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CHIPS Articles: Tackling one of the most critical and challenging questions on the battlefield

Tackling one of the most critical and challenging questions on the battlefield
BQ+ tests coalition combat identification and air-to-ground targeting technology
By Sharon Anderson - October-December 2008
Eglin Air Force Base in Florida hosted an advanced concept technology demonstration (ACTD) that tested and refined tactics, techniques and procedures using a variety of air-to-ground combat identification technologies designed to improve U.S. and coalition combat effectiveness and reduce the potential for battlefield fratricide.

More than 600 participants came together in the event, called Bold Quest Plus, which included units from the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, and coalition partners from Canada and the United Kingdom.

U.S. military units participating in this exercise included: the Air Force's 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron, Nellis Air Force Base, Nev.; 682nd Air Support Operations Squadron, Shaw Air Force Base in S.C.; 720th Special Tactics Group, Hurlburt Field; 16th Special Operations Wing, Hurlburt Field; Navy Strike Fighter Squadron 14, Le Moore, Calif.; Marine Corps Air Development Squadron 31, China Lake, Calif.; and the Marine Corps Systems Command Target Location Designation Handoff Team, Quantico, Va.

U.S. Joint Forces Command sponsored the two-week exercise in July with the help of its Joint Fires Integration and Interoperability Team (JFIIT) and the 46th Test Wing.

BQ+ builds upon work done during last September's Bold Quest, according to John Miller, who is USJFCOM's Bold Quest Plus operational manager.

"We have had 10 nations over the last few years enter the ACTD and actively participate with forces and technologies."

Miller said the nations that have been active in the ACTD are already developing concepts. The continued interest and participation of these nations are good indications of the value of past interoperability work in these USJFCOM-sponsored events. "Quest" events began in 2001.

Coalition Participation

Essentially, U.S. and coalition nations are focused on combat identification issues for ground target engagement by coalition aircraft — especially those tools developed for aircrew and ground controllers to enable them to coordinate attacks or drop bombs on targets more quickly and effectively than they can today.

Coalition partners included the Canadian Director General Land Equipment/Director Armoured Vehicle Program Management; the 425th Squadron, Quebec, Canada; and the British Forward Air Control Team, United Kingdom.

The coalition combat identification (CCID) technologies tested during the ACTD included the Battlefield Target Identification Device (BTID), CID server, Tactical Air Control Party Close Air Support System, Target Location Designation Handoff System, Air Support Operations Center Gateway, Battlefield Air Operations Kit and the BTID-equipped Forward Air Controller (BeFAC).

"These systems and techniques enable aircrews and forward air controllers on the ground to ensure that they have identified the same target, and they are attacking the right target," Miller said.

This is no small feat when you consider the complex nature of combat, said Canadian Forces Lt. Cmdr. Randy Mifflin, who represented the Chief of Force Development, the sponsor for the Canadian Forces participating in BQ+.

"This is especially true in the context of ongoing joint and combined 'ops' in places such as Afghanistan, where coalition forces of differing capabilities and methods of operation are coming face-to-face with high-speed, high-tech warfare in a continuously changing and uncertain environment," Mifflin said.

"Such an environment demands fast and accurate means to discriminate between enemies, friends and neutrals to enable timely, effective and safe deployment of our weapons systems."

Under the leadership of the Chief of Force Development, Canadian Forces is working to enhance its capabilities with better training, better doctrine and improvements to the technology assisting in combat identification, according to Mifflin.

"Canada understands that it cannot achieve this goal in isolation. Coordination and interoperability with our allies and coalition partners is essential for feasible solutions. Canadian Forces has been participating in the Quest series of demonstrations investigating combat identification technology led by U.S. Joint Forces Command through the Coalition Combat Identification ACTD since 2005 to gain information and experience and build our knowledge base to reduce the risk associated with investment decisions," he said.

This year Canada's focus is on investigating the cooperative Battlefield Target Identification Device or BTID. The device uses millimeter wave technology as defined by a NATO interoperability standard to create secure ad hoc networks in near-real time with positional location information.

The ground CID picture for BQ+ was generated by BTID. BTID is a vehicle-mounted transmitter/receiver that sends a millimeter wave via a low probability of intercept/low probability of detection signal back and forth from an air or ground platform to identify a target.

"We are examining the potential of this technology to be integrated with clearance of fire decisions in ground-to-ground and air-to-ground scenarios. To achieve this, we integrated the BTID technology in a digitized BTID-equipped forward air controller application, a future BTID Transponder Airborne Platform Surveillance System (BTAPSS) application, a BTID cruiser weapons system application, as well as our land forces command and control system," Mifflin said.

Integration with the command and control system also facilitates exploring the potential of the BTID to enhance situational awareness for the land decision maker and to provide additional capacity for coalition interoperable secure voice and data communications.

Air Force Support

The 46th Test Wing is the Air Force's Test and Evaluation Center for air-delivered weapons, navigation and guidance systems, and control systems, said Air Force Maj. Keith Roessig, the assistant operations officer from the 46th Test Squadron.

Within the 46th TW, the 46th Range Group supplied coalition range escorts, aircraft instrumentation pods, vehicle instrumentation and drivers, and range infrastructure support for Bold Quest Plus. Network architecture design, system integration and the operations center were provided by the 46th Test Squadron.

The Datalinks Test Facility and Air Operations Center (AOC) lab at Eglin, both part of the 46th Test Squadron Command and Control Test Facility (C2TF), supported the multi-tactical datalink and C2 environment. These unique facilities enable the creation, instrumentation, and analysis of networks required for detailed message traffic and performance data.

"Santa Rosa Island range includes the Santa Rosa Tower, a 300-foot tower, a free-standing tower, overlooking the water ranges and the Gulf to the south, and Eglin land ranges to the north. The tower contains an extensive interoperative network and is used to integrate the BeFAC system into the Eglin Bold Quest network. Range C52 is being used in support of the 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron digital data link and JFCOM's digitally aided close air support objectives," Roessig said.

The 46th Test Squadron's robust infrastructure for BQ+ included eight command and control labs equipped with more than 200 workstations with servers running at multiple security levels representing a complete range of C2 systems and network configurations.

The combination of range and C2 infrastructure within the 46th Test Wing, which traditionally is applied to developmental test objectives, was adapted to support BQ+ to generate test quality data in an operational venue, according to Roessig.

Test control data collection and analysis were conducted from the AOC lab. The lab is configured with 90 workstations for data collection and mission observation. The AOC can host multiple networks including SIPRNET and NIPRNET.

"The AOC lab accommodates over 154 servers and three full suites of systems software to simultaneously conduct theater level operations for current test events with minimal reconfiguration yet providing connectivity over multiple operational and test IP networks for distributed testing at other Air Force and joint test sites," Roessig said.

"They have automated this performance monitoring tool that is custom designed and used for data collection to assess and evaluate applications, systems, servers and networks. Multiple tools can be used to generate the common operating picture with the systems used by the various services and coalition partners," Roessig added.

According to Miller, 15 fixed-wing aircraft participated in BQ+, including Harriers, F-18s, F-16s, F-15s and helicopters.

BTID transmitted ground pictures between platforms via the BTAPSS through to the CID server, which then pumped data up to aircraft via Link 16 or the Enhanced Position Location Reporting System (EPLRS)-based Situational Awareness Data Link.

"The goal is providing that link. That partnership between BTAPSS and the CID server gets that ground picture, that key data back into the cockpit for the pilot, the shooter. That is one route," said Canadian Army Capt. Erik Esselaar, the execution lead for the Canadian Forces that participated in BQ+.

"The second route we are working with is the BTID-equipped Forward Air Controller, BeFAC. That system is in addition to a Close Air Support System, the DACAS (Digitally Aided Close Air Support), that we are evaluating within our ranges as well. The Forward Air Controller can see the various targets and will 'lase' with the laser range finder, see where the closest friendly is through his radio system, and pass it up to the pilot," Esselaar said.

Canadian Army Maj. Michael Groh, a technical lead at BQ+, said that there are two visions for the BTAPSS to monitor the battlefield: installation on a surveillance-type aircraft, a P3 Joint Surveillance and Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS), or an unmanned aerial vehicle.

"We are working with industry to put BTID's transponder antennas in fighter aircraft on a pod so they can do a direct interrogation of the area and not rely on the combat network," Groh said.

Ultimately, the goal of the ACTD is to eliminate friendly fire casualties and equipment losses and enhance situational awareness. An effective CCID will positively identify friendly and hostile forces, neutrals and noncombatants on the modern battlefield.

This article was compiled from a live interview and articles posted on the USJFCOM (www.jfcom.mil) and Air Force Link (www.af.mil) Web sites.

A Battlefield Airman Targeting Micro Air Vehicle is recovered July 25 after it successfully lands during exercise Bold Quest Plus at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.  U.S. Air Force photo by Casey Bain.
A Battlefield Airman Targeting Micro Air Vehicle is recovered July 25 after it successfully lands during exercise Bold Quest Plus at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. U.S. Air Force photo by Casey Bain.

Bold Quest Plus, the Coalition Combat Identification (CCID) advanced concept technology demonstration (ACTD), will exercise a variety of technologies like the Air Support Operations Center (ASOC) Gateway pictured here in a Humvee at Eglin Air Force Base.  U.S. Air Force photo by Casey Bain of the JFIIT, a subordinate, function command of USJFCOM, tasked with improving the effectiveness of joint fires.
Bold Quest Plus, the Coalition Combat Identification (CCID) advanced concept technology demonstration (ACTD), will exercise a variety of technologies like the Air Support Operations Center (ASOC) Gateway pictured here in a Humvee at Eglin Air Force Base. U.S. Air Force photo by Casey Bain of the JFIIT, a subordinate, function command of USJFCOM, tasked with improving the effectiveness of joint fires.
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