The COVID-19 pandemic did not stop the NATO’s Coalition Warrior Interoperability eXercise (CWIX), rather, planners used the pandemic to strategic advantage using a medical crisis as a component of the exercise.
CWIX took place from June 8 to 26 consisting of participants spread from San Diego on the West Coast of the United States to Ankara, Turkey. “Military and civilian experts from 22 nations tested and improved interoperability between 144 deployable command and control capabilities from 60 different test sites across 10 different time zones. The purpose of the tests was to ensure that Alliance nations, partner nations and other organizations’ military capabilities can work seamlessly together, ‘acting as One’ when called upon,” according to a release from NATO’s Allied Command Transformation.
Through CWIX, the exchange of vital information between potential mission partners is tested and confirmed before deployment, ACT said. This verified interoperabilty is fundamental to mission success and contributes to NATO’s military readiness and effectiveness from the start of every NATO mission or operation.
CWIX, NATO’s largest interoperability event, usually takes place at the Joint Force Training Centre in Bydgoszcz, Poland. The COVID-19 pandemic made this impossible and led to an entirely distributed event. What appeared initially to be straightforward became more challenging as nations had to innovate and adapt to new ways of working and to realign people, processes and technologies to make this event a success.
In sum, capabilities tested during the exercise included:
- Medical: Testing the Interoperability between different nations’ medical capabilities to improve the standardized, quick, reliable and secure exchange of electronic health records and patient data from the point of injury to the home nation and, conduct testing of disease monitoring functionality.
-Data Farming: Demonstrations and several tests of Data Farming Services to show the potential of this capability. Data Farming Services will allow commanders to reach back to a distributed network of powerful computers and state-of-the-art simulation services to generate enhanced planning and decision-making.
-The NATO Core Data Framework (NCDF): Improving the Common Operational Picture; Enabling NATO Commanders by overcoming the challenges of multiple system, information formats and data exchange.
Given the impact of a global pandemic, one focus for this year’s CWIX was interoperability between different nations’ medical capabilities. Experts tested the exchange of electronic health records, improved the tracking of patients’ data from the point of injury back to the home nation, including entry into civilian medical facilities.
Further testing included monitoring the spread of disease. As a result, lives can be saved because medical data from the point of injury will be transferred quickly, reliably and securely to a more specialized medical facility using standardized message formats that can be adopted by NATO nations. Thus, military commanders will have improved situational awareness about the health of their forces, enabling them to respond quickly and effectively to a variety of medical scenarios.
A demonstration and several tests of ‘Data Farming Services’ showed the potential for military application, ACT explained. “Data Farming Services allow commanders to reach back to a distributed network of powerful computers to generate courses of action for enhanced planning and decision-making. Before generating the course of action, operators and planners, assisted by subject matter experts, can enter different factors and variables that might affect the outcome. By reaching back to a network of supercomputers, and by using state-of-the-art simulation services, factors and variables can be analysed instantaneously to narrow down options and speed up decision-making.”
“It is like playing chess against a million opponents. A computer analyses each move of every game with the aim to identify the best opening strategy,” said Lieutenant Oliver Bornschlegl from the German Bundeswehr Office for Defence Planning in Taufkirchen, Germany.
The kind of decision support provided by Data Farming Services to military commanders will be essential in tomorrow’s high-tech conflicts, ACT said.
At CWIX, experts also test capabilities that enable effective communications and the seamless exchange of operational data between multiple providers. The NATO Core Data Framework is an example of a capability that will evolve.
Currently, decision makers are constrained because deployed capabilities cannot always exchange data, leading to multiple interpretations of the same data. Until everyone contributes their information in an agreed and consistent format using agreed models to generate a common picture and allow consistent analysis, the ability of our commanders to plan and make accurate decisions will be constrained, ACT advised.
To this end, the NATO Core Data Framework provides a way to control, protect and share information by cutting across communities of interest and data stovepipes. It enables NATO commanders to reliably and securely exchange and analyse information from multiple communities of interest across all security domains. This once again enhances commanders’ common operational picture and helps them to make timely and informed decisions.
“Interoperability is wicked hard, but is foundational to everything we do. Our challenge is that we have 30 different versions of what interoperability looks like. CWIX with its ‘test, fail, fix and test again’ approach has the potential to make the sum of all NATO nations and partners greater than the sum of their individual parts… but only if we act on what we learn. We must use opportunities such as CWIX to determine what right looks like… right now,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas Sharpy, NATO ACT’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Capability Development during the virtual VIP Day at CWIX.
With the end of this CWIX, the new cycle of CWIX 2021 is just around the corner. The next iteration of CWIX will build upon the experience gained and offer nations even more opportunities to improve interoperability between their command and control capabilities.
Allied Command Transformation’s mission is to contribute to preserving the peace, security and territorial integrity of Alliance member states by leading the warfare development of military structures, forces, capabilities and doctrines. The mission must enable NATO to meet its level of ambition and core missions.
From its inception in 2003, Allied Command Transformation demonstrated the importance placed by NATO Nations on the roles of transformation and development as continuous and essential drivers for change – drivers of change that will ensure the relevance of the Alliance in a rapidly evolving and complex global security environment.
Allied Command Transformation is organized around four principal functions: strategic thinking; capabilities development; education, training and exercises; and, cooperation and engagement.
These functions are reflected in the composition of Allied Command Transformation, which is headquartered in Norfolk, Virginia, and three subordinate entities in Norway (Joint Warfare Centre), in Poland (Joint Force Training Centre) and in Portugal (Joint Analysis & Lessons Learned Centre).