Exercising Mission Command technologies produces commonality amongst Joint, coalition forces
January 23, 2014
For decades, the Army has prepared for future conflicts by executing field exercises that mimic real-life battle. In response to the last decade of war, these exercises now increasingly include joint forces and partner nations, providing the Army with the necessary experience to lead highly dynamic and decentralized coalition combat operations.
A prime objective in each of these exercises is to achieve information sharing among multinational, multifunctional warfighting systems. The Army's Project Manager Mission Command (PM MC) inserts its interoperability capabilities into these exercises, allowing maneuver commanders to collaborate, decide and lead on the battlefield.
"To control our adversaries, our future combatant commanders will form unprecedented partnerships amongst the U.S. Armed Forces and our allies," said Col. Jonas Vogelhut, project manager for Mission Command (PM MC), assigned to Program Executive Office Command Control Communications-Tactical (PEO-C3T). "Our experience supplying evolving interoperability capabilities to the Army and to our joint and coalition partners makes us an indispensable partner during these training events."
Combined Endeavor, conducted annually at the U.S. Army base in Grafenwoehr, Germany, is just one of the many exercises that have been designed to produce seamless communications within the coalition environment. With representative formations from 48 nations, Combined Endeavor is the world's largest command, control, communications and computers (C4) interoperability exercise.
Among the PM MC technologies that participated in the most recent Combined Endeavor event in September 2013 were Command Web and the Multilateral Interoperability Programme (MIP). Command Web is a web accessible environment that uses applications, or widgets, to display real-time warfighting function information onto a common geospatial map. Used as the exercise's primary Common Operating Picture (COP) viewing tool, Command Web alleviates the command post commander's requirement to mentally fuse multiple data sources displayed on separate viewers to achieve a unified battlefield picture.
"We are addressing the commander's requirement for complete situational awareness of movement and maneuver, fires, sustainment, intelligence and protection operations," Vogelhut said. "Command Web allows the commander to look to one screen to ensure the warfighting capabilities are synchronized across the battlefield, and amongst our coalition partners."
At Combined Endeavor, users learned to drag warfighting widgets onto the digital map, creating a common operating picture map tailored for their specific mission. In addition to its on-site role at the exercise, certain groups from other countries were also able to access Command Web from rear locations, and United States Air Force (USAF) personnel could view Command Web from a location in Iceland.
"The United States Army Europe (USAREUR) robust network allowed users to deploy Command Web and provide access to any user on the mission network who had access to a web browser," said Lt. Col. Thomas Bentzel, product manager for Tactical Mission Command, assigned to PM MC. "It's a pretty powerful capability when any cell or group can pull up the same exact picture as the headquarters. This becomes even more impressive when units positioned in their host nations can do the same thing."
Exercises such as Combined Endeavor require user training prior to and during the exercise. Due to the system's intuitive functions, Soldiers required minimal formal training on Command Web -- supporting the Army's overall goal of providing Soldiers with simpler communications systems to operate.
"We trained the users on how to use our Maneuver widget, 3-D Map widget and theUSAREUR-developed Track Management Service (TMS) widget, which displays locations of joint units." said Igor Taran, Command Web project lead for TMC. "Despite some language barriers between European nations and the U.S., the users caught on quickly. Everybody recognized the term Common Operational Picture."
Command Web is currently fielded in Afghanistan, Germany and across Army installations in the United States. Whereas Command Web is built to provide an enhanced yet simplified user interface, PM MC's other featured technology at Combined Endeavor was not as obvious to Soldiers. MIP is a back-end software module used to connect disparate command and control (C2) systems.
"MIP may be unseen to the user, but it is the link that takes coalition data, puts it into the Data Distribution Service (DDS) and then translates the data to allow partner nations to subscribe to coalition position reports and other situational awareness data," said Lt. Col. Timothy Gearhart, product manager for Strategic Mission Command. "MIP is the data exchange at the C2 command post level."
For the first time, this year's event required all nations seeking to connect via MIP to meet Joining Membership and Existing Instructions (JMEI) standards. This required nations to achieve a certain level of accreditation, or trust, before they could join the network and share information. By meeting JMEI criteria, nations can come together as a coalition and connect to the network more quickly than they have in the past.
The term MIP does not just refer to the technology; it also applies to interoperability organization established by national Command and Control Information Systems (C2IS) developers, with the charter to share relevant command and control information in a multinational or coalition environment. This organization produces a set of specifications, which when implemented by the nations, provides the required interoperability capability. PM MC chairs the MIP, with its product manager organization Strategic Mission Command (PdM SMC) acting as the U.S. Head of Delegation.
More than a dozen nations currently use MIP, and in the near future, MIP will transition from a software application to web application that users will access on Command Web.
"Command Web and MIP are just two of PM Mission Command's collaborative technologies participating in joint and coalition exercises across the globe," Vogelhut said. "By connecting commanders across many nations, we are helping to build a strong, flexible partner force ready to face tomorrow's adversaries."