This article appeared in the JAN-FEB 2019 issue of ADBR.
The arrival of the F-35A Lightning and transition to normal flying operations in Australia is underway.
While the aircraft has received most of the publicity so far, there is also a substantial defence and industry effort ongoing to recapitalise the enabling capabilities required to transform to a 5th generation Air Force. One such effort is the development of test and training ranges.
The 2016 Defence White Paper and Integrated Investment Program (IIP) provided a strong government commitment to the development of Australia’s range capabilities, but the planned investment is likely to be insufficient to enable the increasingly sophisticated nature of Defence preparedness in the future.
Modelling and simulation, the integration of live, virtual and computer-generated entities, and the development of a ‘Red Force’ to replicate current and emerging threats will need a substantial and ongoing investment. This will also provide significant opportunities for industry and academia to the benefit of the entire enterprise, not just the 5th generation Air Force.
While training for individual systems such as the F-35A is demanding enough, replicating the complexity at a force level to integrate the E-7A Wedgetail, F/A-18F Super Hornet, EA-18G Growler, unmanned systems, and the broader air battle planning and management capability will need a new approach. The rising uncertainty in the emerging operational environment introduces new threats and new risks accelerated by the digitisation of the battlespace, and the growing importance of the electromagnetic spectrum as a warfighting domain.
The increasingly sensitive nature of information warfare-related capabilities in weapon systems, such as the F-35A and EA-18G, also demands a re-think of the security aspects associated with those preparations, especially for high intensity operations connected across multiple networks and data links.
The issue is now moving from where to conduct training, to how.
Training capabilities in many ways define an air force. The world’s two oldest independent air forces, the Royal Air Force and the Royal Australian Air Force, were built a century ago upon an apparatus and organisational culture which prioritised training and technical mastery, both in the air and on the ground.
Operational success is substantially the product of training quality at all levels, but the ability to train effectively and safely as an integrated force against complex, large, dynamic threats separates sophisticated air forces from the rest.
The broader RAAF training apparatus remains among the world’s best, with an operational training capability now including a modernised Delamere Air Weapons Range, a new Mobile Threat Training Emitter System (MTTES), and an increasingly potent ‘Red Air’ threat emulation capability.
To better replicate threat complexity and density this Red Air capability was enhanced in late 2017 by the addition of contractor-delivered Alpha Jets to the existing fleet of Learjets. The future is likely to see an increased contribution from industry for the replication of air and ground threats delivered as a service.
A new approach under the Aerial Opposing Force Target Support System (AOFTS) will ensure an integrated effort to co-ordinate and deliver requirements across the ADF, and provide the framework for the increased training complexity, density, and scale necessary to exploit 5th generation capability.
The US and the UK are also committed to contractor-delivered threat services. The UK Government is at an advanced stage of the Air Support to Defence Operational Training (ASDOT) project.
And as reported recently in Air Force Magazine, the US DoD is about to award a 10-year indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity (IDIQ) contract up to US$6bn (A$8.4bn) in value to multiple companies to complement the USAF’s two in-house ‘aggressor’ squadrons. Contracted Red Air will deliver adversary training at 21 USAF bases as well as supporting training for joint terminal attack controllers (JTAC) at nine US Army bases.
It is indeed big business, yet providing air and ground-based threat platforms is only part of the story. To ensure training effectiveness it is also necessary to track, manage and replay these complex, multi-entity engagements.
An instrumented mission execution, recording and debrief support system is required to enable the development of 5th generation tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs). It ensures the training experience accurately identifies the correct lessons and, in doing so, provides a means of supervising an increasingly congested training environment. Multi-service and multi-national participation increases the requirement for ‘truth data’ that can be used to ensure return on investment as well as realistic, professional execution of combat training exercises.
Importantly, though, it also provides the means for conducting further analysis and exploring the asymmetries, scientific evidence, and operational art associated with these complex engagements. These were valuable lessons learned by the USAF and US Navy during the Vietnam War, and changed the face of advanced operational training during the Cold War years to the present day.
Following relatively poor missile performance in air-to-air combat in Vietnam, the US Navy commissioned the Ault Report. The report found that many missiles failed because they were launched outside the performance envelope.
Ault therefore recommended the creation of an instrumented range to train aircrew in the complexities of air-to-air weaponry. This led to the development of the Air Combat Manoeuvring Range (ACMR) at MCAS Yuma in Arizona, and the establishment of the Advanced Fighter Weapons School at NAS Miramar – Top Gun.
The Air Force also conducted a study of their own performance in Southeast Asia called Project Red Baron. The study was delivered in three tranches between 1966 and 1974 and its recommendations resulted in the establishment of Red Air aggressor squadrons, Exercise Red Flag, and the development of an Air Combat Manoeuvring Instrumentation (ACMI) range at the Nellis Test and Training Range north of Las Vegas.
In simple terms, the ACMI utilises an airborne instrumentation pod to record and transmit aircraft Time-Space-Position-Information (TSPI) by datalink, and a ground subsystem used to display and debrief the training missions.
By the mid-1980s the US had over forty ACMI ranges across the US and worldwide, and the USAF alone had four full-time aggressor squadrons – each with 24 aircraft – providing high-end operational training to Western Forces at the height of the Cold War.
ACMI ranges became increasingly capable with ground-based telemetry infrastructure replaced by transportable systems, GPS enabled air-to-air data links, and the ability to assess weapon events through integration with aircraft systems. System capacity was also significantly enhanced allowing over one hundred entities to be tracked.
But following the Cold War, two decades of under-funding and budget cuts has seen these ACMI ranges and aggressor squadrons atrophy, as attention turned to counter-insurgency operations and the belief that complex, large force engagements were a thing of the past. To address emerging threat complexity the US now uses Active Duty, Reserve and contractor aggressor forces to train against.
But even that will not be enough as the demand for Red Force operators outstrips supply. Range time is also an increasingly scarce resource, especially for non-US forces, thereby opening-up significant opportunities for Australia to fill the gap and provide additional capacity.
A clean SLATE?
The arrival of 5th generation platforms and the increased requirement to integrate live entities with virtual and computer-generated entities has added another layer of complexity to ACMI. Known as Live Virtual Constructive (LVC) integration, it is widely accepted as a core requirement for a 5th generation force, not just for Air Force.
Rather than solely hosting LVC systems in an aircraft’s Operational Flight Programs (OFP) and becoming potentially locked-in to non-compatible vendor-specific solutions, the US Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) established a project called the Secure LVC Advanced Training Environment – or SLATE – which would utilise an advanced datalink to support the multiple classified security levels necessary to support training involving platforms, such as the F-35A.
The project utilised F/A-18 E/F/G, F-15 and F-16 aircraft to prove the concept while utilising a design built upon existing ACMI infrastructure. This supports a baseline for the integration of different types of aircraft, as well as ground and maritime participants from the ADF and coalition partners. While OFPs will remain a big part of LVC, the architecture of SLATE allows them to be integrated due to common data formats and security protocols.
Additional benefits of an LVC training system are the security and ability to utilise full system integrated combat training in live training environments where system performance and physical and cognitive stress truly test human readiness. Sensor and effects modelled in an LVC environment provide flexible and scalable scenarios to meet training needs which can be controlled at a squadron, battalion or naval platform level. Developmental and operational testing is enhanced by LVC in many of the same ways.
Regardless of the technology aspects of advanced 5th generation training systems, one of the most significant developments in air warfare capability in recent years has been the need for far greater geographical areas to exploit very long-range weapon systems. This ever-expanding performance envelope will continue to drive the need for more range space, something that Australia has in abundance, and which the US and others do not.
LVC builds upon ACMI capabilities that the ADF currently owns and is capable of integration with existing command and control capabilities. In order to keep pace with the expansion of geographical and technical requirements of training hard to fight easy, employing multiple ranges across Australia involving air, land and maritime assets, and potentially underwater ranges, opens substantial opportunities for defence and industrial collaboration.
The Commonwealth’s already significant investment in test and training range technology will pay dividends on operations. Yet much more is needed, including the opportunity cost in establishing the expertise to ensure it can deliver capability at the force-level, rather than simply enabling the preparedness of individual weapon systems.
There are several Australian companies already engaged in the delivery of operational training, and ADBR will be providing project updates in the coming months. Experience and the current geo-political environment suggests training for high intensity operations will continue to need greater levels of complexity, sophistication, and integration.
The growing demands of information operations and an increasingly integrated approach to electronic warfare and cyber will add further complexity, not to mention those manned and unmanned platforms which are yet to enter service.
Training is a growth industry and Australia has the capability and, above all, geography to lead the way.