As many military leaders like to say, the U.S. never fights alone. Most large-scale operations are performed in conjunction with coalition partners. This presents inherent interoperability challenges as each nation employs various concepts of operations; tactics, techniques and procedures; and, maybe most challenging, their own technology solutions.

The annual Bold Quest, now in its 20th iteration, seeks to serve as a means of working through potential interoperability challenges. Hosted by the Joint Staff, which serves as a facilitator for participants, Bold Quest’s objectives are established and worked through by the attendees.

“Our role is to set the conditions for the participants from the nations and services to come to these events with their objectives and achieve those objectives successfully and go home,” John Miller, Bold Quest operational manager, Joint Staff Command and Control, Communications and Computers/Cyber Directorate (J6), said Oct. 30 during a call with reporters.

“We are nothing more than a reflection of what the nations and services and ... some NATO agencies that are working with us want to bring.”

This year’s Bold Quest, added Miller, is the largest with 65 percent of the participants coming from partner nations.

According to a fact sheet, some of the Bold Quest activity threads include:

  • Digitally Aided Close Air Support (DACAS);
  • Joint Fires Support Joint Mission Thread;
  • Integrated Air and Missile Defense;
  • Friendly Force Tracking and Ground to Air Situational Awareness;
  • Mission Partner Environment (MPE)/Federated Mission Network (FMN) based network;
  • Cyber effects at the tactical level;
  • Counter-unmanned aircraft system (C-UAS), and;
  • Coalition intelligence surveillance reconnaissance (CISR).

Participants from other nations said they used Bold Quest, among other things, to test their systems with coalition partners.

“[We] use Bold Quest mainly for interoperability testing to make sure their equipment works with the coalition when they bring it to a battlefield,” Master Sgt. Anders Simonsen, with the Royal Danish Air Force, told reporters.

“If you go around the Bold Quest community, everybody comes here to link their equipment up with somebody else, otherwise they could just stay home,” Miller said.

“One of the best example is probably in the joint fires support area of Bold Quest, where the nations that come here and [bring] I think 90-plus different systems … have been working digital interoperability involved with a call for fire from a joint forward observer or joint terminal attack controller all the up to the combined joint task force headquarters.”

This allows for coordinated fires support regardless of what nation calls it in on the ground.

Additionally, nations are testing the interoperability of their networks, which has been a challenge in the past.

“There are multiple nations here at Bold Quest who are pulling their federated mission networks mission partner environment concept, which basically means that we are deploying our own network with our own system just equal to the ones we have back home and which is in accordance with the framework for future deployments,” Capt. Marcus Samuelsen, Norwegian Air Force, Cyber Force, told reporters.

“There are multiple nations … all deploying their own separate nations with their own federated services ... so most definitely connecting services and networks together at this event.”

The Army has begun to look at incorporating coalition interoperability within its requirements when it comes to network solutions.

“As we write … document requirements, we all have the requirements in there to be compliable and compatible and interoperable with [Joint Information Environment] and specifically … mission partners inside our network requirements to have that interoperability,” Col. Mark Parker, training and doctrine command capability manager for networks and services at the Army Cyber Center of Excellence, said during a panel discussion at TechNet Augusta in August.

“From the requirements perspective, absolutely that is a bedrock foundational requirements in everything we write is that interoperability up, down, left and right.”

[Coalition interoperability being written into requirements]

The DoD CIO’s office has been working on the Mission Partner Environment.

“One of the things I’ve been pushing since I got here is something called Mission Partner Environment Information System,” acting CIO John Zangardi said during a media call in early August.

“It’s about the ability to change things quickly so we can set up networks quickly to support the joint force, break them down very quickly, move things around in support of the joint force, the DoD and mission partners.”

MPE-IS aligns with NATO’s capability, enhancing the mission and ability to work with mission partners, Zangardi added.

The U.S. and NATO just wrapped up an event named Steadfast Cobalt, which “provided the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and participants the opportunity to test and develop all elements of its command-and-control structure in support of the Enhanced NATO Response Force [eNRF],” DoD spokesman Lt. Col. Jamie Davis told C4ISRNET in an email.

Miller explained systems, TTPs and CONOPs are tested through operational vignettes that are developed with input from all the participating nations. “It can be force on force, it can be operationally realistic … what’s the enemy doing, what are the friendly guys doing to set enough context for the day,” he said.

This as opposed to scenarios in large-scale exercises that involve an evolving story dependent on activity from each previous day.

“If we find an issue on any given day, we don’t want to be driven by what the war-fighting scenario says we have to do the next day,” Miller said. “We want to be able to go back and rerun that vignette in its operational context and achieve the interoperability objectives.”

Mark Pomerleau is a reporter for C4ISRNET, covering information warfare and cyberspace.

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