FORT BLISS, Texas (October 9, 2015) -- Contingencies in Iraq and Afghanistan underscored the importance and need to share situational awareness across an allied battle space through a centralized coalition network.

During Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) 16.1, the United States and 14 of its North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) partner nations worked network challenges to improve coalition network capability, interoperability and information flow.

"Having a coalition network and common operational picture is transformative from my perspective," said Brigadier Robin Sergeant, commander of the United Kingdom's (UK) 12th Armored Infantry Brigade, whose unit fought in realistic decisive combat alongside U.S. forces at NIE 16.1. "As the commander I now have a far greater understanding of the situation around me and of how it is developing. We can look at intelligence at a higher degree of security classification much more quickly and we are able to work together much more effectively."

The U.S. Army uses its Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) tactical communications network backbone to connect to coalition networks such as those used in Afghanistan and the Pacific. WIN-T enables the Army to both send and receive critical situational awareness with their coalition partners and enables U.S. Soldiers and Commanders to view and contribute to a real time common operating picture throughout the coalition.

Just as the U.S. uses the WIN-T network for transport, each of the coalition countries have their own unique transport networks that enable them to connect into the coalition network, such as the United Kingdom's Falcon tactical network system.

Since the first coalition network was stood up in Afghanistan in 2010, separate nations have been communicating and sharing data, situational awareness and commander's intent across the battlefield from their respective secure networks, with information flowing at each country's individual discretion. During NIE 16.1, coalition forces including the United Kingdom, Italy and Australia leveraged the coalition network to work together to defeat cunning, hard-hitting enemy forces in a realistic operational environment. This Soldier-led event, held at Fort Bliss, Texas and White Sands Missile Range, N.M., featured more than 9,000 Soldiers, 300 platforms and 20 command posts. Set up as a Coalition Joint Task Force structure, the exercise was supported by live and simulated brigade units.

"During NIE 16.1 the coalition network is the primary means of exchanging information; we are fighting the same enemy here and we are all utilizing the same assets and resources," said Col. Charles J. Masaracchia, commander for the 2nd Brigade Combat Team (BCT), 1st Armored Division (2/1 AD), the operational unit for the exercise. "The coalition network makes my decision more timely and accurate. Without it, without that ability to monitor everything in the coalition area of interest, I would be guessing at some of the things transpiring in their battle space. Being able to see coalition icons, their battle space truly developed, is going to determine some of my decisions."

Military communications across the coalition are being transformed just like they are in the civilian world. Even 15 years ago operations were based on voice communications and very little on data, but now it's the use of data and data systems, with applications that run operations such as fires, which are now a central part of how the military conducts its business, Sergeant said.

"So when we are trying to operate with another nation army, particularly the U.S. Army, those systems have got to be able to 'talk' to each other," Sergeant said. "And that is the central part of what we are trying to do here at NIE 16.1 within a very demanding exercise environment."

The satellite and line-of-sight WIN-T network, which operates both at-the-halt and on-the-move, is essentially the Soldier's anywhere, anytime Internet service, providing the tactical communications network backbone to which other U.S. networked systems and applications need to connect in order to function.

During NIE 16.1, the Army used an upgraded WIN-T network enclave, the Coalition Communications Enclave (CCE), for the first time in a coalition environment to connect to the coalition network over WIN-T. Just like the Army's classified Secure Internet Protocol Router (SIPR) and unclassified Non-secure Internet Protocol Router (NIPR) enclaves connect to SIPR/NIPR networks using WIN-T as the transport, the CCE connects Soldiers to the coalition network in the same way. The CCE has a small-form-factor case with integrated routing, voice, encryption, virtual environment and firewall capabilities.

"Working closely with our allies and coalition partners is the foundation of current missions and will continue to be the predominant beat in the way the U.S. conducts operations," said Lt. Col. Mark Henderson, product manager for WIN-T Increment 1, which manages the Army's coalition network enclave. "WIN-T is the pipe that allows us to connect into the coalition network so that we can share the information and situational awareness we need to be successful."

Another enabling piece in connecting the forces is the Multilateral Interoperability Programme, or MIP, which provides a common operational picture and interoperability of command and control systems for the joint and multinational participants in their respective command posts. It is but one tool in the commander's and staff tool box of interoperability. WIN-T provides the network connectively needed to run the MIP applications on the U.S. side of the house.

Some of the network and mission command equipment for the various coalition forces mirrors that of the United States. For example, the British mission command system called Integrated Command and Control (ICC) is similar to the U.S. Command Post of the Future (CPOF). Systems like these integrate the information coming in on the coalition network from the NATO friendly force feeds and provide a common operating picture for the partners. Everyone can see the same feeds of ground operations and Soldier locations even though they are not in the same place. Each country may have different mapping systems or grid systems, but again, the same feeds are coming in, so everyone is seeing the same operational picture in real time, said Staff Sgt. Natasha Morris, information system foreman for Britain's 12th Armored Infantry Brigade.

"We are all fighting as one so we need to share information," Morris said. "Without a coalition network we could have the unfortunate blue on blue [friendly fire]; we don't know where other coalition armies are on the ground. Having this common operating picture, we can see everything on the ground so we can all fight the same enemy without causing injuries to ourselves."

In our complex world, enemies are becoming increasingly capable and elusive, but the U.S. Army does not anticipate fighting future contingencies alone. The Army and its Joint and coalition partners must be well prepared for complex missions and unexpected contingencies, both military and humanitarian. Training and evaluation exercises such as the NIEs will continue to improve both network capability and interoperability, said Col. Gregory Coile, project manager for WIN-T.

"The coalition network is a combat multiplier that enables allied nations to fight as a single united force," Coile said. "The ability to exchange vital information and situational awareness across Joint and coalition battlefield is and always will be an essential aspect of the fight."