By Amy Walker, Army Staff WriterApril 29, 2018
FORT BRAGG, N.C. -- In an effort to improve data sharing between joint and coalition partners, while delivering critical tactical network and mission command solutions to the field at a faster pace, the Army is leveraging informed experimentation during several joint multinational interoperability training exercises this year.
New hardware equipment like Commercial Coalition Equipment, which enables secure tactical network access for coalition or commercial networks, and mission command software like Army Coalition Interoperability Solution, which helps improve a coalition common operating picture, or COP, are helping the U.S. and its NATO allies to fight together as a single lethal force.
Experimenting with emerging systems like these in operational training exercises is anticipated to help inform how capability integrates into Army and coalition partner network design. It will also help determine "the art of the possible," as the Army's Network Cross Functional Team and capability and product managers execute efforts to enhance joint and coalition interoperability -- one of the service's major network modernization lines of effort.
"We have changed our doctrine; we are never fighting alone again. We can do that, but how do we talk to one another?" asked Col. Scott Lamprides, XVIII Airborne Corps communications officer (G-6), at the recent joint multinational Warfighting Exercise 18-4 at Fort Bragg. "This equipment is constantly evolving. Are we constantly going to be chasing that technology? How do you get it out in time where it's not so out of date that it is irrelevant? Perfect doesn't exist, but it's got to be good enough."
As the Army pushes to modernize its tactical network to retain overmatch in the face of peer and near peer adversaries, it will use a Development/Operations model of incorporating Soldier feedback to inform fielding and continual system improvements, and uncover how network systems can be leveraged most effectively in a mission partner environment.
Ahead of the multinational Joint Warfighter Assessment, or JWA, 18.1, currently underway in Germany, the Army conducted the large-scale WFX 18-4 in early April, with both simulated and deployed operations reaching across three U.S. locations: Fort Bragg, North Carolina; Fort Carson, Colorado; and Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. WFX 18-4 focused on interoperability between corps and division headquarters, including the XVIII Airborne Corps, 1st Special Forces Command (Airborne), headquarters elements from the Marines and Air Force, as well as coalition partners, including the 3rd United Kingdom Division.
"This is a huge opportunity for us to work alongside our American counterparts to improve our ability to work with the U.S. Army. That is critical because we all know that in any future conflict it's very unlikely that the U.S. or any other country will be going alone," said Maj. Gen. N. R. M. Borton, commanding general of the 3rd U.K. Division. "We will be going together, exactly as we have done in Afghanistan, Iraq and all the way going back to World War I. So in that end, we have to train together to make sure our procedures and communications and the way we do business, align."
Each coalition country has its unique network transport equipment that enables them to connect into a combined coalition network, so they can share information at their own discretion, collaborate and improve the COP. During WFX 18-4, the U.S. and U.K. used a mission partner environment network to display their COP, provide common services and exercise simulated joint fires.
"Interoperability. That is what we are trying to do here, integrate not only the U.S. portion of the network, but [integrate] with our contributing partners, because without them, we can't win. We need everybody on the team," said Lt. Col. Stephen Marshall, XVIII Airborne Corps communications officer (G-6) operations officer in charge.
During WFX 18-4, the Army used the CCE hardware to link coalition and U.S. forces together in the same network. CCE also provides a radio bridging capability that enables radios on different frequencies, or different equipment such as radios, cell and internet phones to seamlessly talk to each other, which is essential in coalition operations where countries and organizational entities bring their own equipment.
As part of the exercise, the XVIII Airborne Corps successfully employed a new "large" variant of CCE for the first time. The system provides the same secure tactical network access for the coalition or commercial networks as the original small form factor variant, but it supports larger division and corps-size elements more effectively. Prior to the exercise, the Army rapidly responded to unit requests and expanded upon the original CCE-Light capabilities, delivering the CCE-Large to the XVIII Airborne Corps in just four months. The quick reaction time enabled the unit to use the system during WFX 18-4 so it could provide feedback on the new capability from a realistic operational mission partner environment to support a quicker fielding timeline.
The XVIII Airborne Corps also successfully utilized a new small form factor variant of the Army's Secure Wi-Fi system, along with the regular Secure Wi-Fi, to reduce command post set up time when it jumped the tactical command post. Feedback from expeditionary units spurred the Army to "reduce" the size of its current Secure Wi-Fi system and it was able to get the new system in the hands of Soldiers as part of a test-fix-test approach in only six months.
"Our mission is global response; getting somewhere quickly, which means you are going in as skinny as you can, because speed trumps anything else. With the Small Form Factor Secure Wi-Fi, absolutely, we are now hitting the goal," Lampredes said.
Along with coalition interoperability, the Army is also looking to improve interoperability between internal U.S. elements, such as Special Operations Forces. To improve interoperability internally within SOF tiers, and externally with the rest of the U.S. force, WFX 18-4 provided the first opportunity for SOF to test out and provide feedback on the Army's new expeditionary Terrestrial Transmission Line Of Sight radio, which is being fielded to conventional Army units. TRILOS also provides a 12-fold increase in bandwidth, along with increased range, and it can operate in satellite-denied environments.
"Often enough our tools are not the same tools that the conventional forces are using," said Lt. Col. Brian M. Kadet, assistant chief of staff communications officer (G-6) for the 1st Special Forces Command. "What helps bridge those solutions are tools such as the TRILOS radio being able to extend the network and bridge the gap between SOF and conventional forces."
From a mission command perspective, one of the main objectives of WFX 18-4, as well JWA 18.1, is to improve the COP, which is the concept behind the Army's Command Post Computing Environment effort. In response to an urgent need from U.S. Army Europe, the new ACIS software acts as a gateway for data exchange, such as position location and other situational awareness data, to form a COP on U.S. Army systems.
The crux of WFX 18-4 was to inform a coalition system baseline and demonstrate that the Army can fight effectively in a mission partner environment in response to rising global threats. Efficiently leveraging operational joint and multinational exercises to modernize the Army's network, listening intently to Soldiers and swiftly implementing their feedback, will help enable units to "fight tonight" with next-generation solutions that keep them ahead of increasingly capable enemies.
Brig. Gen. Xavier Brunson, XVIII Airborne Corps chief of staff, said the two keys to mission success are interoperability with joint and coalition partners, and lethality.
"Our ability to be lethal wherever and whenever is absolutely critical. The big idea is that we don't have to do this alone. The lessons that we learned in our interoperability will pay huge dividends for our corps going forward. The more that you know going in, the better off that you are."