Interoperability Work Advances Beyond Technology

October 2004
By Maryann Lawlor
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Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR) operators at their workstations, Senior Chief Stephen Jones, USCG (l), and Petty Officer 1st Class Scott Smith, USCG, brief German visitors during Joint Warrior Interoperability Demonstration 2004 (JWID 04). SPAWAR was the operations hub for the JWID Combined Forces Maritime Component Commander, and Senior Chief Jones and Petty Officer 1st Class Smith briefed more than 70 distinguished visitors during the two-week event.
Military leaders explore the changes needed in doctrine, processes and tactics to share information.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff is taking the next evolutionary step in multinational and interagency interoperability this month with the renaming of one of the U.S. military’s premier events. The Joint Warrior Interoperability Demonstration is now officially the Coalition Warrior Interoperability Demonstration, which better reflects its ongoing metamorphosis from a purely service-centric technology showcase to a forum where participants from diverse organizations and many nations work on different types of interoperability. Future events will continue to focus on capabilities that can be delivered to the warfighter quickly, a change that was introduced in the 2004 event.

But this change involves more than just a new name. The demonstration’s transformation actually has been taking place over the past several years. Originally a U.S. Army event, the Joint Staff adopted and developed the Joint Warrior Interoperability Demonstration (JWID) in 1994. During the 1990s, JWID was conducted on a two-year cycle as a forum for companies to demonstrate emerging capabilities. In the first year of the cycle, the military services had the opportunity to view new systems and address technical interoperability issues. Out of the dozens of capabilities examined, a handful of technologies were chosen as gold nuggets, which then were developed further during the second year.

In 2002, JWID’s format changed. The demonstration became an annual event and, rather than choosing only certain gold nuggets to pursue, JWID planners shifted the emphasis and began to look for capabilities that could be delivered to warfighters quickly. For the 2004 event, held in June, one goal was to identify capabilities that could be fielded as fast as within 12 months of the end of the event.

In addition to these changes, new military challenges were examined. With U.S. Northern Command as the event’s lead command, the scenario presented homeland security and defense issues, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security participated in the event for the first time (SIGNAL, September, page 71).

Although JWID has been a multinational event for several years, the name has remained the same, leaving the impression that the effort addresses only the U.S. military services’ interoperability issues and technical requirements. But because the definition of coalitions for operations has expanded and now includes government agencies that collaborate for homeland security issues, JWID 2004 planners decided to rename the event to better reflect how it has transformed. As a result, next year’s event, scheduled to take place May 31 to June 24, 2005, will be officially called the Coalition Warrior Interoperability Demonstration (CWID).

According to Rear Adm. Nancy E. Brown, USN, vice director for command, control, communications and computer systems, J-6, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Washington, D.C., the new name is an external change to an event that has evolved and will continue to evolve internally. “The objective is really changing. We’re making it more operationally focused and focusing more on capabilities that can be delivered. It is not a research and development demonstration of capabilities. It is an examination of current technologies that can be enhanced or new capabilities that can be delivered in 6 to 12 months,” Adm. Brown explains.

The admiral points out that, from an operations standpoint, the number of countries participating in JWIDs has expanded considerably in recent years and now includes nations other than the traditional English-speaking countries. In past JWIDs, the United States attempted to control participation, she relates. “But now we’re not doing that because we’ve learned the lesson that we have no idea who we might work with in an operation. If this is going to be our premier coalition demonstration, we need to open it up as wide as we can,” she says.

Additionally, government agencies that are involved in homeland defense, homeland security and emergency response efforts form partnerships, so CWID can be a forum to meet those needs as well, she adds.

The admiral relates that the event has changed in other important ways. For example, although past demonstrations examined interoperability from a technical aspect, this year’s event launched the move to interoperability from a new perspective. “It’s more than interoperability. It’s the ability to share information in different environments with a multitude of participants and come up with the technical pieces that help to do that regardless of the classification of that information. We’re also looking at the releasability of information and then how to make that information understood. Part of it is the translation, but we’re also trying to come up with a common understanding of terms because just translating doesn’t mean you’ll be understood,” she states.

Adm. Brown believes that interoperability with other nations has improved during the past several years. “But what holds us back is the ability to release information. So when we get into a classified environment, from a U.S. perspective, there’s a policy as well as a technology piece that needs to be updated to allow us to have that free flow of information that we need in order to fight together as a force,” she states.

One large element of JWID 2004 involved exporting the U.S. common operational picture to other countries’ systems to ensure they could view the same picture. “A lot of work has been going on, and I think we had huge success with that this year. I think the technology will be the easiest piece to solve. We are making headway on the policy, and we are going to see changes in the future that are going to relax some of the rules,” Adm. Brown says. For instance, the admiral explains that the procedure of classifying information can be turned on its head. In the current process, viewing certain information is restricted unless it is marked as releasable. This process could be changed so that, unless it is marked restricted, all data could be shared among coalition members. Additionally, new technologies will allow data owners to strip out nonreleasable parts of the data—such as the source of the information—and share only content, she notes.

The admiral allows that considerable work remains in this area. “None of these problems are solved by technology alone. If you don’t have the tactics and the procedures—the whole doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership, personnel, facilities—the problems can’t be solved. If we come together and we have our equipment hooked up but we’re using different procedures and we don’t understand each other’s tactics, the technology isn’t going to make us an effective fighting force,” she states.

The changes that will take place as CWID moves forward in future events address these concerns. The admiral believes that while past events have focused on the technical side of interoperability, the military now realizes that other issues must be tackled, including procedures and nonmaterial matters. “CWID is not about the individual services coming together and being able to divide up an area and operate with each other. It is actually fighting as a joint force, which is a different level of interoperability, and it also involves our doctrine. I’m not sure we’ll ever reach ultimate interoperability on this level, but as we work together, we’re getting better,” Adm. Brown maintains.

Because JWID 2004 concentrated on homeland security issues, the admiral relates that non-U.S. participants were leery about how applicable the lessons learned would be to them. “They thought they were going to lose out because they believed we were going to focus internally and lose the external focus. But I think we proved to them that this wasn’t the case. Information sharing issues are the same, whether we’re doing it with other countries or between agencies,” she states.

Although next year will be the first time the event’s name includes the word coalition, Adm. Brown emphasizes that other nations always have been heavily involved in the planning and execution of the demonstration. “What’s new is that more nontraditional JWID nations can potentially participate. In the past, participants were limited to any nation that the host combatant commander invited. We expanded that in 2004, so we’re not limiting ourselves to a geographical area. Coalitions today are coalitions of the willing, not a coalition of a geographical area. All combatant commanders can invite a nation in their area of responsibility because we understand that future CWIDs need to be able to support interoperability in that type of fluid operational environment,” she says.

“I think we will also see more countries getting involved. NATO considers CWID to be a significant event in its efforts to resolve interoperability issues. Allied Command–Transformation [ACT] headquartered in Norfolk, Virginia, has adopted CWID as one of the tools to effect transformation of the alliance. The NATO Military Committee is now more involved in development of the NATO goals and objectives and has assigned ACT management responsibilities for NATO CWID participation. NATO made a major commitment by establishing Lillehammer, Norway, as the NATO CWID site through 2006,” she relates.

While Islamic nations have not taken part in past JWIDs, the admiral allows that this would be an interesting avenue to pursue. U.S. Central Command, whose area of responsibility includes these countries, would be responsible for arranging their participation. “There’s definitely an opportunity there,” she states.

Adm. Brown admits that she had reservations about JWID when she was assigned to the Joint Staff and charged with heading the event. Although she always has been aware of the demonstration and had even benefited from the capabilities that came out of the event, she also has been aware of the concerns service members had about its value. “At one time, the feeling was that it was industry coming and showing technologies that weren’t ready for prime time and were still in the very early stages of development. If you look at where we are today, the most significant change is that we are demonstrating equipment that is ready to be turned into capabilities and delivered to the warfighter quickly,” she offers.

As a result of her experiences with JWID 2004, the admiral’s opinion of the demonstration has changed. “In my mind, what is really important is that this is not the old JWID. This is a completely new, reinvigorated demonstration to deliver capabilities to the warfighter. This includes not only delivering those capabilities that we believe are needed but also turning them into documents and requirements. Our work doesn’t just end when JWID ends. It’s a process that continues. U.S. Joint Forces Command is in charge of taking those things that are viewed as real winners and putting in the transformational change proposal that can come up through the Joint Staff and the capabilities process. Then they can be validated and turned over with a funding source to the warfighter,” Adm. Brown states. “This new procedure will ensure that the most urgent combatant command requirements are addressed in the shortest possible time.”


Web Resources
Joint Warrior Interoperability Demonstration:
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff CWID Instruction:
CWID 2005:
Joint Chiefs of Staff: