For the first time, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force pilots have teamed up with fellow F-35 pilots from Italy and the Netherlands to take part in the latest interoperability trials that see coalition forces flying F-35s in a simulated mission scenario with other UK military platforms across land, sea and air.
The trial is part of a series of complex simulation exercises that links together facilities from multiple locations across the UK and other F-35 partner nations and creates a common synthetic environment that can evaluate F-35 interoperability with other UK platforms.
The pilots flew the F-35 aircraft from desktop simulators — supplied by Lockheed Martin — at BAE Systems’ site in Samlesbury. Linking into the live scenario from another facility, a Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) identified nearby ground threats from a hilltop position and requested close air support (CAS) for coalition troops under fire.
This request was coordinated through a simulated Air Support Operations Centre (ASOC), and passed to two Royal Navy Sea King aircrew based at a separate Royal Navy facility who provided command and control directions to the F-35 pilots. As they approached the target area the pilots checked in with the JTAC using the Variable Message Format (VMF) datalink and then proceeded to prosecute their assigned Digitally Aided Close Air Support (DACAS) missions.
Tony Hall, F-35 Programme Manager for the interoperability trials at BAE Systems said:
“It’s been great to welcome F-35 pilots from other nations to our facilities for the first time. Giving them a taster of the complex missions we can conduct in a synthetic environment and the interoperability challenges they may face has been very useful.
For many, it was their first experience of digitally aided CAS using the F-35’s VMF datalink, and it proved very valuable. It’s a great example of collaboration across the programme and we are already looking forward to welcoming these pilots and those of other F-35 Partner nations back for further trials.”
This latest trial took advantage of recent investments in the simulation facility which enabled the F-35 pilots to experience the helmet mounted displays (HMD) used during flight.
Further improvements at the integration facility include a new mission control room to command the exercise, a mission planning room for aircrew and operations support staff, and a large briefing/observation room where the scenario and missions can be viewed live and operators can link up via video conference to the other trial participants at the various locations to conduct a debrief.
The aim of the overall trials programme is to progressively evaluate the interoperability of UK and Coalition Partners’ F-35s with other military platforms including: Command and Control (C2) platforms; Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) platforms; and Combat assets, with the goal of identifying issues, fixing and re-testing them ahead of Initial Operating Capability (IOC).
Tony Hall added: “We are working with Lockheed Martin and the UK Ministry of Defence towards establishing an IOC interoperability baseline for the UK and F-35 Partner nations and helping them develop a Coalition Concept of Operations (CONOPS) and common tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs).”
A further trial is scheduled later in the year which will concentrate on the interoperability between the F-35 and Italian naval and airborne platforms and will link simulation facilities from multiple UK and Italian locations.