Participants in this year’s Joint Warrior Interoperability Demonstration (JWID) operated from sites around the world, and personnel at each site form their own impressions of the event’s results. In addition to taking part in the multinational activity, the teams at the Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC), Dahlgren, Virginia, demonstrated some of their own programs that support military and homeland security efforts.
Barry Dillon, head, theater warfare systems department, NSWC, says that he has witnessed a maturing of interoperability over the past several years, both in the technical links and in achieving JWID’s objectives. He attributes this success to progress in developing the concepts as well as to the experience participants have gained from taking part in past demonstrations. “People understand the problems and issues of interoperability much better even though at the combatant commander level the challenge is growing. The ability to address interoperability has improved significantly,” he says.
In the past, just keeping the network up and running was a challenge. This was not the case in 2003, and the network was operational nearly 100 percent of the time, Dillon says. This permitted personnel to focus on the business of JWID, which is examining the technologies. Although the final assessments are not complete, he says a number of trials received a lot of attention and provided some new thinking that he believes will be fielded or brought back for additional study.
Some of the technologies and approaches have direct application to the homeland security arena, Dillon says. The dual network setup, which allows complete information sharing in one environment and filtered data sharing in another, will be important as the federal government and state governments as well as a multitude of agencies move forward to coordinate homeland security and defense activities, he explains. For example, the Blue Force Tracking capability could be used by organizations like the Red Cross.
Interoperability has been a challenge for several years, but Dillon explains that advances today are moving the military toward a solution. “Until recently, we haven’t had all the tools and all the technology to be able to take, certainly at the combatant commander level, all that information and actually pass it back and forth. We didn’t have the bandwidth, we didn’t have the mechanisms, and we didn’t have the encryption systems to be able to do that,” he says.
Today, this capability is possible with technologies that became available in 1998 and 1999. At Dahlgren, personnel are discerning the basic engineering and discipline of interoperability as well as how to do it well. “These are very complex issues. The amount of information passed is just hard to imagine,” he says.
One example of the maturation of the JWID process was the opportunity for some nations and U.S. entities to bring their own technologies into the environment for evaluation. At NSWC, personnel demonstrated the center’s Navy Fires Control System, Distributed Engineering Plant, National Innovative Technology Mission Assurance Center and Virtual Community Evaluation Complex.
The Distributed Engineering Plant allows participants to tie into the various capabilities located on each ship and aircraft in a battle group and play all the different configurations through computers in an exercise involving approximately a dozen sites around the United States. Personnel could evaluate the actual interoperability, capabilities and limitations of a battle group, Dillon explains. This information can be used to improve the connections between platforms. “I see our interoperability going from a system to a platform, from a platform to a warfighting capability, from a warfighting capability to a battle group, where we’re actually characterizing a full manner of operation. You extend that one more notch, and you’re talking about the ability to do that at a combatant commander’s level or half the world if you chose to do that,” he says.
Dennis Warne, Dahlgren’s JWID site manager, points out that part of the challenge in solving the interoperability problem is that the requirements are changing. Warne, who has participated in five JWIDs, says that four years ago the goal was to achieve a common operational picture. “We didn’t have the requirements for interoperable collaborative distribution video teleconferencing. Back in the early ’90s, that was just a hope, wish and a prayer. That’s now part of infrastructure and no combatant commander or senior warfighter is going to be seen without it because he has video, he has audio, he has whiteboard, he has chat, he has instant messaging. And he knows who else is communicating with him, and he can actually block out people. So priority schemes are now starting to come into play. The challenges we’re having with interoperability as we go global is that you have releasability policies in nations that have to be worked out,” Warne notes.
From a technical standpoint, countries use different commercial products that are not necessarily interoperable. The U.S. Defense Department must develop an interface to facilitate communications, and that is where much of the engineering work is being done. Many of JWIDs coalition interoperability trials addressed this issue, including the language translation technologies, he says. In addition, Warne points out, past JWIDs also have helped keep some technologies out of the field because they could not pass the interoperability test or were not yet mature enough to meet warfighter needs.
Dillon predicts that future JWIDs will be even more disciplined as the Defense Department takes the baseline capabilities today and develops metrics that will allow the services to measure the advances in interoperability. Warne adds that as requirements change in areas such as infrastructure protection, JWID will mature to meet those needs.
As JWID organizers look toward next year’s event with U.S. Northern Command as the host and homeland defense as the focus, several issues will need to be addressed, Dillon says. It is not evident how many environments will have to be set up because of the different levels of information sharing and security that exist.
“I think the problem is going to be substantially greater and more challenging. These layers that we’ve had, the 6 and 10 Eyes, there’s going to be some additional sets of that as well as the understanding of what information is available so they can make decisions and take action. That’s going to be a whole area that’s going to have to be addressed and that is somewhat different than just what we’ve looked at from a combatant commander standpoint,” Dillon says. Substantial progress has been made in this area, he adds.
Warne points out that a homeland defense scenario presents several challenges. While the military thinks of coalitions as a group of countries, the homeland defense environment consists of federal, state and local agencies. The armed forces have a chain of command and assets that are effective in military operations, but these might not apply directly to the homeland security domain. In addition, tactics, techniques and procedures must be ironed out, he states.