DOD cross-trains info-sharing technology

CWID exercise tests systems with first responders, local law enforcement teams

Real world: The annual multinational CWID exercises field-test communications technologies.

DAHLGREN, Va.'Somewhere around the globe, the United States and its allies mount an air and land campaign to wrest control of a vanquished country from an invader, depending on cutting-edge technologies for communications and obtaining important battlefield information.

Thereafter, a special operations unit of the expeditionary force discovers intelligence that indicates the possibility of a terrorist attack on U.S. soil. The special operations unit uses assorted systems to understand the potential dangers they may face.

These fictitious scenarios were played out in a series of demonstrations at the Coalition Warrior Interoperability Demonstrations-2006.

The point of the exercise'conducted annually since 1989 under the aegis of the U.S. Joint Forces Command at several locations'was to test how emerging technologies could help information sharing among warfighters and homeland security officials.

Try out the technology

At the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Dahlgren, Va., Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine, Coast Guard and Delaware National Guard personnel conducted 31 such technology demonstrations.

'The scenarios were developed to support the interoperability demonstrations,' said Air Force Col. Mike Lebiedz of JFCOM, who oversaw the demonstrations. 'The scenarios were scripted in order to trigger the use of the technologies being tested. The point is to test and rapidly field those technologies that are of use to joint warfighters.'

The technologies being tested included those that provide communications pipelines, integrate information from varied sources and provide compatibility among field radio systems.

The Global Broadcast System, a joint system run by the Air Force, provides high-capacity, one-way transmission of video imagery to warfighters over DOD's Global Information Grid. Navy Cmdr. John Eadie demonstrated enhanced GBS capabilities, including an additional combat zone GBS channel provided directly from the source. GBS currently has units that push video and data to warfighters.

Another potential add-on to GBS is a new portable video receiver developed by the Air Force Research Laboratory that runs Microsoft Corp.'s Windows. The unit, which includes a small, ruggedized notebook computer, could 'enable everyone from combatant commanders to the local sheriff to receive the same feed,' Eadie said.

In fact, the local Spotsylvania County, Va., sheriff participated in the trials, receiving the same video imagery as military participants.

Cameras mounted on an unmanned aerial vehicle provided the live video imagery seen over GBS at CWID. The Buster, manufactured by Mission Technologies Inc. of San Antonio, is a small UAV, weighing 13 pounds. It has a wingspan of 49 inches and can fly at altitudes of up to 10,000 feet, according to Lt. Jimmie Rivera, an acquisitions officer at the Los Angeles Air Force Base.

The UAV, equipped with two cameras that deliver high-resolution imagery, can stay aloft for up to four hours at a time, Rivera added. Similar vehicles currently being used in Iraq and Afghanistan can fly for only 90 minutes.

Some of the systems demonstrated at CWID tried to supply an integrated operating picture to commanders and officials back at headquarters.

For example, Lt. Neal Kite of the U.S. Coast Guard demonstrated a program developed for the Coast Guard's Integrated Deepwater System Program that integrates information from several sources and plots it on a graphical screen display. The system provides the locations of friendly and unfriendly vessels being tracked from the air, information received from a variety of active and passive sensors, as well as satellite-generated weather information of interest to Coast Guard commanders.

'The system consolidates all that information on one desktop,' said Kite.

Another set of systems called LandWar Portal and GuardNet Portal, developed by Tidewater Technologies of Chesapeake, Va., lets users access data on a variety of systems based on their credentials. It also lets users operating on disparate systems chat with one another over the Internet.

'The systems use federated identity to provide a single sign-on,' explained Van Zander, the company president. 'They also have the capability of quickly establishing a trust relationship between systems, allowing many users and applications to leverage the same data.'

Perhaps the most numerous demonstrations at CWID involved systems that promote interoperability among field communications systems. One such system integrates software-defined waveforms of four different radio types.

'The system is analogous to a personal computer, and the waveforms are like applications,' explained Navy Lt. Terry Lewis of Port Hueneme, Calif. 'It can receive communications over one waveform and convert it to another channel.'

Multiple radio systems

Some of the equipment accomplishes the same feat by physical integration of the communications equipment. A deployable cellular system developed by Cell-Tel Government Systems Inc. of Jacksonville, Fla., can provide communications between several kinds of radios as well as cell phones by cabling them together into a single console. Chief executive officer Bob Whitkop said first responders used the device in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

The issue of communications interoperability among military coalition partners also presents the problem of keeping cryptography secure.

'This box couples the network,' said Lt. Col. Paul Martin of the United Kingdom's Royal Marines, referring to a Coalition C4 Interoperability unit. 'That way you don't have to exchange cryptography.'

Exactly which of these systems will actually make it to warfighters in the field is unknown. Last year's CWID produced a success story, according to the Air Force's Lebiedz, in the form of the Incident Commander Radio Interface, a device developed by Communications-Applied Technology of Reston, Va., which provides voice interoperability among disparate radio and communications equipment. The Homeland Security Department ordered the device and distributed it to first responders around the country.

But Lebiedz added, 'We do not have acquisition authorization. That is up to others. This is about demonstration and assessment.'

About the Author

Peter Buxbaum is a special contributor to Defense Systems.


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