ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (August 14, 2014) To contain persistent and emerging conflicts around the globe, Joint and coalition partners must operate as one unified force. However, joining forces for a common cause requires more than intent; systems designed to bring overall situational awareness to the commander must somehow speak the same digital language and provide a common operating picture.

For several years, the Global Command and Control System-Army (GCCS-A) has enabled a portion of this unity by providing the infrastructure that links Army and Joint force information systems. GCCS-A's latest version, 4.3, is now web-based, and combines joint and coalition information onto one digital map. Leveraged during a recent joint-coalition exercise in Poland, the system also incorporates a model currently used to enhance United States homeland security information sharing.

"Fighting Army-only wars is a thing of the distant past," said John Andrew Landmesser, chief engineer for Strategic Mission Command, assigned to the Army's Project Manager Mission Command (PM MC). "GCCS-A's web capabilities provide many avenues to visually team with our partners, and with these enhancements we are leading the Army's initiative to establish enhanced yet controlled information sharing."

In addition, GCCS-A 4.3 will be accredited for all networks to support missions outside of typical high intensity situations to enable mission partners that don't have access to a secret network to connect, Landmesser said.

The information-sharing model, known as the National Information Exchange Model (NIEM), boasts several success stories among local, state and federal U.S agencies. Developed in response to the Sept. 11 attacks, the NIEM approach's successes prompted the Joint Services to establish NIEM under military operations to facilitate data exchanges between U.S. military organizations and coalition partners.

NIEM is not a piece of technology; rather, it consists of standardized data elements that allow for smoother data exchanges. With a standards-based approach, users must only understand their own computer's language and NIEM, rather than dozens of joint and coalition computer languages.

"If you have a French system that speaks one kind of data language, and a U.S. Army system that speaks a different kind of data language, once they both translate to the NIEM common language all users can understand it," said Mark Dotson, J6 engineer, Tactical Infrastructure Enterprise Services (TIES) Coalition Warfare Program (CWP).

The NIEM concept was exhibited during the June Coalition Warrior Interoperability eXploration, eXperimentation, eXamination, eXercise (CWIX), held at the Joint Forces Training Centre in Bydgoszcz, Poland. The event provided a venue for system and network engineers from across 12 North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Nations, four partner nations and 12 NATO commands to explore and solve interoperability issues. Participants conducted more than 3,000 test interactions during the 13-day testing period.

The exercise featured a natural disaster scenario laced with friendly and enemy responses to the disaster, and included "producers" and "consumers" to ensure joint and coalition forces could both send and receive critical information. With a mix of conflict and non-conflict missions, the exercise provided users the opportunity to work across DoD and Coalition networks.

GCCS-A's new web capability made it possible for one engineer, with only a laptop, to support the exercise from Poland while another engineer supported the GCCS-A server from the Software Engineering Center (SEC), Aberdeen Proving Ground (APG), Md.

One CWIX objective was to maintain a common operating picture by exchanging NIEM-compliant messages of Friendly Ground Position Reports (POSREP), Observed Position Reports (OBSPOS) and Air Track (AIRTRK) messages with Coalition forces.

"By exchanging information in GCCS-A, I could see the French and Italian units on my U.S. Army display," Dotson said. "This gave me a Joint, live common operating picture in Poland even though all GCCS-A components remained at APG."

Another objective was to implement security metadata tagging, which ensures the messages being sent back and forth have proper classification marking using NATO security markings. Since the Department of Defense (DoD) and NATO use different security markings, the exercise relied on another new GCCS-A capability -- the coalition adapter.

"Even if France is sending us NIEM and we are sending them NIEM, if the security markings are different it doesn't help us determine who is authorized to see the data," Landmesser said. "GCCS-A's coalition adapter performs mediation between NATO and U.S. security markings."

In effect, the participants ensured that only data that has proper release authority based on classification and releasability security markings is exchanged with coalition partners, allowing them to redact information if required.

For example, a U.S. Special Forces unit may spot a "bad guy" and wish to share this information with France, but the U.S. may not wish to disclose any information about how they located the individual. With GCCS-A and NIEM, users can share only "need to know" information; specifically, that a bad guy is in a particular area.

"Since all of our data had releasability markings, we could control the data exchange based on the release authority in those security markings," said Joao Brandao, lead architect for SEC, who managed the GCCS-A server during CWIX. "We were able to get the right information to the right people."

In addition, by using security markings, GCCS-A and its hosting infrastructure can securely move information of different classification and release authority on a single network, potentially saving the costs and time of setting up the typical three-network configuration (Unclassified, Secret and Coalition).

At the exercise's conclusion, all participating coalition partners completed NIEM message exchanges.

"The CWIX was a great partner-building exercise, and it addressed many of the lessons we learned from working as a Joint and coalition force on the Afghan Mission Network," Brandao said.

GCCS-A 4.3 will next be presented as a demonstration at the Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) 15.1 in the fall. The NIEs take place bi-annually to allow Soldiers from the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division (2/1 AD) to assess systems during live exercises. After a follow-on operational test with United States Army Europe (USAEUR), Soldiers should receive delivery of GCCS-A 4.3 in early 2016.

"Sending and receiving information with your partners is important, but if you can't translate or restrict the information, or don't have any way to see it all one map, then the shared information can become irrelevant," Landmesser said. "GCCS-A and NIEM are leading the way to ensure unity for our future Joint and coalition missions."