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Flexibility Benefits Military Demonstration

A time-honored military event turned 16 years old this summer, and what some may call an unruly adolescent and others an annual gathering that has outlived its usefulness reveals how lessons learned can turn into powerful practices. The Coalition Warrior Interoperability Demonstration, with its trial sandbox mirroring Afghanistan, not only continues to be as vital as it was in years past but also shows that building on experience leads to new discoveries.
By Maryann Lawlor, SIGNAL Magazine


Pvt. Sherman Huff, USA (l), 207th Army Liaison team (ALT), helps Pfc. Aaron Garlington, USA (c), 206th ALT, and Spc. Shaun Marshall, USA, 207th ALT, inflate a balloon with helium. The aerostat provided surveillance at the U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) site in Colorado Springs, Colorado, during Coalition Warrior Interoperability Demonstration (CWID) 2010.

Transforming aspects of CWID keep event relevant.

A time-honored military event turned 16 years old this summer, and what some may call an unruly adolescent and others an annual gathering that has outlived its usefulness reveals how lessons learned can turn into powerful practices. The Coalition Warrior Interoperability Demonstration, with its trial sandbox mirroring Afghanistan, not only continues to be as vital as it was in years past but also shows that building on experience leads to new discoveries. The 2010 event was the first to feature automatic assessment data collection and a final report that will look more like Consumer Reports magazine than a volume of an encyclopedia.

One of the most techno-altering changes to the Coalition Warrior Interoperability Demonstration (CWID) this year is the evolution of the Combined Federated Battle Laboratories Network (CFBLNet). In 1999, five years after CWID’s commencement, the event’s participants began using a permanent network infrastructure that the NATO Consultation, Command and Control Board had established. This year for the first time, the CFBLNet automatically collected assessment data of some of the technology trials. The implications of this improvement are massive. It no longer will be necessary for staff members to collect data, and much more assessment data can be collected in a considerably shorter period of time.

Prior to 2009, the demonstration involved creating missions that took place in a fabricated environment. To test the effectiveness of emerging technologies during the two-week event, the story line would move participants through different time-based phases of an operation that reflected changes in the political atmosphere. But this is another area where CWID has been changed. Beginning last year, at the direction of Gen. James N. Mattis, USMC, then-commander, U.S. Joint Forces Command, the scenario for CWID moved from fiction to fact. He believed that using current military situations would help CWID participants improve testing budding capabilities and assist in moving promising solutions into the field more quickly. As a result, the scenario for the past two CWIDs has been based on operations in Afghanistan—focusing on missions at the tactical level and following a two-week timeline.

According to Robert Hartling, acting chairman, CWID senior management group, as in last year’s event the trial technologies are assessed in three areas: technical interoperability, information assurance and warfighter utility. In terms of interoperability, the question is whether the person who receives the data can read the information that was sent. The National Security Agency’s standards are the basis for assessing a trial technology’s ability to keep information secure. This includes whether the data can be corrupted or intercepted during transmission. One of what Hartling considers the most important assessments is warfighter utility. The question is if the trial technology helps a warfighter fulfill missions within the scenario, he explains.

To further support the reality of the scenario, the military organization is set up in the same way as it currently exists in Afghanistan. It includes a coalition task force staff and all of the subordinate components that are distributed around the United States, United Kingdom and NATO nations as they work in theater today.

To participate in CWID 2010, solutions must have shown that they could achieve at least one of this year’s seven objectives. These objectives were based on items the commanders of the combatant commands (COCOMs) have placed on their Integrated Priority List (IPL). The list includes some of the most important of the warfighters’ needs, Hartling explains. Among the CWID objectives were improving leader-centric, net-enabled operations; enhancing coalition battlespace situational awareness; and improving centralized command, decentralized control for irregular/hybrid warfare units.

Not every emerging technology offered for CWID assessment was invited to participate in the event. Initially, 41 technologies were evaluated to take part, but this number was whittled down to 32 CWID trial technologies. Out of this number, Hartling’s early preliminary impression—expressed even before CWID ended—was that approximately six of the trials address the existing COCOMs’ IPLs.

“Across the board, I have seen half a dozen [trial technologies] that have existing potential to respond to the COCOMs’ IPLs and solve those capabilities gaps. Once we assess them, that number could change to one or two or 12, but I won’t know until we finish the assessments,” Hartling says. Work at CWID involves more than just exploring emerging capabilities. The demonstration now includes examination of products that are in spiral development in an effort to address risk reduction, he adds.


Pfc. Garlington sets up a portable cell phone tower and weather station to support CWID 2010 technology trials. In cooperation with Colorado Springs, NORTHCOM tested new equipment in a scenario that involved terrorists destroying cell phone towers.

In addition, several of the technologies are not related to the U.S. Defense Department or homeland defense/homeland security (HD/HS). For example, the Canada Command, the Canadian equivalent to U.S. efforts in HD/HS, along with the other nations involved in CWID, are using the event to investigate technologies that are not meant to support immediate needs, Hartling explains. Although he is not involved in assessing individual technologies, he has observed several intriguing technologies that fall into this category. One is a translation technology created in Canada. Two other trials comprise technology from Finland and Italy and focus on maritime domain awareness (MDA). Assessment of these two technologies is of particular interest to the United Kingdom, because if the technologies interoperate, they could be used at the Strait of Gibraltar, enabling MDA from the Arctic to the Eastern Mediterranean.

Another technology that wowed Hartling involves reducing the footprint required for establishing a network. One trial demonstrated that portal technology, which normally requires several racks of servers to operate, could be run on a Panasonic Toughbook with a 100-gigabyte hard drive. The goal of this trial was to generate a sustainable portal network for an organization as large as a coalition task force. This is the first time this technology took part in CWID, and also the first time it was tested in a competitive environment. The goal was to determine how many connections the technology could sustain, he explains.

CWID 2010 trials were not solving make-believe scenario problems; unexpected twists and turns were not inserted. However, the scenario was meant to replicate the conditions of what tip-of-the-spear warfighters are likely to experience in Afghanistan, including that a lack of bandwidth is a fact of life for warfighters in the field. “So we’re restricting the bandwidth so they [trial technologies] would have to perform in a realistic environment. For example, the communications equipment must operate with low bandwidth, and video needs to be compressed to operate in a restricted environment,” Hartling explains.

One of the five main U.S. networks participating in CWID was located at the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Dahlgren division, Naval Support Facility, Virginia. Participants at the facility were concentrating on the second objective, which was to improve leader-centric, net-enabled operations. They focused on practicing how the staff would plug into a coalition network that replicated the type of desktop found in an operations center in Afghanistan or in the United States.

Cmdr. Robert Green, USN, CWID program manager, Naval Sea Systems Command, also participated in the demonstration trials at Dahlgren. He was particularly impressed with how visitors to the Dahlgren site contributed to assessing the CWID technologies. He relates that many of the visitors had recently returned from operations in Afghanistan and were able to contribute ideas that may lead to enhancements technologies being evaluated.

Col. James Bacchus, USMC, CWID Marine Corps lead, Dahlgren, notes that in today’s technical world the best tests are a combination of a large complex network across coalition nation-states. “My observation so far is that we’re entering this new realm of coalition partnerships where we are actually exchanging Internet protocol [IP] addresses and doing very complex things with information and knowledge management. We are networking using the press-to-talk radios you see in the field that can communicate with each other because they are Internet-based,” Col. Bacchus explains.

“Being able to bring people in and out of commander’s conferences and streaming IP-based video—while not extra special for the U.S. military—is extra special when you look at the complexity of the multiple time zones and nation-states involved in the event,” he adds.

Col. Bacchus credits CWID and technology maturation over the past three years to finding a solution for securely sharing information among nations. In the past, the problem of cross-domain communications stifled collaboration. “About three years ago, it became apparent that we are in a long fight with coalition partners, and we needed to learn to share information not only with greater speed and precision but also to use cutting-edge information technologies to redact certain portions that we cannot share with other members of the coalition,” the colonel says.

The solution came from industry, he admits. During the past five years the commercial sector has developed technologies that enable the military to have extensible markup language (XML) meta tagging. As a result, everything is viewed as just data. If a nation wants to send only a certain portion of the information to a particular IP address, it now can be done. “Those technologies did not exist five years ago in a sufficient maturity to use them,” Col. Bacchus explains. “They now are [mature], and this is what I would say is the coming of age of XML tagging of data. With the warfighters’ attention on it, these systems can be mature and deploy now in theaters of operation.”

Hartling relates that many technologies that were assessed in previous CWIDs already have earned their stripes. For example, the Ready Response Network, which was an item examined during CWID 2009, was used in Haiti to enable communications, coordinate logistics information and send first aid to that country after the earthquake in January.

The Dahlgren site also was fortunate to have a member of the West Virginia Army National Guard on hand to evaluate some of the emerging technologies. 1st Lt. Jon Hays was particularly interested in how the capabilities could fulfill HD/HS requirements. “We’ve had terrorists, hurricanes, a bridge collapse, and so on. That’s why we’re here: to find a better way to track and respond to these incidents,” Lt. Hays says. Some commercially available technologies such as Psi Skype Messenger quickly were deployed to the Gulf of Mexico to assist during the BP oil spill crisis that erupted in April, he adds.

In years past, problems occurred when the networks being used for CWID were not robust enough to handle the large number of nations participating in the event. The CFBLNet was created in response to this need, and Hartling relates that this year it operated flawlessly. He credits this to the great deal of time and effort that went into ensuring that the network and enclaves were certified at all of the sites. To participate in CWID, this site certification must be repeated annually, he notes.

Hartling relates that his ultimate objective is to have CWID assessment information hasten the acquisition process. His goal is to create an environment where CWID trial technologies are so rigorously tested that they are certified to the level required by the Office of the Secretary of Defense Director of Operational Test and Evaluation standards. Achieving this level of success would enable acquisition professionals to use CWID results to purchase products more quickly.

CWID 2010: www.cwid.org
Canada Command: www.canadacom.forces.gc.ca
Combined Federated Battle Laboratories Network: www.disa.mil/cfblnet
CWID 2011 FedBizOpps solicitation: http://bit.ly/aIq62A