposed to basic flying skills, it comprises four Typhoon Eurofighter cockpits, four Tornado GR4 cockpits, a Forward Air Controller training system and the E3-D Sentry Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) simulators.
When performing training missions an ‘Exercise Director’ oversees the whole operation and can direct the battle scenario accordingly to meet the training objectives of the participants ensuring the simulators provide maximum benefit.
Squadron Leader Kath Newton, Officer Commanding ABTC is enthusiastic about the technology and the progress of the programme to date:
"We are looking at achieving collective training for the air environment to include all the elements that make this up," said Sqn Ldr Newton. "To date we have run trials with the United States Air Force and the British Army and their helicopters and our aspirations are to connect up to the Royal Navy later this year."
Pilots are able to train in exceptionally realistic circumstances. Only combat ready crews are able to use these simulators and all plan as they would for real missions. Weather, intelligence and brainstorming sessions are all part of their pre-flight duties and secure video conferencing, involving their US comrades ensures comprehensive preparation.
Once ‘flying’ is complete, the networked system is capable of revisiting all aspects of the exercise including the communications between the pilots that provides a way to fully assess the sortie.
Squadron Leader Darren Berris is a Tornado GR4 pilot and, as part of the ABTC staff, has helped to develop the system. He is positive about the way pilots are able to immerse themselves within a mission:
"We are still exploring this and need to see where we have to go for the full UK MTDS programme," he said. "We can’t do this without assessment and feedback from the front-line crews and how they perceive the potential for the future."
The CCD £7.8 million contract runs over 30 months until March 2008. Team ACTIVE (Aircrew Collective Training through Immersive Virtual Events), a consortium of Qinetiq, Boeing, Rockwell Collins, cueSim, HVR and ATIL hold the contract, providing the Ministry of Defence with a way of investigating how advanced synthetic training systems like this could help prepare combat aircrews in the future. The outcomes from the CCD will be used to assess how best to take forward the UK MTDS programme and whether funding will become available.