Regardless if military communication specialists are participating in their 14th Combined Endeavor communications interoperability exercise or their very first, their achievements, simple or complex, are crucial for the continued development of the craft of military communications for their nations and coalitions.
"When nations come to Combined Endeavor, they bring their best and brightest communicators," said U.S. Army Lt. Col. James Pugh, CE 08 exercise director. "We bring together people in a secure, low pressure environment to work out serious technical challenges. The reason we do this is no nation deploys anywhere in the world as a single entity. There's always a partner nation there."
During the past 14 years, thousands of military communicators from more than 40 nations honed their skills at CE. They used what they learned at CE to update, and in some cases, completely modernize their nations' military communications systems. Each nation can point to success stories of innovative high-tech ideas and multinational cooperation they share with one another and with communication specialists back in their homelands.
"Operations have forced us as communicators to come together and learn how to bring each nation's organic assets to the mission so we can rapidly build communication networks that provide the command and control the leadership requires," Pugh said.
Helping warfighters communicate with each other during operations is the core mission of the military communicator. Blue Force Tracking (BFT) technology, which enables commanders to see the exact location of friendly forces miles away from the action in the command center, is at the forefront of battlefield operations. This year, the Norwegian and Finnish delegations were among those testing the interoperability of their BFT systems here.
"This is the first time we have Blue Force Tracking at Combined Endeavor," said Norwegian army Maj. Steinar Svalstad, Norway's delegation chief. "This is the system we use in Afghanistan daily. We have to make sure we can exchange data with other countries."
The Finnish team is tracking its 25 members all over Lager Aulenbach military compound using Global Positioning System-equipped push-to-talk enabled cell phones to prove the concept is working, according to Finnish Defense Forces Maj. Jarkko Karsikas, Finland's delegation chief.
Testing the interoperability of new technologies isn't the only type of testing conducted at CE.
"The systems we put in place here at the workshop are used overseas as well," said Irish Defense Forces Commandant Rossa Mulcahy, Ireland's delegation chief. "They … provide safe and secure environments for our troops on the ground and also provide them with welfare links back home."
Mulcahy said the testing of various links such as video teleconferencing and the tactical system satellite are vital to keeping forward deployed commanders and those back in Ireland constantly updated.
The Irish delegation also benefits from the invaluable experiences provided by taking leadership roles in this multinational exercise and by working with communicators from other nations they may encounter in operations, according to Mulcahy.
"We've taken the lead on the [information technology] side with PKI encryption, so that's been a big learning curve for my guys," said Mulcahy. "They've risen to the challenge, achieved all of their goals ahead of time. We've got everyone in our regional group up and running on PKI."
Many delegations use CE training for guidance on the latest state-of-the-art equipment and procedures when building their own communication infrastructure.
Much has changed since 1999, when Moldovan communicators attended their first CE workshop with an analog switchboard. This is the 10th year Moldova participated in CE and they've moved from obsolete Soviet-era technology to testing the interoperability of a nationally developed e-mail server and PKI solution, according to its delegation chief Moldovan army Lt. Col. Andrei Sorochin.
"We have learned a lot," said Sorochin. "I'm very proud to tell you during the transformation of our national army the first thing we did was transform our communication system. All the ideas that we have — and what we've already implemented — was [were] taken from CE. Our voice-over Internet Protocol technology, our PKI security, all the software, the mail server and the client software are all based on CE experiences."
Austria has modified its communications systems deployed to Kosovo based on many improvements from past CE exercises.
"Actually, we built a new one out of the major parts of the old one," said Austrian army Lt. Col. Engelbert Ponemayr, delegation chief for Austria. “[We] had new software releases and implemented additional interfaces and gateways."
According to Ponemayr, Austria acts as the regional group leader to prepare for European Union – Battle Group 2012, providing all the signal equipment required by a brigade-level element.
"That's new for us," Ponemayr said. "We started the planning a couple of years ago. Now we're trying out [to check] if our preparations are correct. That's the reason we are a lead nation here."
As the scope and participation within CE increased from its 10-nation roster during 1995 to more than 40 nations today, each year brings first-time observers or participating nations into the CE family. Such is the case with Afghanistan, Serbia and Montenegro.
The Afghan delegation is thankful for the initial CE experience for the Afghanistan National Army Signal Group, according to Afghan army Col. Nazar Mohd Safi, his country's delegation chief.
"We will learn new technology," Safi said. "There's now a computer network in Afghanistan with thousands of users. Having a computer network and using it was just an imagination for us. Now it comes true. We use these services with help from the Americans."
Safi's CE goals include high frequency radio testing with the U.S., Albania, Azerbaijan and Sweden and creating a field command center on-site to establish communication with his command center in Afghanistan.
More than 40 participating nations use CE 08 to plan, prepare and practice using a full range of communications equipment, policies and procedures prior to deploying for NATO missions and emerging, real-world crisis situations such as the evacuation of Lebanon and response to natural disasters.
More than 1,200 interoperability tests within the areas of single-channel radio, voice and video services, information assurance, spectrum management and many other areas were conducted at CE 08, adding to a database of more than 13,000 tests conducted at CE since 1995.
CE 09 will be held at Kasara Barracks in Banja Luka, Bosnia and Herzegovina, where the focus will shift to distributed testing across three or more test sites.
Combined Endeavor Snapshot
Combined Endeavor, the annual, U.S. European Command (USEUCOM)-sponsored exercise is “in the spirit of” the Partnership for Peace (PfP) C4 integration and interoperability exercise. CE 08 is where coalition nations test and practice a full range of communications, equip¬ment, policies and procedures prior to deploying for NATO missions and emerging real-world crises.
Now in its 14th year, Combined Endeavor ran from May 1-14. This year’s event also marked the end of 10 years in which the exercise has been held at the military compound at Lager Aulenbach in Baumholder, Germany.
Over the course of CE 08:
-- 1,380 communication interoperability tests were conducted by 40 nations, NATO and SEEBRIG.
-- Between 160 and 180 tests were conducted and documented daily, with each day beginning at 6:45 a.m. and running often until after
-- A total of 442 support personnel, the bulk of which belonged to the German Joint Support Service, and 1,055 communications specialists participated.
Combined Endeavor has had participants from PfP nations, NATO na¬tions, non-aligned nations and multinational organizations. Participation is voluntary and occasionally, nations are unable to participate in certain years due to deployments or other scheduling conflicts.
Participants in CE 08 include: Afghanistan, Albania, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Kyrgyz Republic, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Moldova, Montene¬gro, NATO, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, South-Eastern Europe Brigade (SEEBRIG), Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, United Kingdom and United States.