In a “coalition of the willing,” the U.S. services joined allied partners in the U.S. Joint Staff sponsored Coalition Capability Demonstration and Assessment series — more commonly known as "Bold Quest" — at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico in May.
Bold Quest, now in its 11th year, is a joint and multinational enterprise in which nations, 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 convene for operations representative of coalition warfare across air, ground and maritime domains.
Past exercises have focused on operational needs in Iraq and Afghanistan, such as friendly force tracking and close air support, said John Miller, of the Joint Staff, Bold Quest’s operational manager. Miller explained previous demonstrations tested digital interoperability among joint terminal attack controllers (JTAC) aircrew, command and control (C2) nodes, and operational forces calling for air strikes — but there has been a shift in emphasis to future operations.
Integrated air and missile defense and integration of cyber effects at the tactical level have become more prominent in recent exercises, Miller said.
“Pay as You Play”
Each of the U.S. services (Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, National Guard), the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) and allied elements: Australia, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, and United Kingdom participated in BQ 14.2 with their own technical initiatives and advanced operational concepts.
“The nations decide on the technologies and procedures they want to test and the demonstrations they want to participate in each year, and pay for the deployment of their resources and personnel in a pay as you play model,” Miller said.
Canada, France, Sweden, Finland, Japan and NATO headquarters sent observers. Technical system performance data is not the only outcome, Miller said. For example, the NATO working group used the event to develop standards for future assessments and a concept of employment for digitally aided close air support.
BQ 14.2 marked the first time that the exercise has been held at White Sands in a rare opportunity to partner with the U.S. Army, Miller said. At the same time, the U.S. Army Capabilities Integration Center sponsored a Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) and Joint Training Exercise. This joint effort, known as NIE/BQ 14.2, is the first integration of two established experimentation, demonstration and capabilities assessment mechanisms, NIE and BQ, to leverage the resources that both bring to the field and the experience gained by both in recent years. (See Figures 1 and 2 for illustrations of the NIE and BQ integration of objectives.)
In addition to White Sands, Bold Quest-related activities were also underway at Fort Bliss, Texas, and New Mexico’s Holloman Air Force Base. About 875 personnel participated in the exercises at the New Mexico sites, including 702 U.S. and 173 allied personnel, with another couple hundred supporting personnel located at installations nationwide. Miller estimated there were 250 aviation sorties flown from bases ranging from California to Louisiana.
The collective aim was to exercise and assess joint force network capabilities and identify capability gaps in the context of a large scale forced entry operation. The location for the live air and ground operations was the traditional NIE venue, Fort Bliss, Texas, and White Sands Missile Range. Additionally, Holloman AFB, provided significant support for U.S. and allied aviation elements.
The event also allowed a significant testing and training opportunity for Army and Marine Corps personnel in an era of declining resources.
“We are trying to maximize the bang for everyone’s buck,” said Miller, who was joined by other participants in a brief to reporters May 16.
Activities leading to BQ 14.2 began in mid-April with the establishment of a nationwide distributed network that is critical to the ongoing data collection which continues throughout the exercises and which is so critical to BQ’s success. Miller estimated that, among other services, the network supported position reporting on about 1,000 ground entities from NIE to BQ, representing an extraordinary data collection opportunity for the U.S. and allied participants.
The Bold Quest series pushes the bounds of information sharing among coalition members, Miller explained. Due to U.S. and coalition security policies, participants may not be on each other’s operational networks but within the BQ network enclave coalition decision makers are able to view and respond to events in an operationally realistic environment.
The Combat Identification Server that was tested is an example of a multinational effort and technology that was developed in 2007 for operations in Afghanistan as a result of the BQ series, and it continues to undergo improvements, Miller said. Four nations were working on Combat ID Server assessments in BQ 14.2.
The U.K.’s national lead and squadron leader for the Royal Air Force, Darren Leverton, said the U.K. began testing the interoperability of the U.K.’s version of Combat ID Server in BQ 13.2 in September 2013. “Our system is in the research and development area, we brought back the same equipment and made some technical changes. This time we brought some military personnel to test military utility. From a U.K. perspective, it is very important to test equipment in the research and development phase to make sure it can mainstream into a military equipment program.”
Shared air-ground situational awareness, joint fires interoperability and the opportunity to observe and explore exercise events are also at the forefront of the U.K.’s priorities, Leverton said, and will help inform future decision-making in regard to battlefield technologies.
BQ 14.2 participants primarily concentrate on capabilities associated with Digitally Aided Close Air Support, 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. Among the technologies demonstrated in BQ 14.2 were various types of radios, tactical data links and network equipment used to support joint fires, joint terminal attack control, personnel recovery and other missions.
U.S. Marine Corps Participation
U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Kenneth Karcher, the Marines BQ lead, said the Marine Corps conducted training and exercises in realistic scenarios developed in conjunction with the Joint Staff and Army at Redstone Arsenal in Alabama. The Marine Corps worked with its air control and air defense agencies to determine the efficiencies and deficiencies in the current structure, Karcher said.
“We are looking at a multifunctional aviation command and control node, one that combines the efforts of close air support and defense in one location as opposed to multiple locations … to give us additional options on the battlefield in how we support the MAGTF (Marine Air-Ground Task Force) commander and also the joint forces commander,” Karcher said.
Karcher said Bold Quest is of great value to the Marine Corps and offers a unique environment to test joint mission threads, such as missile defense integration and the call for joint fires. He also highlighted the diverse terrain and unrestricted air space that White Sands Missile Range offers which provides a unique testing and training environment.
“It’s not every day that we can talk to an allied JTAC on the ground and test our ability to call for coalition close air support,” Karcher said.
Italian navy Commander Antonio Labbate, deputy Italian national lead, said his nation is also testing digitally aided close air support interoperability and also new military systems under development in Italy.
U.S. Navy Participation
During the period of May 6-10, 2014, a team of Naval Surface Warfare Center, Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) systems and software engineers successfully participated in the Joint Fire Support, Joint Mission Thread phase of BQ 14-2 at the White Sands Missile Range.
The primary objective of Bold Quest 14.2 is to demonstrate joint, digital systems interoperability of fires missions. For the Common Weapons Control System (CWCS) prototype, this objective was successfully met through the implementation of the MIL-STD 6017 Variable Message Format (VMF) and Cursor-on-Target (CoT) message format.
During this event, the Common Weapons Control System performed engagement and mission processing functions to simulate digital naval missile fires as well as more traditional naval gunfire missions. The CWCS served as a Navy Virtual Ship, providing an integrated digital fires capability for gun and Tomahawk missile missions executing digital tasking received from various operational and research and development systems from the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines and Special Operations Forces.
The CWCS is a collaborative effort between NSWCDD’s K and G departments that utilizes the tactical applications and components of the Naval Fires Control System (NFCS) and the Tactical Tomahawk Weapons Control System (TTWCS) in a technology demonstration configuration. This configuration enables the receipt and processing of digital fire missions, deconfliction, mission planning, geometries, execution, and provides status of both traditional gun and Tomahawk missile missions in the Naval Surface Fire Support (NSFS) arena.
The BQ demonstration collects both technical data on systems and subjective judgments from the warfighters using them. BQ 14.2 leverages varied ground and air environments and capabilities in the host venues to conduct 14 days of data collection across multiple initiative domains, including six days of extensive ground interoperability checks and eight days of live/virtual air-ground operations. Live and archived event data and analysis were distributed to other U.S. and coalition nodes via established joint and coalition test and training networks.
Thirteen BQ operational assessments have been held since 2003, Miller said. The Joint Staff envisions two BQ events per year to meet the demands of the U.S. services and coalition members. The events are planned about six months apart to give the participants time to test, fix and test again the systems and equipment in development.
In spite of reduced defense budgets, the tempo of BQ events has actually increased as a result of growing partnerships and cost sharing, Miller said.
“We can do this because of partnerships. We align BQ with other events, like the NIE, and leverage testing and training in other locations in order to keep costs down for any individual nation, service or program,” Miller said.
BQ 14.2 highlights included:
- Digitally Aided Close Air Support; enabling effective communication between Aircrew and Joint Terminal Attack Controllers of various services and nationalities.
Digital message interoperability among U.S. and Allied systems that pass Calls For Fire from JTAC/Forward Observers to wide range of sources of supporting fires (U.S., Allied, surface, air, maritime).
- Demonstration of Ground to Air (G2A) Situational Awareness (SA) “Combat Identification Servers” developed independently by multiple nations.
- Distributed simulation linking air and ground warfighters in virtual environments at wide ranging locations (New Mexico, Indiana, Florida) in realistic scenarios for shared training value advanced operational concepts for Integrated Air and Missile Defense in the detection of threat, direction and control of fixed wing aviation elements countering the threat.
BQ 14.2 exercises concluded May 23. Miller said a report will be provided to the military leaders of the U.S. services and participant allied countries after assessments have been completed.
Rocky Smith, from the Mission Systems Engineering Branch of Naval Surface Warfare Center, Dahlgren Division, reported on the U.S. Navy’s participation in BQ 14.2.