Joint Forces Play the Ultimate War Game

October 2000
By Maryann Lawlor
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Military teams explore technologies outside the box and beyond the atmosphere.

Space may be the final frontier for travel, but for today’s earthbound warriors it is the enabler of systems that strengthen and speed operations. Recognizing that the military’s reliance on space-based assets will continue to grow, the U.S. Defense Department is seeking new ways for these resources to give its soldiers the advantage. No longer viewed as a luxury, the cosmos is now treasured as an intricate component of a successful mission.

The manmade constellations of satellites that play such a key role in operations are more than merely data relay stations. The information that this equipment can collect and then disperse to the desktop or, in the future, to the palmtop is critical to commanders and individual warfighters. By capturing data about global positioning, weather and ballistic missile defense, for example, then sharing it with allies, future military forces will be able to control the battlespace more effectively. The ability to deny an adversary this same capability will further strengthen the position of the United States and allies on the battlefield.

To take a closer look at emerging technologies that employ space-based resources, this year’s Joint Warrior Interoperability Demonstration (JWID) focused on pushing imagination to the edge. Participants examined how these assets could support the warfighter; provide dominant battlespace awareness; enhance information superiority in a joint or coalition environment; support diverse videoconferencing, collaborative planning systems and seamless interoperability; and expedite intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support. These five general areas of inquiry for the event were called capstone statements and were more finely described by 29 specific objectives.

JWID is the only Joint-Staff-sponsored arena for demonstrations of evolving low-cost, low-risk command, control, communications, computers and intelligence technologies as well as joint and combined interoperability solutions. These demonstrations are presented to the commanders in chief and military services in an operational environment and in an impartial manner.

In 1989, the Joint Staff organized network experiments to bring emerging public sector and government agency technologies into Defense Department projects. In the 1990s, JWID began experimenting with a two-year cycle format. The first year consists of demonstrations of new technological capabilities. These are assessed and sifted down to what are termed gold nuggets. During the second year of the cycle, or exploitation year, the gold nugget technologies are explored further and tagged for insertion into the field.

Commands already have reaped the fruits of past JWIDs. Some of the technologies born out of events during the mid-1990s include the common operational picture, network encryption systems, asynchronous transfer mode switches and routers, the contingency theater automated planning system, and the global broadcasting system. The global command and control system common operating environment was validated during JWID ’96.

Initially, only U.S. forces evaluated technologies at a JWID. In 1995, Combined Communications-Electronics Board nations were added, including Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. The combined wide area network at last year’s event, which broke with tradition a bit and examined only allied nations’ technologies, transitioned into the combined federated battle lab network (SIGNAL, October 1999, page 37).

JWID commanders are quick to point out that these are not exercises but rather demonstrations of the capabilities of emerging technologies. So, although information security products are being assessed, unscheduled attacks on the network do not take place. A preplanned scenario of a military operation involving fictitious countries allows participants to examine how well systems work and what benefits they bring to the warfighter. Because the demonstrations are being run concurrently, interoperability is also assessed.

The services rotate administration of the event’s two-year cycle. The U.S. Space Command (USSPACECOM), Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, directed JWID ’00-’01. Both active and reserve personnel participated in the event. They worked at 12 locations throughout the world in more than 30 sites. “This was the largest and most complex JWID we’ve ever put on,”  explains Col. James W. Dowis, USAF, director, JWID Joint Project Office, Hampton, Virginia. “We tripled the number of sites that we had, so it made things a lot more complex.”

Non-U.S. locations included Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. Demonstrations from North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) nations—France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and Turkey—were supported at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe in Casteau, Belgium, and The Hague in the Netherlands. Representatives from allied nations were on hand at various sites. These participants familiarized themselves with the U.S. technologies and also brought along their own demonstrations to determine if their capabilities would be compatible with the technologies being examined.

“The purpose of JWID is twofold,” Col. Dowis says. “We are looking for low-cost, low-risk technologies that we may want to use in the United States. At the same time, we want to be able to work with the allies.”

To facilitate the evaluation process for multiple demonstrations at numerous sites, JWID participants used the joint experimentation data assessment tool. Information was received quickly from different locations, allowing evaluators to rapidly review how systems were performing.

Another change also added to the complexity of this year’s event. For the first time, JWID involved two notional conflicts rather than just one. “This was supported by the Space Battle Management Center because it wanted to showcase how USSPACECOM could support two different scenarios at one time,” Col. Dowis says.

The east and west coasts of the United States were used as the geographical locations of the conflicts. As the JWID scenario began, forces committed to the notional countries of Korona and Chican. In Scenario East, the allies’ mission was to win in Korona and free Kartuna. At the same time, troops participating in Scenario West were involved in enforcing a no-fly zone over Nebet to help prevent Chican aggression. Also in the west, troops were called upon to suppress a rebellion in Vanau. JWID ’00 simulated five days of a 60-day conflict, with demonstration events beginning on conflict day 28.

The intricacy that the multitude of sites and the dual scenarios brought to the event allowed participants not only to evaluate how technologies performed but also required them to ensure networkwide security. According to Col. Dowis, one major accomplishment was having security accreditations in place before JWID began. “The combined wide area network [CWAN] set up the secure environment, so participants could only see what was taking place on the network if they had the right security cryptography. One capstone objective was to enhance information superiority, so a few demonstrations showed how specific technologies could help in information operations.

Another demonstration, called SilentRunner, “gave us the opportunity to see what wares we could use. It showed the reliability, performance and situational awareness and was a tool that monitored the capabilities of our services, and this gave us the capability to monitor the health of the servers out there,” the colonel explains.

The product tracks the flow of information. It passively collects information as it moves across the network and maps out who is sending information to whom. Although the technology is being used commercially, JWID demonstrated how the military could employ the application.

In terms of the fictional conflicts, other technology demonstrations allowed the participants to see what additional capabilities could be brought to bear in a conflict. The Broadcast Imagery Technology Experiment, known as BRITE, alerted the operator that new imagery of a location was available. The National Imagery and Mapping Agency demonstrated its imagery and geospatial information structure, which made maps available down to the warfighter level. Currently, only commanders are able to issue a request for information. This technology would enable others to request the information. Allies would also be able to acquire approved items. “This is important as we move more toward coalition operations,” Col. Dowis offers.

Because many units, both joint and coalition, will be involved in a single operation, the ability to collaborate has become a priority. This includes the capability to share targeting intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance information as well as communicate during planning.

“If you’re setting up an operation and you don’t have any collaboration tools, then you’re back to using telephones. But the more people you have using tools, the more you have to bring everyone up to speed about how to use those tools. This also presents some problems with making sure everyone has the ability [basic infrastructure] to use the tools. Some countries or command centers that have low bandwidth, for example, have to be accommodated. So there are some challenges,” the colonel offers.

In assessing the overall success of this JWID, Col. Allan R. Bacon, USMCR, commander, JWID coalition Task Force Eagle, notes that organizers ran into the same kind of problems that would occur during any military operation in setting up the network. “And they were overcome by using the tried and true techniques of hard work and long hours,” Col. Bacon, a retired computer executive, explains.

“One thing that I was impressed with was the maturity of the JWID process. Back in the old days, we just threw money at things. Now we have the warrior look at stuff and come up with some technical analysis. Sometimes they say that the technology is great; however, it won’t fit in the process. The JWID process is more mature than a trade show,” the colonel says.

The event serves as a forum for proving that the technologies do what the creators say they can do, and the warfighters came away with some idea of equipment capabilities. The various leaders at the multiple sites told their people to assess the capabilities honestly, Col. Bacon says, “And don’t let us buy any junk.”

One factor that unwittingly affected JWID was the Independence Day holiday, which occurred the week prior to the event. Although demonstrations and sites were set up well in advance, many participants were traveling immediately before the opening day on July 10th. “Some demonstrations came in on Friday [July 7th] and didn’t get as much support as they would have liked. For example, they couldn’t understand why they couldn’t get a certain box to work, and it was because they have never worked with UNIX before,” the colonel says.

The holiday was not the only challenge JWID participants had to overcome. One demonstration between the United Kingdom site and the Naval Surface Warfare Center site in Dahlgren, Virginia, was not up and running until July 23rd, 13 days into the three-week event.

Col. Bacon explains that the circuit between the United States and Europe that JWID was assigned usually runs at 128 kilobytes per second; however, a hardware change was allowed for faster speeds for the event. At first, the circuit was working at the planned higher speed, but when the groups came back the next day, the system was down. Staff members determined that when the system was shut off for the night, it reverted to the slower connection, so an adjustment was made. The asynchronous transfer mode was now operating, but the system still was not working to all the required nodes in Europe. After connecting the United Kingdom site, it was determined that a firewall was preventing throughput with the proper capabilities. Once this was solved, workers also discovered that NATO unknowingly was running at an artificial lower bandwidth. Having addressed the various problems, participants were able to run the demonstration. “The best part about an event like this is that you have many experts at all the different locations, so no one has to solve a problem alone,” Col. Bacon offers.

According to Capt. Christopher G. Fennig, USN, director, Naval Space Command crisis action team, Dahlgren, Virginia, encountering and solving these types of problems is as important as exploring the technologies. “There are a lot of lessons learned from JWID. If it took this long to set everything up for JWID, what would we do in the real world? This is as important a lesson as the technologies. Wargaming is not just a science show,” Capt. Fennig points out.