Multinational force tests collaboration

Interactive technologies hold key to experiment's success

COMMON LANGUAGE: Military personnel from participating nations worked with live, virtual and constructed scenarios across a distributed network in several global locations during Multination Experiment 4. MNE-4 brought together eight countries (Australia, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States) along with NATO Feb. 27 to March 17 to explore how information concepts and processes in a coalition environment work and could be improved.

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Bryan D. Axtell

In the world of massively multiplayer online role-playing games, it is common for thousands'even tens of thousands'of players to participate.

By that measure, the Joint Forces Command's recent three-week exercise, Multinational Experiment 4, or MNE4 for short, was small potatoes; it had about 800 participants.

On the other hand, MNE4's participants were Australia, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States, plus NATO. In all, 29 countries were represented, making it the largest experiment to date in which countries use their collaborative power to influence adversaries' behavior.

'Stability scenario'

The simulation at the heart of MNE4 was a 'stability scenario set in the country of Afghanistan, but nothing having to do with planning for the future,' said Marine Col. Gareth Brandl, who works for JFCOM in its multinational/interagency experimentation operation and was one of the role-players in MNE4.

'Stability operations are what everybody's looking at these days, with the increasing levels of conflict' around the globe, Brandl said. The scenario included aspects of combat operations, but it also included some humanitarian efforts in the region being supported by the military.

To pull together the technology and tools needed at 17 locations in several countries, technical teams from the participating nations spent almost two years assessing products and planning for their integration into the exercise.

Air Force Maj. Pete Carrabba, of JFCOM's experimentation engineering department, led the behind-the-scenes team that selected the tools and provided round-the-clock support once the experiment got underway.

'I was in charge of the U.S. tech team, over 140 people,' Carrabba said. 'I filled the leadership role for the tech leads for all other nations.'

As the name indicates, MNE4 was the fourth multinational exercise to test methods of collaboration. Each exercise takes two years to organize; planning is already taking shape for MNE5, in 2008. Each experiment builds upon the results of the previous one.

This year's exercise was to explore 'effects-based operations' at the multinational level'that is, the uses of multiple forms of power by nations coordinating their actions. The acronym 'DIME' sums up the power dimensions: diplomatic, information, military and economic. So MNE4 was using an alternative reality to test how to integrate national policies across borders to control 'bad actors' without using force as a first resort.

The tech teams from all the countries first had to agree on the tools to be used.

Early on, Carrabba and his fellow team leads designed a technical architecture to support the experiment. Based on the architecture, JFCOM put out a request to industry for information.

'We're having an experiment, and here's our problem set,' Carrabba said, summing up the RFI. 'You can nominate tools. A tool has to be releasable to all the countries, interoperable, provided at no cost to us and Web-enabled,' to name a few of the criteria.

The JFCOM team received 75 nominations. A technical team whittled the list down to 40, and those companies were invited in to give a two-hour hands-on demonstration and explain how their tools would support the experiment.

Laundry list

After the demos were completed, each nation submitted a laundry list of tools they wanted to use in the experiment.

'We had 90 percent commonality,' Carrabba said. 'Then we worked on the 10 percent and made compromises. By April 2005 we had the core tool suite, [and] the companies had from April to October to deliver.'

Some of the tools were commercial off-the-shelf, others were government off-the-shelf or developed in-house and contributed by their countries, while some were in different stages of development by companies.

'A big part of the experiment was the collaboration part,' Carrabba said. 'We had 600-plus distributed users across an immature network with varying types of devices'four different types of crypto, an unknown number of routers, each link with different bandwidth capability'so we had real challenges. ... It's a perfect example of why we experiment.'

Once MNE4 kicked off in February, Carrabba and his counterparts were supporting more than 800 participants in 17 locations, including several overseas.

'That was another technical challenge. Each nation had a different kind of workstation. Some had desktops, some had laptops. They had different processor speeds, different RAM. When we ended up troubleshooting, some of our problems turned out to be the different systems we were using,' he said.

One key tool was InfoWorkSpace, a Web-based collaboration application from Ezenia Inc. of Nashua, N.H.

'We did this as a distributed staff,' Brandl said. 'Unlike the NATO response force that was housed in Istanbul ... we were literally connected to our staffs by the
InfoWorkSpace tool.'

Sometimes the network overloaded, forcing all the players to take a break while tech support got things back on track. But by the end of the first week and the start of the second, 'reliability increased exponentially,' Brandl said.

In addition to InfoWorkSpace, MNE4 used simulation and modeling tools, and C4I'command, control, communications, computers and intelligence'tools. Individual players had voice over IP, e-mail and instant messaging capabilities.

For the network to handle all the traffic, JFCOM set up an encrypted coalition network tunneling through the combined federal battle laboratories network, along with an unclassified network for many of the NATO countries.

While the experiment itself wrapped up March 17, work continues on MNE4 with the preparation of after-action analysis.

A tremendous amount of data was collected, Carrabba said. 'We were counting how many e-mails were being sent, and to whom. We did some network analysis, bandwidth analysis, information flows back and forth.'

The after-action analysis will provide a structure for officers from the countries involved to meet in Brussels, Belgium, later this year and determine a framework for MNE5.

'We are driving toward an open standard, where everyone from different nations plug into the network to get the information they need,' Carrabba said.

inside gcn

  • digital key (wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock.com)

    Encryption management in government hyperconverged IT networks

Reader Comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group