"Communication is the essence of C4I," said Information Specialist 1st Class (SW) Anthony D. Pierce, referring to command, control, communications, computers and intelligence.
It is also the keystone of an all-encompassing nerve center aboard USS Essex (LHD 2), which Pierce helped set up for Talisman Saber 2007, the combined military exercise held between the United States and Australia.
Voice, data and video can all be transmitted from the sea-going platform using technologies once unheard of and once thought impossible to use, that now allow operational commanders the ability to almost literally reach out and touch their assets.
A suite of technologies — e-mail, military instant messaging and voice-over-Internet Protocol — are being implemented and are helping make Talisman Saber 2007 a success, say senior naval leaders from the United States and Australia.
"We've flattened the information grid," said Cmdr. Cedric Pringle, Expeditionary Strike Group 7 deputy chief of staff. "Appropriate info can flow up and down the chain much quicker than ever before. For this exercise, we're using those tools in a combined setting, so that our Australian allies have the same access to that information flow as we do."
Commander Australian Amphibious Task Group (COMAUSATG) staff members embarked aboard Essex to facilitate integration elements with the Royal Australian Navy ships involved. The Australian counterparts, working to engage Australian naval assets from a flag plot space on Essex, are grateful to have integrating technologies at their fingertips.
"It gives us a direct connection to our ships, so that we can get the feedback we need in order to put out key information or maneuvering directives through official channels," said Lt. Cmdr. Scott Walker, operations officer for COMAUSATG. "We're able to use these systems to achieve very quick response from our other sea counterparts, even though we are miles and miles away from each other."
TS07 involves 32,000 military members from both nations and features crisis action planning and execution of contingency response operations in land, sea and air maneuvers.
For the Essex Expeditionary Strike Group command and control element, the exercise involves a combined strike group of 13 ships, plus a number of Marine elements under embarked 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit and soldiers from the Australian Army.
Talisman Saber 2007 began in May with a computer-simulated command post exercise. The exercise is currently in the force integration training (FIT) phase, which will lead up to the official start of the field training exercise, in which the combined force will land units ashore.
The FIT phase featured continuous planning, understanding and developing relationships. The impact is seen as U.S. and Australian forces work side by side, using systems that allow them to work in tandem.
"Having a combined communication system really facilitates ally integration," said Lt. Bernie Billingsley, CTF 76 intelligence operations officer. "It smooths out the processes and expedites planning and operations."
One of the strongest keys to making this interoperability a success is the Combined Enterprise Regional Information Exchange System. With CENTRIXS, allies are able to share information through a secure network system. Rather than rely on static documents created before an exercise, members of both forces can view updates and changes as they happenand adjust movements accordingly.
In this way, combined forces remain on the same page at all times, and then are able to direct ships and units with that information using technologies, like e-mail and chat.
With a complex array of tasking ahead to reach mission accomplishment, senior leaders know that communication is the most vital component to mission success.
For Rear Adm. Carol M. Pottenger, commander, Expeditionary Strike Group 7/Task Force 76, and the exercise's deputy commander, Combined Force Maritime Component Command, her evening "fireside chats," previously conducted over ship-to-ship phones, are now made possible through a special Navy Internet-based chat room, where she can provide guidance to commanding officers in the strike group.
"We are very fortunate to have this type of integrative technology accessible to us … all of the credit goes to the communications Sailors that work to ensure we have C4I up and running," Pottenger said.
"Though the technology has greatly bridged the gap in certain areas, I still am very much encouraged that our two forces continue to build relations face-to-face whenever possible. There is no substitute for working issues side by side, arriving at common solutions with such a close friend and ally."
For more information on CTF 76, visit www.ctf76.navy.mil.