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CHIPS Articles: In a Coalition of the “Willing” — BQ 15.2 delivers on its promise of better multinational interoperability

In a Coalition of the “Willing” — BQ 15.2 delivers on its promise of better multinational interoperability
By Sharon Anderson - October-December 2015
Bold Quest 15.2 is the largest and most complex in its 12-year history of exercises, said John Miller, Joint Staff J6, Bold Quest operational manager.

“It’s the most challenging, but most rewarding event,” Miller said in a phone call with reporters Oct. 3.

Bold Quest is a joint service and multinational exercise and assessment in which nations, the U.S services and programs pool their resources in a recurring cycle of collaborative capability development, demonstration and analysis. The overarching aim is to improve interoperability and information sharing across a range of capabilities that enable coalition warfighters to identify and engage their targets quickly and effectively.

The focal points in each Bold Quest cycle are the operational demonstrations in which warfighters, capability developers and test agencies unite for operations representative of coalition warfare across air, ground and maritime domains.

Past exercises have focused more narrowly on operational needs in Iraq and Afghanistan, such as friendly force tracking and close air support, Miller explained. But Bold Quest continues to evolve, he said. While still focusing on the joint services and partner nation urgent security requirements, capability assessments have broadened to include scenarios reflective of anticipated future operations, such as the Joint Forcible Entry Operation (JFEO), providing the context for the alignment of Bold Quest with the U.S. Army’s Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) 16.1.

Recent and emerging areas of interest include cyber-effects at the tactical level and coalition intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), and fires integration.

Multinational engagement in the Bold Quest process continues to grow, with 13 nations now partnered in the Bold Quest coalition committing their own resources; up from the original five in 2003. For Bold Quest 15.2, France, Germany and Norway are providing aviation assets, along with the other nations, who are providing representative ground elements including a sizable complement of Joint Terminal Attack Controllers.

Bold Quest 15.2 participants are assessing capabilities associated with Digitally Aided Close Air Support, Coalition ISR, Friendly Force Tracking, Ground-to-Air Situational Awareness, Joint Fires Support Joint Mission Thread, Integrated Air and Missile Defense and the Live/Virtual Capability Development Environment.

This year, at the suggestion of Norway, BQ 15.2 tests joint and coalition digital interoperability end-to-end Call For Fire testing from the Joint Fires Observer/Joint Terminal Attack Controller to Combined Joint Task Force (JFO/JTAC to CJTF), according to Miller.

With well over 1,400 U.S. and partner nation participants, Bold Quest 15.2 ranks as one of the largest capability demonstrations in the 12-year history of the series, and 15 previous demonstrations.

The pivotal points in each Bold Quest cycle are the operational demonstrations, normally two per fiscal year, in which warfighters, capability developers and test agencies gather for two to three weeks of data collection in an operational context with scenarios and vignettes representative of coalition warfare.

Miller explained planners are always in the business of executing one Bold Quest with a concept developmental eye on the next.

The primary forces are live, augmented by constructive and virtual simulation as appropriate. Generally, U.S. and partner nation participants fund their own technical and deployment costs in line with their own objectives, while the Joint Staff’s resources (money, people, facilities, systems) are focused on event support such as distributed network operations and installation support.

As the overall operational sponsor, the Joint Staff J6 role is to set the conditions for success, to advance the Joint Information Environment and achieve the goals of Joint Force 2020.

This Coalition Capability Demonstration and Assessment series — more commonly known as "Bold Quest" — is being held September through October at Fort Bliss, Texas, and nearby Holloman Air Force Base, the massive White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, and other locations around the world. Military, civilian, government and contractor personnel are deployed on-site, supported by hundreds of other personnel at distributed sites.

Equipment deployed with the demonstration force includes ground vehicles, wheeled or tracked, fixed wing, rotary wing and unmanned aviation; and facilities and systems associated with command and control (C2) elements and response cells.

The U.S. Army is aligned for the second time with its Network Integration Evaluation; the Joint Staff J6 designed and implemented an Episodic Mission Partner Environment instantiation called the Bold Quest Mission Network that provides the common network architecture for integrating BQ and NIE operations.

“When the Norwegians initiated the concept, we worked with NATO, Canada and Norway to share international information in the Mission Partner Environment, integrating BQ with NIE to put intelligence collection systems on networks and share metadata,” said U.S. Marine Master Sgt. Robert Sousa.

The U.S. Navy is flying sorties with the EA-18G Growler Airborne Electronic Attack Aircraft and F/A-18 Hornet strike fighter in support of Bold Quest, Miller said. In addition, U.S. Navy individual augmentees to the Joint Staff team provided critical expertise in Air Operations and Tactical Data Link Management functions.

This exercise, features the first Bold Quest deployments of French Air Force Rafale fighters and Norwegian artillery among other ground and aviation elements, representing 13 partner nations in the event. The introduction of U.S. and partner nation sponsors' ISR initiatives are linked to joint and coalition fires.

In addition to these precedents, participants will build upon their previous Bold Quest achievements in: Joint Coalition Fires; Integrated Air and Missile Defense; Digitally-Aided Close Air Support; Friendly Force Tracking; Live/Virtual Environment.

The Mission Partner Environment serves as the common network that allowed the coalition to federate core services that included email with Global Address Listing synchronization, chat, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), and web services, explained U.S. Army Maj. Jillian Klug, the Bold Quest CJTF C6. Each of the five Network Contributing Mission Partners, Norway, Denmark, France, Great Britain, and the United States, represented by the 1st Armor Division, brought their own networks and core services. Using common protocols allowed us to achieve successful interoperability to ensure maximum operational interoperability between the participants, she said.

Using the Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP), a common communications protocol for chat programs, the coalition partners were able to federate chat as a core service within the Bold Quest Mission Network, Klug explained.

"The Bold Quest Mission Network was built using Department of Defense Joining Membership and Exit instructions which provided the technical baseline for establishing an episodic mission partner environment. “We also focused on maintaining congruence with NATO’s Future Mission Networking which served as one of our reference models when building the MPE. These served as the guiding documents to develop concepts for the network,” Klug said.

Lt. Col. Bjorn Nilssen, Norway’s lead for the exercise, agreed that communications went smoothly using the standard protocols.

Lt. Col. Laurent Pourtalet, France’s lead for BQ 15.2 said, “Connectivity was one of the major things to assess. We’re very pleased with the course initiatives and other data to go through. We’re very happy to work here with the other nations … We had a lot of good results on connectivity overall for France.”

Sharon Anderson is the CHIPS senior editor, she can be reached at chips@navy.mil

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