ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. — During the bilateral joint Talisman Sabre 23 military exercise that wrapped up in Australia this month, U.S. and Australian forces worked hand-in-hand to improve readiness by enhancing network capabilities, interoperability and processes between themselves and other multi-national forces. As part of these efforts, the U.S. leveraged the exercise to advance its network design goals in support of the data-centric Army of 2030.
“With the focus on the Pacific, we are moving from island nation to island nation, and we have to address the tyranny of distance … knowing that we will be in a denied environment,” said Col. Rett Burroughs, I Corps G6 signal officer. “It’s key to come up with creative solutions for that, but also how do we engage and integrate our partners? Because we are never going to fight any war without them.”
The Australian Defence Force hosts Talisman Sabre every other year in partnership with U.S. Indo-Pacific Command. Linked to the U.S. Army Data Plan campaign of learning experimentation efforts, this year’s exercise provided a unique opportunity to enhance mission partner situational awareness to speed decision making. This was executed through the expansion of network gateways and a persistent mission partner network that enables a near real-time persistent common operating picture, shortened as COP. These efforts are elevating the way multi-national partners exchange data and overcome the unique network challenges created by this austere and expansive Indo-Pacific area of responsibility.
“We are driving the Primary, Alternate, Contingency and Emergency communications plan; we are driving the COP,” Burroughs said. “We are testing and integrating this [mission partner] network together, while also providing trust and confidence to our operators and users that we can protect their data.”
During Talisman Sabre 23, joint combined warfighters were spread across the continent of Australia, as well in other location including Hawaii and Joint Base Lewis McChord, Washington. Based on Soldier feedback, outcomes from this year’s exercise were the culmination of lessons learned from a series of nearly a dozen large-scale multi-national exercises in the Indo-Pacific region in fiscal year 2023.
“Interoperability is essential; this is a partnership, and we need to do it well,” said Maj. Simon Stanton, Army G6 signal officer for the Australian Defence Force. “We [continue to] evolve; we [continue to] build confidence and a [network] baseline. That is the way to do business.”
Informing a persistent Mission Partner Environment
The goal of the U.S. Army’s Mission Partner Environment, or MPE, efforts is to simplify networking to allow partner nations to seamlessly and securely share vital data, enabling them to act at the speed of operations. Data is fluidly exchanged between interoperable systems so forces can contribute and share the combined joint digital COP. Commercial Coalition Equipment, or CCE, is a core component of the mission partner network, enabling the expeditionary network connectivity between Army, joint and coalition forces. During Talisman Sabre23, the Common Services-Hub — a mission partner network federation point comprised of a CCE variant and tactical server hardware — hosted common services, such as email, voice over internet protocol, file sharing, chat and video teleconferencing.
The MPE is based on standards evolving through years of partnership between the U.S., United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. To enhance force readiness and drive toward the Army of 2030, the U.S. Army and these Five Eyes allies are working to establish a more persistent secure mission partner network, versus previous episodic networks. This MPE network will always be available, without having to set up major portions of it for exercises or real-world missions, and it will also enable continual coalition synchronization during all phases of operations.
“We’re always going to be working together [with the Australians] in perpetuity,” Burroughs said. “We need to be on some kind of joint coalition network for everything we do. That is why we will maintain this persistent network; we are not tearing it down and bringing it home; all the connection points here stay in place.”
The persistent MPE network in Australia will enable the force to continually train between exercises to become more proficient and enable new Soldiers to train as others move on to new positions. It will also improve readiness and enable forces to more rapidly integrate as they roll into theater.
In further support of the Army Data Plan and ongoing USARPAC efforts to enhance command and control capabilities in the Indo-Pacific, earlier this year, the U.S. Army’ Program Executive Office Command, Control, Communications-Tactical, known as PEO C3T, expanded the number of Global Agile Integrated Transport, or GAIT, fixed enduring point of presence, or PoP, routers at several new locations in the Indo-Pacific area of responsibility, including Australia. GAIT interconnects the Army’s Regional Hub Nodes and multiple DoD satellite communication gateways worldwide, to enable integrated global network transport. Units can also transport data directly between hundreds of these fixed GAIT PoPs located around the globe, to simplify network transport pathways.
The GAIT PoP expansion in Australia supported mission partners during Talisman Sabre 23 exercise, but it also improves the enduring speed, robustness and resiliency of the U.S. Army’s unified tactical network in the region. Most importantly, the new GAIT PoPs enhance readiness and support the persistent network and COP. When new Army forces deploy to the region, they will already have an existing connection and a signal landing base as they come into theater, so they can exchange data upon arrival.
Burroughs said the new GAIT PoPs “substantially” improved operations and network speed during the exercise. “GAIT is the tunnel through the DOD Information Network. Because we have the cross domain solution and the GAIT PoP here in Australia, when we have information going to the U.S., it cuts out a huge amount of network latency,” he said.
Feeding the Common Operating Picture
During Talisman Sabre 23, U.S. Joint Forces were connecting to the MPE network for enterprise services and to feed and view a joint combined COP. One of I Corps’ goals for Talisman Sabre 23 was to gain interoperability between all of its mission command systems — such as Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data System or Global Command and Control System-Army — to enable them to contribute to the mission partner COP for different warfighting functions, such as fires, logistics and medical. Based on commander’s intent and Soldier feedback, the Army continues to develop more in-depth data COP overlays within each warfighting function, so more specific data can be expanded, easily viewed and briefed to the commander.
“The U.S. is a key partner to Australia, and vice versa,” said Capt. Elizabeth See, Australian Army network engineer. “Having our mission command systems integrated means that now we have quick access to information, all of that persistent data, and our warfighting elements have the information they need to make quicker decisions with real-time relevant information.”
Prior to the exercise, PEO C3T, in partnership with USARPAC, I Corps, Army Cyber, the Artificial Intelligence Task Force, and the Army Software Factory developed a Logistics COP, or LOGCOP, application executing data fabric technologies that provide access to data beyond just a particular warfighting mission area. Warfighters continued to experiment with the LOGCOP at Talisman Sabre 23. The application reflects real-time, map-based logistics information as part of the Command Post Computing Environment. The LOGCOP pulls logistics data into the data fabric from across larger enterprise authoritative data sources. That information is available to the Soldiers at the tactical edge to query to obtain mission-specific supply information, alleviating the need to compile cumbersome documents filled with maps, tables and charts for the commander’s situational awareness.
One of the tools supporting the LOGCOP is the Combat Power Tool app, which uses the data fabric to enable persistent access to different data sources, pulling in data and displaying it on the COP. This includes logistics data concerning a unit’s property book inventory, personnel records, equipment statuses, consumables, etc. Another logistics app, the In Transit Visibility app, provides map-based displays of the location of a unit’s asset containers in-transit on a ship or aircraft, with specific details about the contents of each container.
“While we were still at JBLM before we left for Australia, using the In Transit Visibility app we pulled up the ship that was carrying all of our equipment to Australia and could see [its location] and what was on it,” said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Phillip Dieppa, I Corps G6 network technician.
The general network consensus during Talisman Sabre 23 was that the exercise enabled not only continual improvement of the persistent MPE network and COP, but it provided the opportunity to build strong relationships with mission partners, especially between the Five Eyes nations.
“Wherever we are going to be around the world, we need to make sure that we have the relationships already built there, along with those critical communications paths, and alternate paths as well, knowing that we will be in a denied environment,” Burroughs said.
By practicing and experimenting at Talisman Sabre 23, U.S. and Australian forces learned what was successful and what will be needed for the next exercise, Burroughs said. “And we’ll continue to build upon lessons learned as we get ready for Talisman Sabre 2025 and all the exercises in between.”
The U.S. Army Program Executive Office Command, Control and Communications-Tactical develops, acquires, fields and supports the Army's mission command network to ensure force readiness. This critical Army modernization priority delivers tactical communications so commanders and Soldiers can stay connected and informed at all times, even in the most austere and hostile environments. PEO C3T is delivering the network to regions around the globe, enabling high-speed, high-capacity voice, data and video communications to a user base that includes the Army's joint, coalition and other mission partners.