Global military forces seek information sharing ideas

On the battlefield, it’s important to know where your enemies are. But it’s just as important to know where your friends are too, as the Canadian military knows all too well.

To ensure that information is available and can be communicated securely, the Canadian military was one of

25 countries that recently participated in the 2004 Joint Warrior Interoperability Demonstration (JWID). A yearly exercise in which the U.S. and coalition countries put a host of new technologies to the test, the event is designed to improve the members’ ability to share information. The event was held June 14-15 and Canada participated in 18 trials, of which it led five.

Information-sharing in the field can be conducted in fairly outdated ways, said Maj. Rock Wiegand, a Department of Defence spokesperson on the trials. In fact, some of it can be little more than one step up from carrier pigeon.

“Some of it is done the old-fashioned way — orders are written by hand and delivered,” said Wiegand.

For example, he said, the Canadian military has systems using GPS to plot out its members’ locations.

“What’s important is to get it to my coalition partner so he knows where I am, and if you can imagine, with the events in the news, knowing where your friends are is probably as important as knowing where your enemies are.”

The challenge to getting that up-to-the-minute information until now has been the lack of interoperability between members’ systems, Wiegand said.

“Interoperability is probably the key word,” he said. “A lot of these systems to date have been developed as stovepipes or isolated. Now it’s becoming more and more important that we’re more integrated or more fully interoperable.”

But rather than have tech-heads perform the exercises on technologies used for wireless security, language translation, database fusion and security across information domains, to name a few, the JWIDs test them using real warriors.

“These are the people who come from the units that are going to be the recipients of all this new technology or they are the guys who are doing it right now today,”” said Wiegand. “”Their feedback is probably the most important — they can say this thing doesn’t work or it does.”

Although past JWIDs have focused on communications technologies among coalition partners, the exercises are now designed to improve communications across a wide range of organizations and agencies. The fact that U.S. Northern Command, the agency responsible for homeland security, hosted the event, will help facilitate those internal communications in the U.S. said Wiegand.

To provide Canadian agencies with the same benefit, the Canadian military involved Canada’s Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness unit.

“PSEP came into it this year to get an idea of what it is all about and for them to have a more robust role in this,” he said. “Now as we look at North American defence and security issues, we’re starting to talk about how we start to interoperate, not just between militaries but with other government departments.”

But interoperability is not the daunting challenge it once was, thanks to XML, said Bob Tuttle, director of the federal region for Microsoft Canada.

“It’s almost getting to the point where it’s not a significant hurdle at all,” he said. “Now the biggest thing all of us are struggling with is making sure our products are secure and reliable.”

The Canadian military uses a number of core Microsoft products, such as Outlook and Microsoft Exchange Server 2003. In this year’s JWID, it tested Live Communications Server for secure, real-time communications, and SharePoint Services, which provides a platform for shared files and systems.

Microsoft Canada, which participated in the JWID for the first time this year, devoted one of the company’s most senior staffers full-time to the project, as well as a number of other people on a part-time basis.

But it was well worth it for the information the vendor acquired about the challenges facing the military, which is Microsoft’s largest client, said Tuttle.

“This project has been great from our perspective to be able to collaborate with so many organizations,” he said. “Public sector is our largest vertical by far and defence is the largest subvertical within that.”

So far, though, the military has made no commitments to any new technology, although Tuttle is optimistic.

“Everything we’ve heard was that it worked beautifully,” he said. “They got what they asked for or more, performance was good and security and reliability were beyond what they thought it would be, so they were very pleased with it.”

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