Exercise Combined Endeavor logoInteroperability: does the Signal Regiment's future success depend on our allies?

by LTC Ron Stimeare

We live in a time of diminishing military budgets, personnel and equipment. As a result, we can no longer afford to do "business as usual." We must capitalize on the strengths and assets of others. Achieving full interoperability with our allies, therefore, must be one of our main goals in the new millennium.

In Europe, one exercise is already working toward this end. Combined Endeavor is an annual "in the spirit of" Partnership for Peace exercise sponsored by U.S. European Command. This year it was held in Baumholder, Germany, May 11-25.

CE has been heralded as the world’s premier multinational communications and information-systems interoperability and engagement exercise. Thirty-five countries participated this year, along with various organizations, including: North Atlantic Treaty Organization headquarters; each of EUCOM’s service components; Joint Communications Support Element; U.S. Army, Marine and Navy Reserve Components; U.S. Central Command; and U.S. Joint Forces Command.

Combined Endeavor country participation level Countries' level of participation in Combined Endeavor 2000, a Partnership for Peace exercise hosted this year by Germany. CE is the largest information- and communications-systems exercise in the world. The sixth in a series of multinational communications-interoperability workshops, CE 2000 brought together 35 nations for 14 days in May at Baumholder and Lager Aulenbach, Germany, to focus primarily on command, control, communications and computers interoperability testing and documentation. CE is also a unique opportunity for the multinational C4 community to meet and interact on a personal level.

The exercise’s focus was multinational CIS interoperability testing. Primary emphasis was placed on land-based tactical equipment that countries now have in their military inventories or will be fielded in the near future. The intent was to determine how we’re going to communicate with each other today, not five years from now, using both NATO and commercial standards.

Combined Endeavor equipment density Equipment density in CE 2000.

During the two-week exercise, more than 4,000 tests were conducted using 41 switchboards, 62 transmission systems, 37 high-frequency stations, 35 local-area network/wide-area network devices, 31 unique command-and-control systems – as well as 33 end-terminal devices, which included videoteleconferencing, secure telephones and facsimiles from the various participating nations and organizations. More than 85 percent of the tests achieved full interoperability.

During the exercise’s last phase, the participants planned, engineered and controlled the world’s largest integrated multinational CIS tactical communications network. This complete integration of the various and unique pieces of equipment was done to force network problems to the surface that might not otherwise be identified with just point-to-point testing. These problems included such items as inadequate timing sources, limited alternate routing capabilities, inability of National Identification Code handling, data-network bottlenecks, minor inefficiencies with network-management procedures, automated tools and organizational structure.

Combined Endeavor high-frequency operational net The high-frequency operational net for CE 2000.

New this year, increased emphasis was placed on information security, bulk encryption, information systems, tying circuits into the commercial infrastructure, end-terminal devices, mobile access, subscriber features, collaborative planning tools, HF LAN integration and adding a NATO PfP workshop which included various classes and demonstrations.

Joint Interoperability Test Command was responsible for documenting the thousands of test results. These results are stored on CD-ROM in web-browser format and called The CE/NATO Interoperability Guide. The guide is intended to be useful to both CIS planner and equipment operator. Not only can planners quickly determine if one country’s switchboard is compatible with another, but equipment operators are also given tools they can use to quickly and easily replicate one of CE’s successful tests (one held supporting a combined operation such as Bosnia or Kosovo, for instance). The guide’s details include:

Test diagrams with "drill down" capability to display digital photographs of each piece of equipment used in the interoperability test;
Flow diagrams;
Database settings;
Card populations;
Dip-switch settings;
Pin-outs of fabricated cables; and
Electronic mail and telephone numbers of those involved with each test from the various nations.

Combined Endeavor test results CE 2000 overall testing status (minus 3,120 information-system tests).

CE’s benefits are many. The exercise allows countries to come together in a stress-free environment to test, verify, fix and document CIS interoperability prior to operational deployments. It produces an invaluable interoperability guide that can be used by planners and operators. It allows countries to explore network-management issues of multinational networks. CE builds experience and knowledge in CIS planning. It assists countries in determining their selections and priorities for future procurements and, most of all, it affords us the opportunity to foster close personal relationships with our communicator counterparts from other countries.

People need to realize CE alone can’t solve everyone’s interoperability problems. They need to understand that interoperability should be a continuous and progressive process. It must first begin with each nation’s individual test labs. Those results then need to be shared and implemented into something similar to a Combined Endeavor. Interoperability then needs to be proven in communication exercises as well as field exercises before ever being implemented in actual operations.

Along each of these five steps to interoperability success, detailed documentation needs to take place and be shared with each of the national Signal communities. As a nation, we can no longer afford to solely provide to others our unique tactical communications systems manned by our soldiers for prolonged periods of time each time we deploy on an operation. We don’t possess the luxury of unlimited time, people, money and materiel, so we must leverage others’ capabilities and share the communications burden.

Other countries are more than willing to take on this responsibility. In some cases, European countries’ tactical technology far exceeds our own. Several countries have already begun fielding tactical asynchronous-transfer-mode switches within their military services. Many others possess digital switches capable of interfacing with Integrated Services Digital Network, International Communications Union, Eurocom and Standard NATO Agreement 5040 as well as 4206 standards. Most of them are using the latest Cisco routers in their LANs, and a few have even been testing digital tactical cell phones.

Most European countries realize the need to leverage each other’s strengths. To highlight this, more than a dozen European and NATO Signal academies are teaching the need for interoperability as well as the use of The CE/NATO Interoperability Guide as part of their core curriculum. They’re using CE’s test results in many current and planned exercises and real-world operations. They’re even using many of the results to influence their manufacturers to make required changes to their hardware and software so they can be fully interoperable with their neighbors in the near future.

The United States must also pick up the torch of interoperability and fully support this concept, which has already been realized by our European communications brethren. This will, however, require a paradigm shift in the minds of our soldiers, planners, teachers, leaders and, of course, our acquisition corps. We in the United States must embrace this concept as aggressively as our allies do.

Some in the U.S. Signal community have already begun this long journey towards achieving interoperability. Within the last few months, the Signal Center at Fort Gordon, Ga., has begun to incorporate the teaching and use of The CE/NATO Interoperability Guide as part of the training in both the warrant-officer and Signal-officer advanced courses.

CE test results are being shared directly with planners and operators in several real-world combined and joint operations. As a result of 1999’s exercise, EUCOM highlighted the requirement for a tactical European ISDN interface between U.S. tactical switchboards and European countries’ switchboards. NATO’s CIS Agency promptly built an interface for its strategic-to-tactical interface prototype. This year during CE we successfully tested the new triservice-tactical/mobile-subscriber-equipment interface card.

Those who participate in Combined Endeavor realize CE is more than just a technical exercise. It’s an opportunity for more than 700 Signal soldiers from 35 countries with varying backgrounds, religious beliefs, cultures and languages to come together and teach one another, learn from one another and share philosophies and technological solutions with each another. Also, it allows us to begin the process of breaking down the barriers between our countries and overcoming some of the stereotypes that may exist between our militaries.

CPT Luka Senicar, Slovenian Army, during Combined Endeavor 2000 CPT Luka Senicar of the Slovenian army sets up the TAS-300 switch before the day's communications testing at CE 2000, Lager Aulenbach, Germany.
LTC Jan Jach, Team Poland, and Americans during CE 2000 LTC Jan Jach, left, of Team Poland discusses a plan to build connections for the network videoteleconferencing system with Mike Poindexter, right, of the U.S. Joint Interoperability Test Command and 122d Signal Battalion's SGT Craig Tolliver during the exercise's Phase II.
7th Signal Brigade setup in Combined Endeavor 2000 7th Signal Brigade communications specialists set up equipment to support CE 2000.
Finnish officers set up YV12 tactical system CPT Jari Viuho, right, and LTC Esa Salminen, delegation chief for the Finland team, help piece together a YVI2 tactical system during CE 2000's setup portion.
Polish officer, Canadian NCO work through communications failure Master Corporal J. Tremblay (foreground), a LAN, communications and information technician in the Canadian army, assists LT Radoslaw Urycki, Polish platoon commander, in working through a connections failure during a communications test.
JITC representative train foreign officers on CE 2000 equipment Interoperability contractor Larry Stewart -- deployed from Fort Huachuca, Ariz., as part of JITC -- trains German and Slovakian data collectors on the equipment they will be using during the LAN/WAN testing phase of CE 2000.

As a result of CE we, as 35 separate nations, have come to realize the future success of each of our respective countries’ communications communities depends largely on our ability to leverage each other’s strengths and learn from each other. We can no longer expect to do it all on our own. Once we identify the solutions to interoperability, we must document them, share them, teach them and practice them before we ever try to implement them in real-world operations. If we can institutionalize this as doctrine and put it into practice, we’ll be guaranteed success as we move forward into this exciting and technologically challenging millennium.

Interoperability process Interoperability process and Combined Endeavor.

LTC Stimeare, while assigned as EUCOM’s branch chief for combined operations and exercises, served as exercise director for CE 2000 and technical director for CE 1999. He currently commands 509th Signal Battalion, which supports Southern European Task Force in Vicenza, Italy. Previous assignments include battalion and brigade Signal officer, tactical Signal company commander, systems engineer with GTE as part of the Training with Industry program, instructor and course director at Fort Gordon, battalion S-3 (twice), battalion executive officer, chief of the Army Signal Command’s Army Network and Systems Operations Center, as well as ASC’s secretary of the general staff.

Acronym QuickScan
ASC – Army Signal Command
C4 – command, control, communications and computers
CD-ROM – compact disc read-only memory
CE – (Exercise) Combined Endeavor
CIS – communications and information systems
EUCOM – (U.S.) European Command
HF – high frequency
ISDN – Integrated Services Digital Network
JITC -- Joint Interoperability Test Command
LAN – local-area network
NATO – North Atlantic Treaty Organization
PfP – Partnership for Peace

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