The U.S. Joint Staff-sponsored Coalition Capability Demonstration and Assessment series, commonly known as "Bold Quest," concluded in early November, but the knowledge and lessons learned derived from the demonstrations will bring lasting benefits to U.S. and international participants.
Bold Quest is a multinational enterprise in which nations, the U.S. services and programs pool their resources in a recurring cycle of capability development, demonstration and analysis. The overarching aim is to improve interoperability and information sharing across a range of coalition warfighting capabilities, explained John Miller, Bold Quest operational manager, Joint Staff Command and Control, Communications and Computers/Cyber Directorate (J6).
Bold Quest 17.2 included 18 days of data collection that began in mid-October. This is the second demonstration and capabilities assessment in the Savannah area by the joint and coalition effort. Live air, ground and maritime operations took place at Fort Stewart, Hunter Army Air Field, Townsend Bombing Range and offshore Warning Areas adjacent to Georgia’s Atlantic coast, Miller explained to reporters Oct. 31 in a phone conference.
Four U.S. Armed Services, U.S. National Guard and U.S. Special Operations Command joined NATO Headquarters and 16 partner nations as participants and observers, involving approximately 1,800 personnel on site and operating or supporting from distributed locations. The demonstration collected both technical data on systems and subjective judgments from the warfighters using them, according to a BQ 17.2 press release.
Joint and multinational capability assessments occur in a coalition operational context with participants funding their own costs while the Joint Staff facilitates and funds support that is of common benefit to the coalition, Miller explained.
Bold Quest Roots
Bold Quest 17.2 is the latest in a series of Coalition Capability Demonstrations and Assessments that began in 2003 during the early days of coalition support to the war in Afghanistan. Operations revealed that the coalition needed tested and refined tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) using a variety of air-to-ground combat identification technologies designed to improve U.S. and coalition combat effectiveness and reduce the potential for battlefield fratricide.
Bold Quest’s maturing work in other mission areas required a robust network and common network protocols to communicate in the context of ongoing joint and combined operations, specifically for supporting fires where coalition forces of differing capabilities and methods of operation were coming face-to-face with high-speed, high-tech warfare in the continuously changing and uncertain environment.
Coalition information is exchanged via the Federated Mission Network (FMN) and Mission Partner Environment (MPE), which continues to evolve from its early iterations. The federated environment encompasses participants’ national networks and systems. Each nation follows its own national policies and operates its own mission command and core services. The FMN/MPE, supported by the U.S. Department of Defense, allows participants to share information and collect data for analysis in a robust ground and air operational environment.
Investment in the BQ 2017 operational demonstrations continues to expand the scope and scale of joint and multinational collaboration while retaining the traditional BQ mission area emphasis, summarized by key initiatives — “coalition fires/digital interoperability/networked cross domain,” Miller explained.
Events, or threads in the demonstrations, are conducted in the context of operational vignettes instead of being driven by an overarching scenario, Miller explained. “If we find an issue on any given day, we don’t want to be driven by what the scenario says we have to do the next day,” Miller said. “We want to be able to go back and rerun that vignette in its operational context and achieve the interoperability and procedural objectives.”
Bold Quest activity threads include:
- Digitally Aided Close Air Support (DACAS);
- Joint Fires Support Joint Mission Thread;
- Integrated Air and Missile Defense;
- Friendly Force Tracking and Ground to Air Situational Awareness;
- Mission Partner Environment (MPE)/Federated Mission Network (FMN) based network;
- Cyber effects at the tactical level;
- Counter-unmanned aircraft system (C-UAS), and;
- Coalition intelligence surveillance reconnaissance (CISR).
Recent and emerging areas of interest include Cyber Effects at the tactical level and Coalition ISR.
In general, initiatives brought to Bold Quest focus on improving interoperability in the kinetic fires kill chain at all levels from joint forward observer/joint terminal attack controller to a combined joint task force headquarters, Miller explained. “Everybody comes here to link their equipment up with somebody else.”
Joint fires support is one of the best examples of successful interoperability, Miller said. Countries have been working on digital interoperability with a call for fire from a joint forward observer or joint terminal controller all the way up to the combined joint task force headquarters for years, he said, regardless of the nationality of the requestor or provider of fire support.
The demonstration is focused on performing operations in all domains with a variety of platforms and equipment, such as radio gear for dismounted warfighters, communication networks for voice, video, geo-mapping and tagging, as well as fighter aircraft, U.S. Navy ships and unmanned systems.
U.S. Navy Participation
BQ 17.2 coordinated with the training efforts of the USS Harry S. Truman, Carrier Air Wing One and Destroyer Squadron Two Six to maximize the training environment for joint and coalition forces. According to U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Matt Cady, in the Joint Staff Command and Control, Communications and Computers/Cyber Directorate (J6), there was a bit of serendipity to the carrier strike group’s participation.
The carrier strike group was already engaged in systems testing and training events and the opportunities in the Bold Quest environment afforded them an environment not normally seen prior to deployment, Cady said. During the Navy “work-up cycle,” it is rare that operational Navy squadrons are exposed to multi-service events, let alone multi-national coordination for air-to-ground missions. This communication and coordination also greatly benefitted the coalition joint terminal attack controllers, providing them with exposure to the multi-national challenges facing our forces in harm’s way throughout the world.
A U.S. Navy destroyer, USS Gravely, was also dedicated to Bold Quest 17.2, conducting multiple events for systems testing and training for employment of the next generation IFF (identification friend or foe system), he explained. In the initial years of fielding the Mode 5 system, these dedicated interoperability events are vital to the future success of combat identification.
Fortune Favors the Bold
The unique component to the Bold Quest demonstrations is that while they help warfighters to work more effectively with their international partners — they also provide the research and scientific community technological insight into the evolution and direction in which technology should advance.
Operational research is essential in that a method can be applied to tactical field demonstrations to gain additional data for analysis that otherwise can’t be gathered in the controlled setting of a laboratory, said Dr. Katherine Banko, a Canadian Defense scientist, in a release about BQ 17.2 from Defence Research and Development, Canada’s Centre for Operational Research and Analysis, an agency of Canada’s Department of National Defence.
Coalition partners from the Dutch Army, Royal Danish Air Force and Norwegian Air Force Cyber Force, expressed the importance of the interoperability testing and technical assessments within the Bold Quest environment that can influence acquisition decisions, doctrine and TTPs.
For example, Royal Danish Air Force Master Sgt. Anders Simonsen said his country’s operational equipment was tested to ensure that its radar was interoperable with the U.S. system — before deployment to Iraq.