USA — ‘Empire Challenge’ Promotes Intelligence Sharing

WASHINGTON, Aug. 9, 2010 — A demon­stra­tion project under way at 20 sites in the Unit­ed States and over­seas is help­ing to break down tech­no­log­i­cal bar­ri­ers to pro­mote more inter­op­er­abil­i­ty and bet­ter intel­li­gence, sur­veil­lance and recon­nais­sance data shar­ing among coali­tion part­ners in Afghanistan.

U.S. Joint Forces Command’s Empire Chal­lenge 2010 kicked off two weeks ago and con­tin­ues through Aug. 13, bring­ing togeth­er about 2,000 par­tic­i­pants world­wide in a live, joint and coali­tion ISR inter­op­er­abil­i­ty demon­stra­tion, Air Force Col. George J. “Skip” Krakie told reporters today.

The annu­al exer­cise show­cas­es emerg­ing tech­nolo­gies and pro­vides lessons learned to improve intel­li­gence col­lec­tion and analy­sis and test bet­ter ways to get it out to warfight­ers who need it.

This year’s demon­stra­tion, based on short­falls iden­ti­fied by warfight­ers them­selves, is focused on improv­ing multi­na­tion­al inter­op­er­abil­i­ty and data shar­ing, explained Krakie, chief of Joint Forces Command’s ISR inte­gra­tion divi­sion.

“How do we move data from a U.S.-only net­work to a multi­na­tion­al net­work that includes 43 nations par­tic­i­pat­ing in [the Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force]?” he said. “That was the prob­lem that we were giv­en.”

A sec­ond chal­lenge was to come up with bet­ter ways to get ISR to “the tac­ti­cal edge,” the warfight­er who may have lit­tle more than a radio or lap­top to receive it. “How do we get that ISR data he needs to exe­cute his mis­sion down to him in the field?” Krakie said.

Par­tic­i­pants from the Unit­ed States, Aus­tralia, Cana­da, the Unit­ed King­dom and NATO, as well as observers from New Zealand and Den­mark, are work­ing togeth­er on those chal­lenges dur­ing Empire Chal­lenge.

About 900 of them are on the ground at Fort Huachu­ca, Ariz., oper­at­ing among moun­tains, canyons and veg­e­ta­tion that close­ly resem­ble con­di­tions in Afghanistan. As they con­duct sce­nar­ios based on case stud­ies direct­ly out of Afghanistan, they’re sup­port­ed by a broad range of ground and air­borne intel­li­gence-gath­er­ing plat­forms.

Some already are in use in Afghanistan, and some are about to be field­ed. Among them are U-2 high-alti­tude recon­nais­sance air­craft, Scan Eagle unmanned air­craft sys­tems, RQ-4 Glob­al Hawk unmanned aer­i­al vehi­cles, Con­stant Hawk wide-area per­sis­tent sur­veil­lance sys­tem air­craft; EC-130H Com­pass Call air­borne tac­ti­cal weapon sys­tems, E8 Joint Sur­veil­lance Tar­get Attack Radar Sys­tems and a NATO Air­borne Warn­ing and Con­trol Sys­tem air­craft.

In addi­tion, the Cana­di­an and British par­tic­i­pants are con­tribut­ing some of their own ground and air­borne plat­forms to the demon­stra­tion.

But Fort Huachu­ca is just the live oper­a­tions part of Empire Chal­lenge.

Com­put­er mod­el­ing and sim­u­la­tion and analy­sis is under way at Joint Forces Command’s Joint Intel­li­gence Lab in Suf­folk, Va.; the Com­bined Air Oper­a­tions Cen­ter-Exper­i­men­tal at Lan­g­ley Air Force Base, Va.; each service’s dis­trib­uted com­mon ground or sur­face sys­tem lab­o­ra­to­ries; coali­tion sites in Aus­tralia, Cana­da and the Unit­ed King­dom; and the NATO Con­sul­ta­tion, Com­mand and Con­trol Agency in The Hague, Nether­lands.

Intel­li­gence col­lect­ed at Fort Huachu­ca or gen­er­at­ed through com­put­er mod­el­ing and sim­u­la­tion is fed to ana­lysts at par­tic­i­pat­ing sites, who turn it around as quick­ly as pos­si­ble.

“We have worked hard to repli­cate the envi­ron­ment and the net­work and com­mand-and-con­trol archi­tec­ture of Afghanistan,” Krakie said, with most of the demon­stra­tion focused on ISR chal­lenges at the region­al com­mand lev­el and below.

“We make sure that the capa­bil­i­ty that belongs to the Marine Corps can talk to the Army sys­tems, and that the Army sys­tem can talk to the UK sys­tem, and that the UK sys­tem can talk to the Cana­di­an sys­tem,” Krakie said. “We work those inter­op­er­abil­i­ty issues.”

The goal, he said, is to work through prob­lems with data-shar­ing “here in Ari­zona rather than try­ing to solve it in Kan­da­har,” Afghanistan.

With sev­er­al days until the demonstration’s com­ple­tion, Krakie report­ed sev­er­al promis­ing devel­op­ments. A NATO AWACS air­craft suc­cess­ful­ly took con­trol of the unmanned Scan Eagle, fly­ing and eceiv­ing data from it dur­ing the demon­stra­tion. Krakie also report­ed strides in push­ing out data gath­ered by wide-area sur­veil­lance sen­sors such as the Con­stant Hawk and in pass­ing U.S.-generated video to Cana­di­an and British par­tic­i­pants.

In addi­tion, the demon­stra­tion helped to resolve chal­lenges in inte­grat­ing data col­lect­ed from an aero­stat into the Unit­ed Kingdom’s new suite of sen­sors and com­mand-and-con­trol capa­bil­i­ties, the Cortez, he said. And in an effort aimed at reduc­ing frat­ri­cide, Cana­di­an ground forces improved their abil­i­ty to pass their exact posi­tions to pilots called in to pro­vide close-air sup­port.

While report­ing good progress in improv­ing inter­op­er­abil­i­ty, Krakie said chal­lenges con­tin­ue. “There is still work to be done, and every new sen­sor that comes down the line needs to be checked for inter­op­er­abil­i­ty,” he said.

He said Empire Chal­lenge pro­vides an oppor­tu­ni­ty to iden­ti­fy and fix any inter­op­er­abil­i­ty issues before warfight­ers have to. “Those are the kinds of things you want to do in Ari­zona, and not in Afghanistan,” he said.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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