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Building Bridges Between Allies, Old and New

September 2010
By Rita Boland, SIGNAL Magazine
E-mail About the Author

 

Portuguese Army Capt. Rafael Aranha (l) assists Staff Sgt. William Kouba, USAF, of the 1st Combat Communications Squadron (1CBCS) with reconfiguring the Tactical Communications network as Senior Airman Stacey Whitmire, USAF, 1CBCS, takes notes in the background during Combined Endeavor 2009.

Emerging technology, shifting world situations mandate constant dialogue.

Technology and relationships go hand-in-hand in the U.S. European Command’s area of responsibility, and the head of communications at this military organization has plans for both during his tenure. Long-standing partnerships in the region need continued nurturing, and newer partnerships, such as those with former Soviet bloc nations, require encouragement. These international entities must find ways to interoperate despite having different resources to apply in an environment of blindingly fast technological advancement.

Brig. Gen. Gregory L. Brundidge, USAF, became the director of Command, Control, Communication Systems and Warfighting Integration, or J-6, at European Command (EUCOM) last November. He quickly identified several areas he wants to improve as well as determined goals he plans to meet by the time his assignment ends. “I’d love to leave here saying we achieved what I would consider enduring progress on interoperability, and that would [mean] I could sit and point to various capabilities that weren’t there when I started that are now there and being leveraged as we work with our allies,” Gen. Brundidge says.

For starters, he wants to expand technologies such as the Battlefield Information Collection and Exploitation System (BICES) so they serve as bridges between how the United States and its NATO allies process information. He impresses the importance of putting into place technology and policies that codify and institutionalize those capabilities.

The employment of BICES by U.S. forces is a new step on the road to interoperability. Though other NATO countries have been using the system for years, U.S. personnel recently used it for the first time as an integrated capability in an exercise. “It worked very well in terms of allowing us to share information between the United States and a couple of the foreign nations that were playing in the exercise with us,” the general explains. Another success touted by Gen. Brundidge is work by U.S. forces and several partner nations to create networking capabilities that allow them to have a near-real-time exchange of information and situational awareness on several operational issues.

In addition to forging better communications relationships with international partners, the command also strives to work better with intergovernmental partners. “One of the big ones we’re cooperating with right now is the Department of State,” Gen. Brundidge says. A current topic is allowing access to the nonsecure Internet protocol router network (NIPRNet) by foreign-nation entities. “We’ve made significant progress this year in getting the State Department to allow that connectivity to take place on [its] systems,” the general explains. Though a few details still are being worked out, he thinks that most of the partners EUCOM would like on the network will have access. “It’s that kind of cooperation that I think highlights our ability to work together,” he says.

Few lists of military partnerships would be complete without a mention of the private sector. Gen. Brundidge says industry “plays a huge role” because the capabilities its members bring to the table are used by EUCOM. However, as a combatant command, EUCOM might bring in contractors on special point projects or initiatives, but it does not drum up much specific business. Instead, the command works with the military services and joint agencies to gain the best capabilities. Then, command communications personnel determine how best to integrate those with other parts of the EUCOM environment. The command’s leveraging of what others already are using is economical and cost effective. “In this environment, that’s going to be very, very important as we move into the future,” the J-6 says.

The general also sees strong results at EUCOM in its approach to the cyber domain. “Of course, that’s a big topic we all talk about today,” he says. The J-6, J-2 and J-3 have taken a team approach to cyber issues to improve the command’s response. This team helps the command respond to much of the activity in the cyber domain. The general believes EUCOM, along with some other combatant commands, is helping to pave the way for what future cyber operations will be.

In terms of challenges facing the EUCOM J-6, one of the biggest issues for communicators is the need to share information, whether it be command and control, surveillance, intelligence or another form, among partners in wartime and in peace. “I’ll tell you, even though we’ve been trying to get this right for years, as soon as we get a handle on one part of it, the technology changes,” Gen. Brundidge explains. “We have a lot of opportunity to diverge versus converge on seamless solutions.” He continues to say that EUCOM and other COCOMs have identified a significant requirement to improve information sharing. “How do we put things in place that allow us to systematically and methodically take on those challenges across the spectrum of operations?” he asks. “That’s a huge one for us that we’re spending quite a bit of energy to take on.”

 

Combined Endeavor is as much about building relationships as it is about testing communications interoperability. Here, Dutch, French, Italian and Swiss military members volunteer to fill sandbags in preparation for a severe windstorm on Camp Willem Lodewijk Van Nassaukazerne during the 2009 event.

The methods through which military organizations and their partners procure technology also can hinder information sharing and interoperability. The different military services and various agencies all have their own budgets to purchase what they need with the result that not everyone can show up in one place and connect. Instead, integration and other activities must be performed before technologies can work together. Gen. Brundidge says that many of the questions personnel ask at the end of a development or procurement process need to be asked at the start. These include determining the domain requirements for working with partners in wartime, peace and disaster relief. The general believes that considering interoperability from the beginning will result in smarter, better-integrated technology decisions.

In his opinion, a more centralized governance process, which the U.S. military already is working toward, is one of the solutions for interoperability problems. But even if all the services centralize their enterprise networks, COCOMs have several different systems to pull together when creating a theater information environment. Gen. Brundidge says the next step is looking at “purple networking,” networking in the joint environment, and how to integrate with interagency partners. “It’s an environment where we have ample opportunity to diverge, and it takes ample effort on everyone’s part not to,” he explains. If organizations find the right balance to meet their needs while simultaneously fulfilling the requirements to integrate and interoperate, “we’ll find ourselves better off at the end of the day,” he adds.

Not all the problems preventing information exchange between EUCOM and its partners involve disparate new technology. In some cases, partner nations lack the resources to maintain a current and modern infrastructure. Gen. Brundidge explains that most countries have smart people working in technology because almost everyone understands the need for competency in networking and taking advantage of capabilities in the cyber domain. However, each country is not spending the same amount of money on those needs.

Though the answers may seem simple, NATO allies have faced many of these problems for a long time. Gen. Brundidge shares that people who worked in the command years ago and have returned for another tour are dealing with the same problems now that they were in the past. “So you kind of get the message, ‘When are we going to start solving something?’” he says. Because of the changes in technology and evolution in systems, many of the issues will be a continuous effort. The general hopes to put in place technology that brings integrated capabilities to systems in use today by the time he leaves his current position.

Gen. Brundidge himself did a stint in Europe before his current assignment. And while he agrees that certain problems persist, much progress has been made in terms of partnerships among the European nations in ways that have nothing to do with technology or the military. “It’s a way more open environment now than it was before,” he says. Instituting the euro as an almost-universal currency and dispensing with the need to show a passport when traveling over borders has created a bond among the countries.

A difference that remains is language, though the general explains that this poses little problem because most Europeans speak English. “If they had our attitude about foreign languages, we’d all be in trouble,” he says. “Everywhere I’ve gone, they speak English. I wish I could return the favor and speak at least one of their languages.” Fortunately, this commonality enables partners at least at the high levels to work together. In the operational environment, however, personnel have a range of language abilities, creating the need for translators and interpreters to ensure accurate and appropriate message sharing. According to the general, “It’s a challenge, but not nearly as hard as it could be because of the fairly robust ability for many Europeans to speak English.”

Technology also helps overcome language barriers. In the exercise Combined Endeavor, NATO allies and others work together to perform technical integration. Various equipment components operate in several languages at the same time so personnel of different nationalities can work together. “You don’t have to get the English decoder ring to set up two systems and ensure they’re going to speak the same spoken language,” Gen. Brundidge explains.

WEB RESOURCES
Gen. Brundidge Biography: www.af.mil/information/bios/bio.asp?bioID=10029
U.S. European Command: www.eucom.mil
NATO: www.nato.int

Exercise Reaches Across Traditional Borders, Addresses Emerging Needs

This year marks the 16th time the U.S. European Command (EUCOM) will participate with its NATO allies, Partnership for Peace nations and others in its premier communications and information systems interoperability exercise, Combined Endeavor. The event, taking place this month, focuses on how to interconnect systems to share information at all levels. While the event is not young, it still is relevant and evolving and will feature some new aspects in 2010. “If we were still using the same stuff we used in 1995, we probably would have figured that out by now, but fortunately for us we keep getting new capabilities,” explains Brig. Gen. Gregory L. Brundidge, USAF, the director of Command, Control, Communication Systems and Warfighting Integration, or J-6, at EUCOM.

Several facets will set the 2010 event apart from its predecessors. One is the returned full participation of Bulgaria and Afghanistan. This year also marks the first time Iraq will participate, coming in as an exercise observer. Gen. Brundidge served nearly a year as the J-6 for Multinational Force–Iraq. Speaking from his experience there and his previous work with many of the Iraqi players, he says, “I’m pretty excited about having them come in and be represented as we do Combined Endeavor this year.”

Though neither Afghanistan nor Iraq is situated in Europe, nations on that continent have a strong interest in the two Middle Eastern countries, making them valuable partners. “We want them especially to come in and gain benefit from the kind of work we do here,” Gen. Brundidge explains. “Additionally, there is no rule that says you can’t partner with another combatant command in terms of things they’d like to see advance or progress [in] countries that are in their particular area of operation or theater,” the general says. Clearly, participating nations benefit from having the Iraqis understand what’s involved in building integrated interoperable architectures and capabilities, he continues, and on having them go back and take action on what they learn. That is going to help Iraq continue to grow as a nation, and the same ideas apply to Afghanistan, Gen. Brundidge concludes.

Another difference for 2010 is that after many years of European nations hosting Combined Endeavor, the United States will host the event this year. The main site for the exercise is in Germany, and a remote location also will be established in Romania. The United States will manage all the logistics support for the participating nations. “That’s a huge extra additional duty for us,” the general says.

A tradition that started only in the past couple of years incorporates Phoenix Endeavor and Cyber Endeavor into the larger exercise. The former focuses on spectrum management; the latter on cyberdefense. Nations already have signed up to run through a regimen of tests to determine if certain actions can be taken in those arenas. EUCOM and its partners also are looking at setting up a NATO course that will provide students the certification they need to operate with the organization’s radio or transmission equipment.

One of the challenges of Combined Endeavor that the general identifies is how to leverage the information that comes out of the exercise. He would like to see a website or similar technology that posts the results and lessons learned. Partners could search the site to find exact information about what worked with another country.

As long as technologies continue to evolve, Gen. Brundidge believes there will be a need for nations to come together, compare notes and determine what to interconnect and how to do so. He shares that some people might say there is a low value for carrying out the exercise this year, right up until they have to conduct operations with someone else and the exercise made the difference between setting up a network and other capabilities in hours or minutes rather than days.

Though technology improvement is crucial, it is only a part of the reason for Combined Endeavor. Building relationships is another major factor in the exercise. EUCOM engages with a range of nations, from countries such as those in Eastern Europe that are just starting out to longtime allies such as France and the United Kingdom that are well-developed. The command works at the high level on more complex issues with the advanced nations and helps develop architectures and road maps to assist in building viable information infrastructures for countries at the other end of the spectrum. “It’s pretty exciting to do that kind of work,” Gen. Brundidge says.

Creating enduring relationships through the exchange of ideas and gaining familiarity with partner nations makes processes easier in the future. In this theater especially, progress often is gained not by how much you bring to the table and what you contribute but by how much you build relationships, the general explains. He also adds that, “I think as long as we have the need to build relationships, we’ll continue to find value in Combined Endeavor.”

This need to create strong ties with partners is not exclusive to the EUCOM theater. U.S. Africa Command, for example, holds an annual Africa Endeavor exercise. That event grew out of Combined Endeavor. “I believe every COCOM [combatant command] J-6 would tell you that having the ability to go out and build relationships that allow us to further develop technical integration and capabilities is one of our core competencies, or at least it should be, as we move into this age of having to share information,” Gen. Brundidge says.