TRUSTING THE COMMON OPERATING PICTURE

GRAFENWOHR, Germany (May 16, 2018) -- The U.S. Army and its multinational partners leveraged the recent Joint Warfighting Assessment 18.1 to improve interoperability and enable separate allied networks to contribute to a common operating picture they can trust.

"We are humans, and warfare is human endeavor, and what leads to success is trust," said Col. Dickie Taylor, deputy commander of the United Kingdom (U.K.) 1st Armored Infantry Brigade, at JWA 18.1. "What would very quickly undermine tempo and military success is a breakdown in trust. So that is why we are focused so heavily on a common operating picture because it lies at the heart of the trust between our allied partners."

During the exercise, the U.S. Army and its allied partners assessed new communications network technologies to help improve coalition interoperability and the COP. These systems include U.S. Army hardware equipment like Commercial Coalition Equipment (CCE), which enables coalition partners to securely access the mission partner network. They also include mission command software like Army Coalition Interoperability Solution (ACIS) and its big brother Mission Command Information System (MCIS), which enable more integrated information sharing and a real-time coalition COP. These new technologies are empowering the coalition to exchange information, such as logistics, terrain, fires, friendly and enemy position data, to improve the COP and speed the decision-making process across joint and multinational forces.

"If we are to operate at a high tempo, to synchronize our forces, maneuver faster than our opponent, then we need a low latency COP, so we can make instant decisions, [such as] executing fires, safe in the knowledge that we won't kill ourselves or our allied partners," Taylor said.

Both the U.S. Army, as well as some of its partner nations, are using a Development Operations (DevOps) model of incorporating Soldier feedback to inform the fielding of new technologies and their continual enhancement. The DevOps model helps speed the acquisition and fielding of new technologies to get them into the hands of Soldiers at a faster pace. Testing systems at joint multinational exercises also helps to uncover how these new network systems can be leveraged most effectively in a mission partner environment.

"JWA is a real opportunity to test our new technologies in a realistic environment and also [to improve] interoperability, to exchange [ideas] with our counterparts to understand how to work together," said Maj. Guillaume, French 7th Armored Brigade. "It's a think tank to improve technology, because we realize that we need each other in order to improve our own capabilities."

JWA 2018 provided the Army a venue to achieve training readiness, future force development, and interoperability with NATO allies. The exercise was conducted in April and early May, and it was linked and integrated with the U.S. Air Force Blue Flag and U.S. Army Europe Combined Resolve X exercises. It included brigade headquarters from the U.K., Canada, France, and Germany, one battalion headquarters (Denmark), and participants from Italy, Australia, New Zealand and Spain. U.S. Air Force Europe, Navy 3rd Fleet and U.S. Army Special Operations Command also provided mission command elements for the exercise. Next year's JWA 19.1 will support U.S. Army Pacific.

"The world has changed; the U.S. will never fight on its own anymore," said Lt. Col. Nicole Vinson, commander of the 86th Expeditionary Signal Battalion (ESB). "What we are doing here at JWA is actually integrating with our partners, versus working parallel with them, which is a little different, because they are using their own systems to tie into the mission partner network. We are really getting after the integration piece with the coalition and it allows us to move forward with common goals."

During JWA 18.1, the 86th ESB had a dual role. It provided tactical network communications transport support to the U.S. 1st Infantry Division and coalition units that did not have or bring their own network transport equipment. Additionally, the 86th ESB headquarters was tasked with operating the Coalition Network Operations and Security Center (CNOSC), where the U.S. and its mission partners planned, monitored and managed the coalition network.

As part of the network architecture, the U.S. Army provided the CCE hardware "box" to coalition forces whose systems were not able to directly link to the mission partner network. The CCE provided a transport gateway to enable those nations to contribute to the COP. CCE also provided a radio bridging capability that enabled 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 a DevOps test-fix-test approach, U.S. and coalition Soldiers used the CCE during JWA 18.1 and provided feedback to the program office, Project Manager Tactical Network, to inform further system improvements.

"CCE's radio bridging enables different radios to come together and that really helps when we are talking about an alliance, where they all have different radio standards [and policies], or if you have a nation that does not have a radio that can operate on that network," said Maj. Joseph Perry, 1st Infantry Division communications officer (G-6).

The new ACIS mission command software, developed in response to an urgent need from U.S. Army Europe, acts as a gateway to partner nations so they can view and publish situational awareness data to the coalition COP. The program office, PM Mission Command, pivoted to meet the urgent need by using a buy-and-adapt strategy, modifying and adding capability to the original commercial-off-the-shelf software to create ACIS. The program office then took the buy-and-adapt strategy a step further, adding even more functionality to the capability to create what is now known as MCIS, to meet the requirements of the first phase of the Army's Command Post Computing Environment (CP CE) effort.

In a phased approach, CP CE aims to converge disparate mission command systems and their corresponding hardware, such as Command Post of the Future (CPOF), onto a single computing environment that uses apps such as those used on smartphones. The CP CE effort reduces complexity and the hardware in a command post, while improving capability and the COP.

During JWA 18.1, after just three hours of training, the "intuitive" MCIS system became the "primary COP tool" for the 2/1 Infantry Division Headquarters. Once in place, each coalition partner was given access to MCIS and the system was used to validate the division COP against each of coalition partner's national command and control systems for accuracy and fidelity, Perry said.

This extensive use of MCIS during the exercise provided a much wider audience for the assessment than originally anticipated, and the program office will use that valuable Soldier feedback to continue to enhance the system.

As did the CCE effort, the program office adopted the Army's DevOps model and tested ACIS and MCIS during several multinational exercises, including WFX 18-4 and JWA 18.1, each time implementing lessons learned and further improving the capability. Responding to Soldier requests from WFX 18-4, the program office added additional functionality to MCIS that enabled a battle and commander update brief capability. Soldiers were able to test that new capability at JWA 18.1 just a few weeks later. In another DevOps example, during JWA 18.1, Soldiers wanted simply to right click to publish data to the COP, and the PM was able to implement that change on site within 24 hours.

This initial pre-operational (beta) testing of MCIS is expected to significantly reduce risk for its upcoming operational test, scheduled to be conducted during Network Integration Evaluation 19.1 in November at Fort Bliss, Texas.

"We are getting bottom up feedback from real-time users and our staff and our Soldiers are providing on-the-spot feedback to improve the systems," said Christopher Riley, operations chief for 1st Infantry Division. "We have already made changes. It's an all-around success story. We are rapidly gaining information across the multiple spectrums within the multi-dimensional battlefield. This is a big gain toward increasing our strength and productivity as a joint multinational force in the future."