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NEWS | June 20, 2011

Guard participates in project to advance coalition information sharing

By Donna Miles American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON - A sweeping demonstration project at six U.S. and two overseas sites is expected to pay off in advancing technologies to improve information sharing among U.S. and coalition partners in Afghanistan and in future missions.

The 2011 Coalition Warrior Interoperability Demonstration, sponsored by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, wrapped up June 16 following 11 days of trials to assess industry's latest technologies using real-world operational scenarios.

The event featured 37 interoperability trials, 22 multinational programs, and two joint capability and technology demonstrations. Web-based situational awareness tools, wireless technology, Blue Force tracking systems, maritime surveillance, translation devices and enhanced information-assurance and validation innovations were among the technologies involved.

Participants – service members, Department of Defense civilian and contract employees and industry representatives – worked together at various sites. Marine Corps and coalition task force members were positioned at U.S. Joint Forces Command in Suffolk, Va. Army participants stationed themselves at the Central Technical Support Facility at Fort Hood, Texas. Air Force members were at Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass., and Navy participants, at the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command's Systems Center Pacific in San Diego.

In addition, the National Guard participated at U.S. Northern Command at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., the Department of Homeland Security Battle Lab in Herndon, Va., and at Hanscom Air Force Base. DHS positioned its officials at NORTHCOM.

International participants operated from Canada and a NATO site in Bydgoszcz, Poland.

The big objective, explained Charles McMaster, an Army liaison supporting the demonstration at Fort Hood, was to identify and test technologies to shore up information-sharing gaps.

"It boils down to, we want to have a shared and common understanding of what is occurring, both on the battlefield and [among] folks who are supporting the efforts on the battlefield," he said.

"So we want to make sure that we literally have a common picture that illustrates or is the foundation of that common understanding. And we do that by having one computer talking to another computer," McMaster explained. "Whether it is a U.S. computer or a coalition computer, we like to ensure that the information that is sent and received is portrayed on those computers in a way we can all understand what it is."

Developing a common operating picture is critical to the success of combined operations, said Steve Pitcher, the Joint Staff representative to the demonstration. "We want the mission execution information at any given time to be representative on all of our screens," whether it's being used by a U.S. system or that of an ally or partner, he said.

A major focus of this year's demonstration was improving the Afghan Mission Network, a new network that promotes information and intelligence sharing among coalition partners supporting the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. The network has reached full operational capability, but still needs refinement.

That includes testing to ensure the 238 applications approved by U.S. Central Command and NATO are interoperable on the network and don't disrupt or interfere with each other, Pitcher said. This will help establish the first baseline of coalition capabilities for command and control as well as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, a step toward streamlining those applications, he said.

"What we want to be able to do is stop having to operate, maintain, protect and ensure the interoperability of 238 applications with their own stovepipe databases," Pitcher said. The hope, he said, is to "get down to some manageable number of web-based applications that use a centralized set of secure databases, so that we are able to perform mission planning with our closest allies and ensure successful mission execution with all our coalition mission partners."

"We have to reduce the redundancy among systems, and to make the capabilities more focused on what the warfighter really needs to do his job," McMaster said. "We don't need to have five different ways to portray the same information. We need to have one way that is commonly understood to get that shared common picture."

But the CWID demonstration extended beyond warfighter support to include technologies to support future humanitarian disaster responses and border patrol operations.

DHS and U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials from the El Paso, Texas, sector participated to get a firsthand look at how new technologies could support real-world responses to wildfires, hurricanes, earthquakes and attempted U.S. border infiltrations.

For example, one trial used an aerostat balloon equipped with a communications payload to assess variety of technologies that could extend telephone and hand-held radio capabilities beyond the reach of radio towers in the remote New Mexico-West Texas desert, McMaster explained. Another trial evaluated unmanned ground sensors able to pick up seismic and acoustic information that reveals unusual truck or pedestrian activity.

Many of the technologies demonstrated during the CWID will never reach the field, but they could have a ripple effect by inspiring or impacting other innovations. If proven to be operationally relevant and technically achievable, those technologies could wind up being written into future contract acquisition requirements.

Simply knowing what technologies are already out there can help shorten the time between identifying a capability gap and fielding that capability to troops in the field, McMaster said.

Before that fielding occurs, he emphasized the importance of demonstrations like CWID to help ensure it meets requirements and operates as advertised.

"We want to make sure it works on the ground here before it is deployed to the field," McMaster said. "It is not good to find out that something doesn't work in Afghanistan. It is not the right place to find it doesn't work in [South] Korea, or anywhere else we are deployed. We need to assess and evaluate it and remediate it before it is deployed. That's extremely important."



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