WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE, N.M.: Servicemembers from several nations came to White Sands Missile Range Oct. 21 and 22 to test and demonstrate new communications capabilities being developed on the range.
Military leaders from the United States, Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom came to White Sands for Multinational Experiment 4.5.
The project brought together servicemembers and advanced communications equipment from some of the United States’ closest allies. Together they carried out a live, radiating fire mission to address operational and interoperability requirements of the communications network at the brigade level and below.
White Sands was chosen as the location for the experiment because its terrain closely resembles the terrain found in Afghanistan.
In today’s operational environment, combined, multinational coalition operations are the norm rather than the exception, according to Paul Mehney, chief of public communications for the Program Executive Office Integration.
Mehney said Army commanders at every echelon lack a tailorable, integrated, and continuously updatable common operating picture for use across the full spectrum of Army operations. He said this is the case in all operating conditions within a complex, joint, interagency, intergovernmental, and multinational environment.
Fires battalions lack full access to joint and coalition information or data sharing, Mehney said, which limits their ability to sufficiently coordinate fires at all levels of command, as well as the ability to develop valuable situational awareness. This includes targeting and intelligence information, coordination and interoperability.
“It’s about interoperability with our coalition partners, specifically the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia,” said Lt. Col. Jake Crawford, a joint integration and multinational interoperability product manager with Program Executive Office Integration.
By ensuring the compatibility of communications, servicemembers from all countries involved hope to be able to share tactical data at the brigade level and below, allowing for better situational awareness as well as providing a better method for calling for fire support.
Providing communications and the ability to share data to units at the brigade level and below allows small units from different countries to directly communicate at a level that is not currently available.
“Today we have that gap where if you have a U.S. company or smaller tactical unit on the ground and a coalition partner on the ground, they cannot talk to each other directly, they have to go through a higher architecture,” Crawford said.
Using the network that has been going through testing on White Sands, U.S. units will be able to share navigational information with their coalition partners and help keep better track of unit locations, as well as use other more modern forms of communication like text chat.
With many units in today’s militaries experiencing a much higher level of mobility than previously possible, the sharing of tactical information has become much more important to the war fighter.
“This capability is important so that in the future we can avoid one coalition soldier not knowing where his coalition partners are on the battlefield. It’s also important so we can share data. So if one of my coalition partners sees enemy activity, he can alert me in near real time so I can take action,” Crawford said.
While the network has been in development for some time, using it to communicate with coalition partners is a new feature that is still in the early stages of development.
Building on the success of previous Multinational Experiments, where the U.S., United Kingdom, Australia and Canada proved the ability to exchange situational awareness and calls for fire over combat net radios in a laboratory setting, MNE 4.5 was not only carried out on terrain that mirrors the complex and challenging geography of Afghanistan, but its mission sets were also organized under a real Joint Task Force construct like it would be in Afghanistan.
“It was an experiment, so it’s not a polished, finished product that is ready to go to the field. What we did today was prove the concept of what we have,” Crawford said.
While there is still plenty of work to be done, the test and demonstration allowed the different military leadership to see the potential behind the continued effort to produce a compatible network.
“We recognize that there are still some hurdles we have to overcome, but we have a good concept, and the indication from all parties today is that we want to continue to move forward and mature this technology,” Crawford said.