MOD Aberporth, managed by QinetiQ to deliver T3E (Test, Trials, Training and Evaluation) services was the chosen Range to conduct the first Swing Role at the same Range in the UK. This is a multi-role activity where the aircraft quickly switch between mission sets, or even carry out two or more different mission sets simultaneously. In the summer of 2020, the XI (F) Typhoon Squadron successfully completed a series of training sorties, including ASRAAM (Advanced Short Range Air to Air Missile) firing profiles, Paveway IV bombing profiles (PWIVHE), and Strafing (27mm Frangible Armour Piercing rounds (FAP)).
The Squadron had a requirement to conduct pre-op deployment training using multiple aerial targets for ASRAAM firing presentations (a mixture of High Explosive and Telemetered rounds) and Paveway IV High Explosive rounds in Air Burst mode and Strafing sorties engaging surface targets.
Previously this type of multi weapon activity has been performed by Typhoons flying separate sorties and single payloads. The capability to conduct swing roles in one location provides considerable value to the RAF, saving time and effort.
MOD Aberporth Range provided a clear safe instrumented Range environment where multi weapon activity sorties could be effectively managed and air and surface targets engaged. As part of QinetiQ’s obligations to adhere to strict environmental conditions, use of PWIV HE in airburst mode was approved after extensive collaboration with Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) and Natural Resources Wales (NRW). Other Range locations allowing PWIV HE bombing typically present a significant increase in fuel burn from originating airfields, so operating at MOD Aberporth significantly reduces the carbon footprint.
The environmental clearance of 27mm FAP rounds at MOD Aberporth also meant that Strafing could be conducted at a UK Range, keeping fuel burn during transit to other Ranges to a minimum by combining the Strafe training with other firings. Achieving approval for Tungsten Alloy materials associated with FAP was another challenge to overcome, again with close collaboration with Air and Space Warfare Centre (ASWC), DIO and NRW, we were able to enable the firing of these rounds providing greater flexibility and efficiency.
QinetiQ staff at MOD Aberporth developed novel targets made from wood, rather than the usual metal structures. These were created as a proof of concept with the ultimate aim to reduce the environmental impact of deploying and retrieving targets, and faster decomposition. For the air-to-air phase of the missions, the target of choice was the Mirach 100-5 drone, operated by QinetiQ under the Combined Aerial Target Service (CATS).
Sqn Ldr Carl Rich commented “These new Range capabilities are the culmination of three years of Range and target development between the RAF’s Air & Space Warfare Centre (ASWC) and QinetiQ, who manage a number of MOD UK Ranges under the Long Term Partnering Agreement (LTPA) contract.This increase in UK Range capability provides cost effective advanced aircrew training and improved pre-operations deployment training for RAF pilots, demonstrating how the MOD, RAF and QinetiQ are working together to support the RAF’s Front Line Squadrons.”
Outomes and Benefits
The ability to provide this level of realistic training is a real step forward for T3E. Historically the Air Ranges have conducted trial activities as individual weapon sorties, but this move to more representative training means that the war fighter is now able to train as they would fight. The depth of knowledge and experience of the Range personnel combined with the close working relationships has enabled these changes to be made in consultation with ASWC. This represents a significant evolution to the way the Ranges conduct training campaigns for the front line squadrons and helps ensure that Aircrew are better prepare for operational deployment.
Conducting such a complex training exercise requires close collaboration and consultation between numerous parties, including NATS, the Met Office, DIO and ASWC. The pilots who took part in the recent training received a relevant and representative operational environment providing a level of realism, ‘Train As you Fight,’ enhancing valuable skills and experience for future operations.
Steve Fitz-Gerald, Group Managing Director, Maritime & Land, QinetiQ, commented:
"I’m delighted that the recent training exercise at MOD Aberporth provided the RAF with valuable opportunities to evaluate their weapons systems in realistic scenarios. The developments on the range are providing our customers with the airspace they need to offer excellent real-world and pre deployment training, providing valuable skills and experience for future operations."
To further enhance the pilot experience, the ability to carry out sorties with Forward Air Controllers (FAC), or Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTAC) has been cleared at MOD Aberporth. Additionally, a concept being explored is the Live Virtual Construct (LVC), which would introduce synthetic elements in order for aircraft to fight their way onto and off the Range.