RAF Tornado aircrew from II (AC) Squadron based at RAF Marham in Norfolk, Army Air Corps personnel from Wattisham Airfield in Suffolk and soldiers from 97 Battery, 4th Regiment based at Topcliffe in Yorkshire are due to deploy to Afghanistan next year are using the Distributed Synthetic Air Land Training (DSALT) system to get the best possible preparation they can. The DSALT facility enables pilots to fly simulated missions in support of soldiers in contact with computer generated enemy forces on the ground on exercises supported by a technical and operational team of military, ex-military and civilian backgrounds from Inzpire, QinetiQ, Boeing and Meggit.
The Air Battlespace Training Centre (ABTC) recently reopened following a major refurbishment and software upgrade and now the scenarios are more realistic than ever before thanks to the introduction of a new Afghanistan database.
It is the first time that most of the soldiers have taken part in this type of integrated air-land synthetic simulator training and so far the feedback has been extremely positive. Training Staff taking part in Ex Mountain Dragon have said that the exercise provides the best synthetic training for the Army and RAF to practice their fighting skills currently available anywhere in the world. The ABTC synthetic environment allows individuals and teams to train in a highly realistic high-threat environment and carry out the Tactics Techniques and Procedures that cannot be practiced in normal peacetime training. The exercises are supported by a technical and operational team comprised of military, ex-military and civilian backgrounds.
Among the first military personnel to try out the system, as part of Exercise Mountain Dragon, are troops who act as Fire Support Teams (FSTs) including Forward Air Controllers (FACs) on the front line. The job of the FST is to co-ordinate modern weapons; from the Armys artillery, mortars and Apache helicopters to the bombs and missiles used by the RAFs fast jets, to engage the enemy without endangering their own comrades, allied forces or civilians.
The opportunities for military units to train as they fight are constrained by peacetime rules, the availability of training airspace and limitations on the employment of live weaponry. But thats where the technology provided by the ABTC at RAF Waddington as its Officer Commanding, Wing Commander Mike Elvis Costello explains:
We cant replace the need for live training altogether but we can get as close to actual operations through synthetic simulated training. How good it is depends on how immersed the players get in it and they are finding it as close to the real thing as you can get without the knee-tremblers you experience under fire. Exercises like Mountain Dragon provide targeted training for soldiers on the ground in Afghanistan operating very close to the enemy on how to work with the RAFs fast jets, and attack helicopter pilots, how to talk to them, and how to effectively execute a mission.
Royal Artillery Gunnery Training Team Chief Instructor Lieutenant Colonel Stuart Gray has been involved in training all the Army Brigades deployed on Operation HERRICK and was in Helmand province during Operation PANTHERs CLAW. His team provide the Army training staff for Exercise Mountain Dragon.
He said The Air Battlespace Training Centre, and specifically Exercise Mountain Dragon, provide the best synthetic training opportunity for the Army and RAF to practice their fighting skills currently available anywhere in the world. The course at RAF Waddington is awesome and has a significant impact on both soldiers and airmen and their ability to coordinate and deliver military firepower. This is truly joint training at its best and is definitely improving operational effectiveness and saving lives in Afghanistan.