Since Roman times, simulation has enhanced tactical training and planning, lowering costs and making it possible to fight realistically in almost complete safety. Using network technology to link multiple systems, today’s simulation applications are broader than ever.

“Even six years ago, people focused on cutting flying hours or reducing the number of rounds fired,” says Squadron Leader Andy Johnston, SO2 Prepare within the Joint Warfare Development team at Joint Forces Command (JFC). “There’s more realisation now that simulation is not just about saving money.”

Just as some things can only be done live, others are only possible in simulation, such as firing nuclear missiles from submarines.

Simulated training also allows classified tactics, procedures and equipment to be exercised without exposing them to adversaries. It is likewise an option where actually deploying to a region or country might inflame regional tensions.

Johnston points to the Royal Navy’s maritime composite training system (MCTS) as an example of cutting-edge tactical simulation. It replicates multiple vessels, letting teams from different ships’ train together in simulated control rooms.

He also cites RAF Waddington’s air battlespace training centre (ABTC): this combines air and land simulation to train forward-air controllers and joint-tactical air controllers (JTACs). ABTC enables a trainee JTAC to look through virtual binoculars at the same synthetic environment as a fast-jet pilot sitting in his simulator cockpit.

“Tactical interoperability, where you are sharing models and systems for training, has become ‘business as usual’ for single services,” notes Johnston.

Working together

However, training virtually for joint force operations by connecting the numerous simulation systems used by UK, NATO and other allied forces is complex. Achieving the required interoperability means making diverse networks and systems using many different technical standards work in harmony.

JFC certainly has the requisite clout to make it happen. As well as simulation, it provides the foundation and framework necessary for joint capabilities like medical services, training, intelligence and cyber-operations.

“Post-Levene, with disaggregation, each single service looks after its own force elements,” says Johnston. “JFC is the glue binding each single service together to give a single coherent force that can do whatever it is tasked to do.”

Within JFC, C4ISTAR handles simulation system procurement, while Joint Warfare (JW), led by Air Vice-Marshal Bruce Hedley, represents the different-service users and helps define system requirements. Johnston works within the development team in JW.

“JW mixes analysis and innovation, which includes looking at the systems and technologies, doctrine and many other options that are available that may help with joint warfighting,” he explains.

A JFC paper presented two years ago by Major General Craig Lawrence alerted the Military Capability Board

to some of the challenges with simulation interoperability. That led directly to a new group’s formation: the Simulation Coherence Authority Group (S-CAG).

“What we lacked in 2015 was operational coherence at a middle level: above the technical nuts and bolts, but below the MoD,” says Johnston.

“We wanted to bring in single-service representatives who were technical experts for debates early in programmes’ lives. They help spot inconsistencies and overlaps before technical incompatibility arises.”

S-CAG’s board gathers together everyone involved: the single services, JFC, intelligence and the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl). That way it can cover the whole range of simulation, from training, test and evaluation to mission rehearsal and operational analysis.

S-CAG works alongside Defence Training and Education Coherence (DTEC) and its subsidiary, the DTEC technical authority. Together, they ensure that new modelling

and simulation procurement aligns with common standards, and that any suitable existing systems, models and standards are used by default.

S-CAG’s choice last summer of HLA Evolved in preference to the older DIS standard for interconnecting distributed simulation systems shows this consistency in action. Among other benefits, this high-level architecture supports fault tolerance along with the web services and APIs that underpin modern cloud computing.

Selective communication

“With DIS, every object in the simulation broadcasts everything all time,” explains Johnston. “A tank will constantly send its location, which way the turret is pointing, or if it’s just fired a round. With HLA Evolved, it’s more selective, like an email message that only goes to certain people.”

This ‘subscribe and publish’ model makes more efficient use of network bandwidth, letting an HLA Evolved simulation transmit information more frequently with higher accuracy and reduced network traffic. Just like the middleware that integrates commercial platforms, HLA Evolved employs a run-time infrastructure (RTI) and a common set of data libraries to handle data transmission.

Superior as it is, there are considerable integration challenges to come. Gateways are needed to link to DIS systems, while further middleware is also often required with HLA Evolved itself, where incompatible RTIs need to be connected.

“Even if we could change all the simulators in the UK to the new standard overnight, we’d still have to connect to other nations on DIS,” says Johnston. “We need to start now as this is where most of our allies are likely to be moving to.”

The largest interoperability project at the moment is the RAF’s Defence Operational Training Capability – Air (DOTC-A). DOTC-A is building Gladiator, the next evolution of ABTC.

Due in 2020, Gladiator will increase interoperability between geographically distributed simulation systems, as well as better blending live and synthetic operational training. Using a client-server approach with a scalable, modular architecture, the project seeks to exploit commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) and open-source technologies. Similar projects are also live for the other two services.

“DOTC-A builds on existing capabilities to connect mission simulators at RAF bases, such as Conningsby and Lossiemouth, so personnel can train without leaving their own bases,” says Johnston. “You will be able to upscale to bring in other players, such as Joint Helicopter Command.”

When Gladiator goes live, the first task will be to connect the brand-new simulator for the F-35/Lightning 2 with older systems like those for the Typhoon and E-3D Sentry. With the ABTC’s success in training JTACs, the British Army’s new joint fires synthetic trainer (JFIST) will also be linked through Gladiator early on.

Johnston’s most recent interoperability challenge involved testing the systems used by the Combined Joint Expeditionary Force (CJEF), the UK-France rapid reaction force. Bold Quest (BQ) was the perfect forum. A biannual exercise based in the US, BQ enhances communication and information sharing across a variety of coalition networks and resources.

“It was a unique opportunity,” says Johnston. “There are so many different coalition partners within BQ, and it is led by US Joint Staff J6, which brings a wealth of broad-based interoperability knowledge.”

To get to the BQ exercise network, Johnston’s team had to route through numerous other networks, such as the UK’s joint multinational interoperability assurance network (JMNIAN) and NATO’s combined federated battle labs network (CFBLNet). From there, they linked to the US’s JTENS training and evaluation network and patched into simulators for aircraft such as the AC-130, CV-22 Osprey and A-10. Connecting so many mission secret networks was a learning experience.

“We had to use cryptography and cross many different firewalls while operating at the highest fidelity of tactical sims,” says Johnston. “There were a number of serious technical challenges, but that was precisely why we were doing it.”

Pilot scheme

The second part of BQ involved connecting simulators used by US pilots to the systems used by UK and French JTACs and ground force commanders. This combined air/land mission helped JW explore all the architectures involved, with valuable learnings for programmes like DOTC-A and JFIST.

We will be able to simulate how we fight at all levels from individual vehicles and aircraft, up to operational headquarters.

“You get all the benefits of a large-scale coalition exercise without some of the disadvantages,” says Johnston. “You may not be physically able to practise deploying a large force like CJEF, so simulation could be the only option.”

The JW development team’s next goal is to train senior operational commanders at joint force headquarters, far above the tactical brigade and company headquarters already catered for by systems like the combined arms staff trainer at Warminster.

Johnston defines this as “operational synthetic” and says: “You need to understand how tactical wins will affect an overall campaign, and bring in other means besides strictly military ones,” he says. “At the moment, there’s a bit of a gap in preparing the operational commander for that situation.”

Regarding this “full-spectrum effect”, he says: “If you were outnumbered by an adversary, how could you apply logic to avoid direct military confrontation? What else would work?”

Options may include social media campaigns, cyber-effects, or more in-depth persuasion within the country. There are obvious differences here compared with conventional, tactical kinetic simulations.

“The big challenge comes in modelling things that aren’t directly physical, whether that’s the cyberdomain, or cognitive,” says Johnston. “We are gathering requirements and researching technologies that may help us with those. It’s going to move very rapidly.”

With seven allied partners including the US interested, the ambition is to build and trial a demonstration solution by summer 2017, then look for procurement funding.

“We are in a much better place for simulation interoperability than we were even 18 months ago,” says Johnston. “The policies and governance in place are far more effective in promoting technical and organisational coherence. New systems and platforms will be able to plug in upwards, so, where required, we will be able to simulate how we fight at all levels from individual vehicles and aircraft, up to operational headquarters.”