Defense

June 15, 2012

‘Bold Quest’ promotes coalition interoperability

by Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Archie Knight, an unmanned aerial vehicle technician with Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, Calif., aligns a RQ-7 Shadow unmanned aerial vehicle as part of launch preparations during Bold Quest 12-1 at Camp Atterbury Joint Maneuver Training Center in Indiana June 1, 2012.

Representatives from every military service and their counterparts from 11 other nations are wrapping up an exercise designed to improve their ability to work together to more effectively engage targets while minimizing the risk of friendly fire.

About 440 participants in Bold Quest 12-1 converged on the Camp Atterbury Joint Maneuver Training Center and Muscatatuck Urban Training Center and other venues in Indiana earlier this month for the Joint Staff-led exercise to assess how they gather and share combat identification information, John Miller, operational manager for the exercise, told reporters yesterday.

During 10 days of exercises and data collection, participants are putting to the test, not only their different technologies, but also their tactics, techniques and procedures to ensure they’re interoperable.

The premise, Miller explained, is that coalition members that operate together need to develop and test their capabilities together before they employ them on the battlefield.

The scenarios for this year’s Bold Quest center largely on how coalition members provide close-air-support to warfighters on the ground, Miller explained.

“You have combat effectiveness and fratricide avoidance as big elements of what we are trying to achieve here,” he said. “And we are trying to [address that] with technologies and with procedures.”

The results can have an immediate impact on war fighters. For example, a new combat identification server demonstrated last September during Bold Quest 11 proved so effective that it was deployed to Afghanistan within months after the exercise. The system collects and maintains the locations of U.S. and coalition forces in a single server that air crews can access as they provide close-air support.

Marine Corps Cpl. Crystal Dodson, a radio operator with Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., checks radio frequency on a RQ-7 Shadow unmanned aerial vehicle as part of launch preparations during Bold Quest 12-1.

Joint terminal attack controllers – those on the ground who direct close area attacks – have also used the Bold Quest exercises to certify the equipment they use to communicate with air crews before deploying to Afghanistan, a coalition participant reported.

Air Force, Navy and Indiana National Guard air assets are providing close-air support for the exercise, with joint terminal attack controllers from several countries directing these operations on the ground. In addition, Army and Marine ground forces are using unmanned aerial systems to support their intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance operations. Special operators are testing techniques and tactics for Special Operations Command.

The annual Bold Quest exercises have evolved since the first operational demonstration in 2003, Miller said. The original focus was highly technical — identifying the best combat identification technologies for sorting friendly ground forces from enemies within the designated battle space. Subsequent exercises focused on improving friendly forces’ ability to identify each other — armor units and both mounted and dismounted ground elements.

While continuing to validate the technologies involved, the Bold Quest series has expanded to also address how coalition members share combat identification information.

Joint doctrine isn’t enough to ensure seamless operations in a joint environment, said Marine Capt. Michelle Augustine of the Marine Air Combat and Control Experimental Squadron. “The crux of the problem really lies in interoperability, and how people come together to execute that doctrine in a way that helps support those forces on the ground without their safety being compromised,” she said.

Coalition forces assess digitally-aided, close-air support technologies during Bold Quest 12-1 at Fort Wayne Air National Guard Station, Ind., on June 6, 2012.

The broad range of technical systems participants bring to the mission adds another complication. So as part of Bold Quest, evaluators are ensuring these technologies adhere to a set of broad user guidelines referred to as standards and stricter and more specific profiles, said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Mike Hall from the Joint Staff’s Joint Deployable Analysis Team.

“The purpose is to make sure they are interoperable with each other,” he said. “We would like to be able to exchange targeting and sensor position indication information between aircraft and JTACs, regardless of what nation or service they come from.”

Interoperability problems identified at Bold Quest often can be fixed on the spot, Hall said.

Miller called Bold Quest a rare opportunity for U.S. and allied warfighters, technicians and analysts to come together in one venue. “It’s a rare opportunity for them to exchange information, identify issues on site and fix some of those things, in progress,” he said.

The exercises, he added, ensure that the highly technical standards that U.S. and coalition forces craft actually work in an operational setting.

“Until you put people together, face-to-face to do that, you just don’t have that high assurance,” Miller said.

“You may have a very voluminous technical standard written,” he added, but that may not be enough to ensure that it “is being implemented effectively and works in a scenario.”

“That is why these groups need to come together,” he said.




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