Mobility is 2009 Coalition Warrior demo's theme

This year's Coalition Warrior Interoperability Demonstration focused on mobility, field-testing a new set of prototype command and control technologies by running them in a simulated operational environment.

SUFFOLK, Va. — If there was a theme to this year's Coalition Warrior Interoperability Demonstration Day (CWID), it was "command and control on the move," said Navy Capt. Kevin Ruce.

"There's not always a plug for your computer out on sea, or in the mountains," he said. "That's why there are a lot of [mobile wireless] technologies here."

Each year, the U.S. Joint Forces Command (USJFCOM) kicks the tires on a set of new prototype technologies by running them in a simulated operational environment -- one with nodes scattered about the globe and connected by the Combined Federated Battle Laboratories Network (CFBLNet). The command assesses how well the new technologies and systems work in an actual operational environment and used by actual operational personnel, either full-time military or reservists. Assessors observe how well such technologies can tie together not only different branches of the U.S. armed forces but also military units of different countries.

"Our job here is unique," said Navy Capt. Kirk Hornburg, who leads the Joint Systems Integration Center (JSIC) task force for carrying out CWID operations in Suffolk. "We are not successful in CWID if things work. We're successful if we can break things. The whole idea here is to push the technology to the operational limits."

This is the first year that the mock scenarios were based on actual locations. This year's mock scenarios included a combat situation in Afghanistan, a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) response action on the horn of Africa and a terrorist threat based on U.S. shores.

A total of 43 technologies were tested, drawn from a pool of about 80 submissions that came in from the Federal Business Opportunities (FedBizOpps) posting calling for entries. The command picked those closest to completion. Submissions came from a range of organizations, from large integrators such as CACI and SAIC to smaller organizations and even other government agencies.

The five U.S. sites that participated were JSIC in Suffolk, Va.; the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Dahlgreen, Va.; the Electronic Systems Center at the Hanscom Air Force Base in Massachusetts; the North American Aerospace Defense Command at the Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado; and the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command in San Diego. In addition to U.S. Armed Forces, military organizations from Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Norway and a number of other NATO nations also helped assess technologies.

In Suffolk, CWID activities took place both in the basement of the JSIC headquarters, as well as outside in building's parking lot.

An inconspicuous white van that housed a cellular phone relay station was stationed in the parking lot. The command was demonstrating the ability to set up and operate a private cellular network, one running Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA). Each day, the van would be driven to some nearby location, such as a supermarket, and personnel would go track down some items of interest, communicating back to the JSIC headquarters with standard-issue cell phones.

"We have our own private cellular network. If you are within a seven-mile range of this van, you can receive comms with our phones," said Air Force Master Sgt. Wayne Wright. For this set-up, any commercially available CDMA phone will work.

Ultimately, such a private network could be used to send front-line soldiers video and data directly to their cell phones, as well as have the solider back images, video and data back to the rear. Initially, such mini-cell phone networks could be used for Special Forces operations, though, in time, may be deployed across all service field operations, Wright said. The cell phone relays could be on housed in off-road vehicles or even on unmanned aerial vehicles.

By using commercial technology, the military could save money while making use of the cutting-edge technologies developed by the commercial electronics industry, an approach the command wishes to foster as much as possible. The military is interested in "taking advantage of what the [commercial sector] is working on. Business, in general, is moving much faster," Ruce said.

Inside, the organization opened up a large workroom, which was filled with tables of Dell servers and monitors. On the walls were another set of large screens, all of which were devoted to displaying the 21 technologies JSIC was testing. (Not all the sites tested all the technologies; nor were all the technologies tested in all the scenarios.)

One technology being demonstrated was the Interactive Relay Communication System, developed by On Track technologies. In this set-up, small radio-frequency tags were attached to the clothing of personnel, though they could also be attached to supplies, trucks or most any other object. The whereabouts of these personnel was tracked on a browser-based mapping system (in this case Google Earth was used), which shows not only the current location, but, by way of colored lines, also recent movements.

Such a technology is invaluable in providing situational awareness," said Air Force Reserve pilot Tom Culic, who was evaluating the system. "Knowing where your troops are at any point of time is essential to any type of military operation."

In another demonstration, the ship-tracking systems from two countries were able to share the same set of information. On two screens sitting side-by-side, identical ship movement activity was shown both by The Italian Navy Virtual-Regional Maritime Traffic Centre and the Finnish Mevat system.

On the day of the media demonstration, these technologies were being evaluated by a naval captain from Portugal, Capt. Mario Marques. "What we are using here are using two different systems, produced by two different countries, but they are displaying the same information," he said. By having systems work together, commanders from different services can all work from the same set of data.

Cross-domain security was another one of the major concerns being confronted by this year's technologies. On the site, personnel were testing BAE Systems' Combat Identification Server. CID can be placed between awareness systems to facilitate situational data to be passed from one system to the next, while keeping all other data secure on each respective network.

The technologies were all being tested on multiple characteristics. Representatives from the Defense Information Systems Agency evaluated the operational characteristics of the technologies. JSIC evaluated the technical attributes of the technologies, and the National Security Agency evaluated the information assurance aspect of the technologies. USJFCOM will issue a report this fall summarizing how well each technology fared.

Descriptions of all the technologies being demonstrated can be found here in PDF format.