Training for the Interoperable and Integratable Force: Preparing for the High-End Fight


By Robbin Laird

To get the kind of combat effect which U.S. forces seek, integratability of key elements of the force is crucial. It is not the old concept of network centric warfare being pursued, but rather integration of modular capability-based task forces to deliver the desired combat effect in the distributed battlespace.

But how do you resolve the integration challenge?

And how do you measure the capabilities of the adversary to counter our intentions with their own integrated capabilities and to what extent?

As Paul Averna of Cubic Corporation put it in a recent interview with me: “For interoperability and integration to be realized, it is necessary to determine the aggregate effect of different capabilities working together. Rather than just acquiring a variety of systems and training to get good at using those different systems, we need to integrate key force elements and to determine aggregate effect for the different ways we might choose to meet Commander’ Intent. And with regard to peers, we know that they are fielding capable or potentially capable systems but how good are they at force integration?”

Put in other terms, mixing and matching capabilities and training to blend them together into an integrated force package and understanding various potential combat effects from different force packages is a key way for the U.S. and its allies to fight and win against peer competitors.

But as Averna noted, it is not simply acquiring a system or capability and then training to operate that system or deliver that capability, it is about training to generate various integrated combat effects.

Recently, the U.S. Navy successfully completed a training effort which provides a solid foundation for reshaping training in a way that will achieve more effective paths to force integratability.

As Carrie Munn and Erin Mangum of PMA-265 put it: “The F/A-18 and EA-18G Program Office (PMA-265) completed a successful technology demonstration for the Secure Live Virtual Constructive Advanced Training Environment (SLATE) at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland last month. The event included four flight tests, supported by Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 23 and industry partners, The Boeing Company and Cubic Corporation.

“The demonstration showcased the Synthetic Inject to Live (SITL) – Live Virtual Constructive (LVC) system’s maturity and performance in supporting training against near-peer threats, while validating its technology readiness level with the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler.

“The resulting SLATE SITL capabilities, technical specifications and lessons learned are currently in work for transition into the Navy’s Training Program of Record, the Tactical Combat Training System (TCTS) Increment II. Merging the two technologies presents the quickest way to get the best capabilities into the hands of the fleet as quickly as possible.

“The SLATE system connects Live (manned aircraft) with Virtual (manned simulators) and Constructive entities (computer-generated forces) in a robust training environment that replicates the threat density and capability required to prepare military forces for the high-end fight.

“These LVC capabilities fully link “Live” aircraft with the common synthetic environment used across U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force training enterprises, providing efficiencies for both Services.

“The SITL LVC capabilities demonstrated by SLATE are essential to providing our warfighters with a complex and realistic training environment that promotes combat readiness,” said Megan Sullivan, PMA-265 SLATE Integrated Product Team lead. “The event’s completion informs planning and enables more rapid fielding to the fleet.”

This is a good description of the training effort, but what it does not do is highlight that this really is about training as a weapon system enabling modular task force integration.

That perspective was very clear from talking with Paul Averna of Cubic Corporation who was a key participant in the training effort at Pax River.

What the exercise allowed was for the Blue Side to bring a number of disparate assets into an air-surface offensive and defensive force which confronted a Red Force operating at much greater range than the live exercise area provided. And the Blue Force was able to integrate assets against a Red Force operating a force package designed to attack an air-maritime force operating off of the waters of the Pax River range.

The live range was off of Pax River and the live aircraft – Super Hornets – had SLATE pods attached to them which allowed them to operate with the ground based testing teams operating both Red and Blue assets. The SLATE pods allowed for the simulated capabilities to integrate into the live aircraft’s combat systems and be part of the integrated air and combat picture available to the pilots of the live aircraft.

There were four live events during the month of September during which various parts of the technical data package that the technologies and training architecture embodied were tested.  The technical data package is owned by the government which allows it to work with industry to deliver capabilities rapidly to the fleet.

The training exercise was the first time that live Super Hornets operated together with virtual F-35s and worked their integration in terms of when they would interact and what they would expect while interacting during a mission working together. They connected with MH-60 Romeo ASW helicopters operating from the simulators at NAS JAX along with surface fleet assets working froma Aegis combat simulator as well.

This was the first time that the Navy had fielded their simulated training system in a pod onboard a live aircraft so testing involved working through the integration between ground test systems and the live flight aircraft.

With regard to the Red Side, they used guising technologies to turn live training aircraft into simulated advanced Red aircraft with the flight profile and various capabilities of those aircraft. Other Peer capabilities were included as well into the Red Side package.

The exercise highlighted why DoD needs to pivot to SITL-LVC enabled training. It is crucial to provide realistic threat emulations, to allow red and blue assets to operate beyond the physical ranges themselves, and to provide for the level of security to conduct operational proficiency training for force integration. The September flight events used currently available capabilities developed through the Secure Live Virtual Constructive Advanced Training Environment technology led by NAVAIR’s PMA-265 Advanced LVC team.

Put another way, one of the key aspects of the exercise was that realistic employment ranges were not confined to the Pax River live training airspace.

The Red Force operated well outside of the physical range to operate against the air-maritime force operating within the physical training range.

The training environment allowed for multiple skills to be tested concurrently in the simulated combat situation.  Live platforms worked with constructive weapons and trained in an integrated manner with the Blue Force to shape a dynamic sanctuary from which to prevail against the Red Force.

And with the training technology, they were able to exercise fighter integration TTPs which encompassed both kinetic and non-kinetic effects. With third party targeting capabilities as a key part of the evolving kill web approach, working who the sensor is and who is the shooter is a key part of combat integration needed in a peer fight. The September exercise demonstrated that the training technology clearly can facilitate such combat learning.

The ability for each platform community to figure out how to plug into this training environment is facilitated by the common standards and protocols providing by the training system. This is true for both the air and surface communities in the Navy, with the potential to bring additional Fleet assets into the common training environment through integration of the Minotaur fusion system into the advanced training system already shaped and exercised in September 2021 at Pax River.

This is not a nice to have capability, but a necessary one if winning is the goal of combat. Understanding integrated combat effects generated by diverse force packages is a key way-ahead for the kill web force; but training to do so is a work in progress.

Featured Photo: Mike Wallace, Boeing test pilot with Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 23, utilizes the Manned Flight Simulator at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland, during the Secure Live Virtual Constructive Advanced Training Environment (SLATE) demonstration. (U.S. Navy Photo)