Shaping the skills of military personnel around the world

A joint battlespace management symposium at RAF Boulmer.
A joint battlespace management symposium at RAF Boulmer.

For the last quarter of a century, a specialist unit has played an enormous part in shaping the skills of military personnel, both at home and abroad.

Originally named the School of Fighter Control when it relocated to Boulmer in 1990, it trains the men and women who are responsible for compiling a radar picture of everything that is flying within UK airspace, and the identification and tracking of all aircraft within it and those who control both UK fast jets and air-to-air refuelling aircraft.

Students and instructors in the control and reporting centre.

Students and instructors in the control and reporting centre.

During the last training year, the SABM delivered almost 100 courses to nearly 600 trainees.

The skills that are taught at the SABM can be utilised anywhere in the world where airspace has to be monitored and policed or where there is conflict.

On operations, aerospace battle management officers (ABMs) and aerospace systems operators/managers (ASOPs) provide vital air battlespace management and have made significant contributions to operations – most recently in Afghanistan and during the UK’s air campaign in Libya.

The SABM provides classroom-based theory lessons and training on simulators and is the only military phase 2 training school to train its students in the real-life operating environment of the Control and Reporting Centre (also based at RAF Boulmer).

On the tactical training floor.

On the tactical training floor.

This blend of classroom, simulator and real-life training is what ensures ABMs and ASOPs are extremely well regarded wherever they operate around the world.

A tactical floor allows instructors to create mock scenarios where students can use their air-power knowledge to develop the skills which they will need on operations.

The SABM staff utilise a wide array of teaching and learning techniques in order to get the best out of their students – from online distance learning to interactive practical sessions.

Students are also supported during their training through professional performance coaching of the type given to Olympic athletes.

Students in the simulator training room.

Students in the simulator training room.

Staff are enrolled on a professional knowledge and mentoring scheme.

The school continues to train the core front-line air surveillance and control system roles and is one of the largest deliverers of joint tactical aerospace battle management training to British military personnel.

It also delivers an international air battle management course twice a year, with students from across the globe.

In 2009, The School of Fighter Control was renamed the School of Aerospace Battle Management. The renaming of the school reflected a wider change in role of aerospace battle management operators who increasingly worked with more than just fighters, ensuring integration and deconfliction of air, land and maritime assets in the wider battlespace.

Wing Commander John Booth, Officer Commanding the School of Aerospace Battle Management, said: “It is an absolute privilege to be in command here at the school and be part of its history.

“It has played an enormous part in shaping the men and women of the Royal Air Force, our sister services and military personnel from our allies and partners around the globe.

“The knowledge and skills acquired here have, without a shadow of a doubt, proved fundamental to successful air operations worldwide.”

He added: “The School’s output over these 25 years at RAF Boulmer could not have been possible without the support of those across the wider station including the critical administrative support provided by Base Support Wing.

“But more importantly, it is the support of the local community which has made a significant contribution to the school’s success. Students immediately feel at home; foreign students appreciate the beauty of this part of the world and staff and their families are truly embedded in the local area, made to feel welcome and indeed many have made Northumberland their home.”

History of the school

The School of Fighter Control relocated from RAF West Drayton to RAF Boulmer in October 1990, but can trace its origins back to June 1940, when the Controller Training Unit, the first of its type in the world, was formed.

In 1958, the Queen presented the school with its own Royal crest, still in use today.

The building in which the School is situated was ceremonially named the Hart building after Air Marshal Sir Raymond Hart, who created the radar reporting procedures which were critical to the success of the Battle of Britain and, consequently, to the survival of Great Britain as an independent nation.

In 1991, and in addition to core foundation and further training courses, a Foreign Exchange Officers’ Course was instigated when two US Air Force officers underwent training at the School.

In April 1993, a new Air Defence Battle Management training centre was opened. This was named the Dowding Centre, after Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding, who was the architect of the RAF’s defence of the UK during the Battle of Britain, leading Fighter Command to victory.

The Dowding Centre provided a purpose-built tactical floor – an extremely valuable training tool which allows maps to be projected onto the floor so that a ‘battle’ scenario can be played out in slow time and important strategic decisions made.