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Allied Force Technology Demonstrations Illustrate Power of Coalition Network

October 1999
By Maryann Lawlor
E-mail About the Author

International flavor of exercise compels participants to address standards, creates cooperative framework

A multilayer, multinational research and development network is coming online as a result of recent coalition-focused joint operational demonstrations held in the virtual environment. The combined wide area network, which acted as the conduit for sharing information during the exercise, has been transformed into the combined federated battle laboratories network. The year-round, plug-and-play virtual center will allow international combined and U.S. joint service forces to operate with allied national command and control systems over the U.S. Defense Department’s global command and control system.

The demonstration network tied the United States, Australia, Canada, France, New Zealand, Spain, Turkey and the United Kingdom to Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe headquarters military networks during the Joint Warrior Interoperability Demonstration 1999-Revised (JWID ’99-R) trials this summer. Participants derived insight into the benefits of sharing theater of operations information in a virtual environment. They also realized that network technology reliability and information security issues grow exponentially with the number of partners on the battlefield.

The exercise, which traditionally features mainly U.S. technologies accented with some coalition forces products in a test environment, this year examined only allied nations’ offerings. Original plans for this year’s JWID were adjusted more by default than by design when competing Defense Department priorities, including year 2000 issues, caused many participants to drop out of the demonstration, according to Col. Robert H. Bennett, USAF, director, JWID joint project office, Langley Air Force Base, Virginia. Initial discussions to cancel the demonstration evolved into a focus on allied technologies instead. Organizers recognized that the interoperability aims and objectives of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, initiator of the program, continue to be a priority, he adds.

In previous years, JWIDs have created and then dismantled a temporary network used during the exercise. However, with this year’s shift away from U.S. technology evaluations and toward allied offerings, U.S. officials decided to focus on refining and implementing a long-term combined wide area network (CWAN). This permanent research forum, renamed the combined federated battle laboratories network (CFBLNet), will be accessible to Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and North Atlantic Treaty Organization Consultation, Command and Control Agency nations including France, Turkey and Spain.

With help from the U.S. military, coalition forces are incorporating innovative technologies into the digital battlefield to improve cooperative engagements through an enhanced common operational picture, distributed collaborative planning and e-mail with formatted attachments.

JWID is carried out in a two-year cycle. The Defense Department reviews potential command, control, communications, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance joint and combined warriors utilities that facilitate real-time battlespace awareness and allied information superiority for the warfighter of the future. It evaluates both commercial off-the-shelf and government off-the- shelf products. Meeting the Defense Department’s mandate for interoperability described in Joint Vision 2010 is one goal of the exercise. In the first, or theme, year, demonstrations are tested in a three-week, contingency scenario. Technologies showing potential utility are deemed gold nuggets and selected for near-term funding and fielding. During the second year, these technologies are supported and integrated into another test scenario for final field implementation.

The Joint Battle Center, Suffolk, Virginia, served as this year’s exercise command center and as commander of the combined task force and combined forces land component. The U.S. Atlantic Command represented all combatant commanders and their warriors for joint and combined warrior trials, and the office of the U.S. Air Force director of communications and information acted as the lead U.S. component service charged with administrative support. Although JWID was an allied-focused event, the U.S. Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) provided network hardware, software, engineering and assessment expertise.

“This will be a research and development network. The idea is to develop a template for a network that could be used by others. Security is a challenge, a big challenge, so we have to come up with a good template to use,” Col. Bennett says.

It must be a multitiered network so that secure information can be passed between allies but at the same time enable the host country to have its secure information passed within forces of its own. A lot of policy issues have to be addressed in this. Policy will become more important, Col. Bennett continues.

The Joint Battle Center will be in charge of the operational design of the coalition network, while DISA will oversee the network itself. Existing U.S. laboratories will connect to allied laboratories, and foreign research facilities will be able to connect and disconnect from the network to conserve local resources as they see fit.

This year, goals for JWID fell into general categories. The first was to achieve a common operational picture (COP) across the infosphere. This notional space tied capitals worldwide into the same information available to a pilot flying over a battle area or to a tank commander on the ground.

To facilitate the interaction between coalition forces, DISA developed a COP interface exchange kit that served as a translation medium and was provided to exercise participants so that information could be written to the same standard.

In general, this part of the demonstration was successful; however, Col. Bennett allows that participants were unable to exchange all battlefield information tracks and adds that this is part of the learning process JWIDs are designed to provide. “The official results aren’t in yet so this could change. In a way, we were pleased to be able to exchange any information at all. You can’t say that you’re disappointed with a glass that’s only three-quarters full of water when you didn’t have a glass of water at all in the first place,” he offers.

COP assists planners and decision makers in achieving the second goal of this year’s exercise—a distributed collaborative planning environment. Military leaders have recognized that, during a conflict involving coalition forces, it will be necessary to conduct joint strategy sessions with participants located in various parts of the world. The distributed collaborative planning environment enables near real-time command flexibility and action from warfighters in the theater of operations. Commanders using collaborative tools were connected through CWAN and routinely employed teleconferences to share near-real-time reference data, images and diagrams using computer-based tools.

Exercise participants were pleased with the ability to work together in the virtual environment, and the demonstration added insight into the role of video in a battlefield situation. “Some of the warfighters said that the videoconferencing tool wasn’t of that much value. There would be a difference if you’re talking to someone from the Pentagon or a commander or a briefing, then it is good. But on a one-to-one or group collaborative meeting, it is not that beneficial. This could have implications on how we use bandwidth in the future,” Col. Bennett states.

Lt. Col. Kevin R. Arlidge, New Zealand Army, commandant of the land operations training center, Waiouru, New Zealand, points out another practical lesson learned by forces evaluating collaborative tools. “We are at the beginning of this technology, so we need to make it as user-friendly as possible. VTC [video teleconferencing] didn’t give a lot and used up a lot of bandwidth. But you also need a bigger computer screen when you have all kinds of applications open at one time. Once the collaborative tool gets to the desktop and you have three or four windows open at one time, it becomes a little confusing,” Col. Arlidge offers. The screen size also poses a problem when using maps featuring large amounts of data. To take advantage of these technologies in battlefield environments without causing spatial awareness problems, computer monitors would have to be both larger and ruggedized. In addition, while the virtual collaborative environment offers several benefits by allowing commanders in multiple locations to deliberate about battle plans, a need for audio communications still remains because the human voice communicates emotions as well as words. Traditional radio or telephone communications provide the message receiver with the ability to determine the urgency of a matter, a distinction the written word does not include, Col. Arlidge adds.

JWID ’99-R’s third goal, the ability to send and receive e-mail with formatted attachments among different national message protocol standards, facilitated COP and distributed collaborative planning.

Although commercial and personal use of e-mail generally occurs without great difficulty, this is not the case in a military environment, particularly one that involves multinational forces. “You have to change your frame of reference. If everyone has Microsoft Outlook and Microsoft tools, then you’re OK. But if e-mail is replacing command and control information communications, and not all people have the same tools, then it can be a problem. So we’re talking about various kinds of e-mail networks, and we found in previous years that they didn’t necessarily work well together,” Col. Bennett explains.

“We had good success with that—not 100 percent, but good. The benefit was that, by forcing this issue, the issue of agreeing to certain protocols was raised, discussed and addressed,” he adds.

Col. Arlidge agrees that the militaries in many nations outside of the United States must focus on e-mail systems’ interoperability. “We’re used to e-mail being communicated between individuals. That’s not the case in the military. In most cases, it goes from one headquarters to another headquarters, and there has to be some electronic way to distribute the e-mail to the individual. In the U.S., this exists. This has to be introduced into the coalition environment,” he says.

Message verification and sender identification issues must also be reviewed to ensure security in a battlefield environment, he adds. “Otherwise, how will you know that the message you’re being sent to attack a certain area isn’t being sent by the enemy, and you’re going to be attacking your own forces?” Col. Arlidge offers. Introducing public key infrastructure technologies into a coalition setting brings its own set of policy issues that must be analyzed, he adds.

Although information warfare was not a focus of JWID ’99-R, Australia was involved in assessing the security of the network. However, the issue of information assurance and system protection needs to be looked at sooner rather than later, Col. Arlidge says. If the single-network collaborative environment used in this year’s demonstration is the way future coalition conflicts will be coordinated, preventing interference in the systems must be a high priority or adversaries could disrupt the entire allied activity by simply slowing down or bringing down the network, he states.

Because CWAN played such a key part in this year’s exercise, it was the focus of evaluations. According to Col. Bennett, JWID ’99-R was the first time two asynchronous transfer mode networks between the United States and the United Kingdom were connected. “We found from a procedural standpoint that we had to know what the set up was in order to make this work. This is important, and we have to have this kind of communications to make sure it [the network] works. At some times, we had problems with the networks coming up right away. In a way, if the networks had come up immediately, we wouldn’t have learned as much as we did for the template. This will be helpful in the future,” the colonel says.

Col. Arlidge was surprised by the amount of effort that was needed to keep CWAN up and running. “We had some bad luck. We were using satellite and undersea cable for communications, and at one point the undersea cable broke. Communications were dropping in and out. But when you look at commercial international telecommunications, they keep up to the standard of continual communications daily. The military has to keep up to this standard as well,” he states.

In general, Col. Bennett believes the decision to conduct an allied-focused JWID provided several benefits. “Although the plan was not to do an allied JWID, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise because we have had allied countries participate in the past but could not focus on it as we had wanted to. This gave us the opportunity to work as a combined effort and address specific issues of this situation. Also, from the CWAN standpoint, we would not have had the opportunity to develop the combined federated battle laboratories network,” he offers.

 

Exercise Engages Multitude of Emerging Capabilities

Through the use of a combined wide area network, allied forces examined a number of emerging technologies while participating in a coalition effort to ensure the national sovereignty of a fictional country.

During Joint Warrior Interoperability Demonstration 1999-Revised (JWID ’99-R), the notional country of Korona was an area equivalent to part of the eastern United States from the Chesapeake Bay to Florida and west to the Appalachian Mountains. Kartuna, the notional victim in the scenario, was equivalent to the mid-Atlantic region and was bordered on three sides by Korona and by the Atlantic Ocean in the east.

Korona overran its smaller neighbor in a surprise occupation. The military initiative was a U.S. and combined operation to ensure Kartuna’s national sovereignty and to maintain political and economic stability in the region. Combined forces were allied with Telari, a larger fictional country bordering Korona on three sides.

Warriors used the U.S. global command and control system (GCCS) over a main combined wide area network backbone with interface nodes to Combined Communications-Electronics Board and other North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries’ national command and control networks.

Several allied nations conducted technology demonstrations during the exercise:

France—interoperability of the GCCS and the French naval command system; battlefield digitalization program; satellite capabilities for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; integration in the global command and control chain; and formal and informal e-mail with attachments exchange.

Spain—intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance data fusion and distribution system based on World Wide Web architecture; multinational command and control integration; and use of conventional telephone lines, satellite, cable, microwave unidirectional lines to provide a virtual circuit using a standard digital television satellite receiver.

Turkey—an integrated command and control vehicle that used local area networks connected with very high frequency and high frequency radios extended to the virtual command center (VCC) via satellite links; and interoperability with the NATO Consultation, Command and Control (C3) Agency roving command vehicle. This vehicle, a mobile platform VCC, included high frequency satellite, videoconferencing and roving camera capabilities demonstrating interoperability between nation, NATO, coalition and command task force personnel.

Other NATO C3 Agency demonstrations included the VCC, defensive information assurance operations capabilities, year 2000 compliance, groupware applications and an integrated database.

The United Kingdom’s participation in the exercise involved more than 40 demonstrations and included the following: asynchronous transfer mode infrastructure; network printer technologies; spectrum and asset management and control; information management and analysis; an embryonic secure defense intranet for deployed operations; integration of real-time Link and JointSTARS with the U.S. common operational picture; hostile artillery locator; and a U.S. National Imagery and Mapping Agency and U.K. mapping and targeting coordination proposal.