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CHIPS Articles: Bold Quest 12-1 Measures Coalition Interoperability

Bold Quest 12-1 Measures Coalition Interoperability
Interoperability issues can be fixed on the spot
By Sharon Anderson - July-September 2012
More than 400 U.S. and coalition military personnel representing all four services, 11 partner nations and U.S. Special Operations Command, came together for a two-week exercise in June focused on combat identification 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.

In addition to the 440 personnel deployed on-site at Camp Atterbury in Indiana, there were also 200 support personnel at other locations in the BQ12-1 distributed network, including the Air National Guard base at Fort Wayne, Indiana; Joint Staff J6 - Command, Control, Communications, Computers Assessment Division (C4AD) in Suffolk, Virginia; and Eglin Air Force Base in Florida.

Coalition partners included forces and observers from Australia, Belgium, Germany, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, Finland, France, Italy and Sweden.

Joint terminal attack controllers, or JTACs, the forces on the ground who direct close air support used Bold Quest to certify the equipment they use to communicate with aircrews before deploying to Afghanistan, said Maj. Olaf Rohnberg of the German Air Force and allied lead for DaCAS, or digitally aided close-air support. Rohnberg is a longtime participant in Bold Quest.

Air Force, Navy and Indiana National Guard air assets provided close-air support for the exercise, with the JTACs from several countries directing operations on the ground. Coalition partners contributing JTACs and systems for digital exchange with aircrew during BQ12-1 scenarios included Australia, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and Norway.

In 2010, Norway hosted a Bold Quest exercise; Maj. Tommy Myrvoll from the Norwegian Battle Lab and project officer for Bold Quest said he is participating to ensure Norway’s systems can communicate with other coalition forces and that TTPs, techniques, tactics and procedures, are aligned.

In addition, Army and Marine ground forces used unmanned aerial systems to support their intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance operations. Special Forces operators tested techniques and tactics for Special Operations Command.

Bold Quest is sponsored by the Joint Staff; John Miller, from the Joint Fires Division, served as the operational manager for Bold Quest. BQ has a 10-year history with an evolving focus, he explained, but it remains a coalition capabilities demonstration and assessment series. This year, BQ12-1 focused on testing digitally-aided close-air support technologies to help reduce friendly fire incidents, enhance combat effectiveness and increase situational awareness.

"The early focus for Bold Quest was combat identification technologies, but we have gone beyond sorting friends from enemies at the point of engagement to sharing information through a number of means," Miller said.

Camp Atterbury and Muscatatuck Urban Training Complex and Joint Maneuver Training Center, home of the Indiana National Guard, hosted BQ12-1 and provided ground and air units.

Assessment exercises like Bold Quest are important because they give warfighters an opportunity to test joint doctrine and TTPs with new technologies and systems.

No matter how detailed military standards and profiles are, they are often subject to interpretation and some issues may not be identified until they are actually tested, said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Mike Hall from the Joint Staff, Joint Deployable Analysis Team.

Military standards are written as a multipurpose set of guidelines that can be tailored to meet the needs of a broad range of users. A profile is strict guidance that further defines the military standards for a specific group of users.

Throughout the data collection phase, Bold Quest participants can recommend changes to ensure that coalition systems comply within performance standards and profiles to ensure that systems are developed to NATO standards.

Hall said Bold Quest tests the basic ability of the JTACs to exchange targeting information through radio networks regardless of service or coalition. By working with all program offices and using test tools to test interoperability set by the Joint Fires Executive Steering Committee, Hall said, "We can actually fix issues on the spot."

Resolving interoperability issues before systems are fielded is important not only to save lives but to avoid costly mistakes.

"Even for U.S. systems, [we can] recommend changes so that future systems are developed to these standards. Evaluators for aircraft … can check interoperability before they install software on an aircraft … it costs a huge amount of money to fix those problems [once installed]," Hall said. "The purpose is to make sure they are interoperable with each other," he said. "We would like to be able to exchange targeting and sensor position indication information between aircraft and JTACs, regardless of what nation or service they come from."

Miller said that although you will never hear Bold Quest labeled as a training exercise, it often serves that purpose because it is a rare opportunity for U.S. and allied warfighters, technicians and analysts to work together and learn from each other. "The military go to a lot of schools, but to be able to be trained by the people who built the systems is pretty powerful," he said.

Other participants, like the Indiana Nation Guard want to build enduring relationships during the exercise, in addition to testing their systems and training, Miller said.

Because systems are increasingly complex, Miller said it is important for U.S. forces and coalition nations to meet face-to-face periodically and continuously test technologies against NATO standards and TTPs. Often coalition members use Bold Quest as their final certification before deploying their crews and equipment to Afghanistan.

Bold Quest has proven it can deliver battlefield solutions quickly, Miller said. A new combat identification server demonstrated last September during Bold Quest 11 proved so effective that it was deployed to Afghanistan within months after the exercise, he said. The system collects and maintains the locations of U.S. and coalition forces in a single server that aircrews can access as they provide close-air support.

Next year in addition to the services and Special Operations Command, U.S. Fleet Forces Command will be a significant partner, Miller said.

Ultimately, the Bold Quest series ensures that U.S. and coalition forces have the battlefield advantage.

Sharon Anderson is the CHIPS senior editor. She can be reached at

Marine Corps Cpl. Crystal Dodson, a radio operator with Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., checks radio frequency on a RQ-7 Shadow unmanned aerial vehicle as part of launch preparations during Bold Quest 12-1. U.S. Army photo by Tim Sproles.
Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Archie Knight, an unmanned aerial vehicle technician with Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, Calif., aligns a RQ-7 Shadow unmanned aerial vehicle as part of launch preparations during Bold Quest 12-1 at Camp Atterbury Joint Maneuver Training Center in Indiana on June 1, 2012. U.S. Army photo by Tim Sproles.
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