Joint military exercise fixes interoperability issues

The Pentagon and its coalition partners take to the Army base in Fort Huachuca, Ariz. to address actual data and communications problems found in Afghanistan. T...

By Max Cacas
Federal News Radio

If you’re a military commander, would you rather fix communications gear in the Arizona desert or under battle conditions in Afghanistan?

That’s the premise behind “Empire Challenge 10“, an international joint military exercise that has been underway since last Monday at the Fort Huachuca Army base in Arizona.

“This is on interoperability, demonstrating interoperability,” said Air Force Col. George Krakie, chief of the Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) Division with the Joint Forces Command, which is hosting the exercise.

There are ISR capabilities that are in the field, or about to go to the field. They bring them to an event like Empire Challenge, and we make sure that the capability of the Marine Corps can talk to the Army system. And that the Army system can talk to the United Kingdom system, and the U.K. system can talk to the Canadian system. So we work those interoperability issues, with the goal of solving those problems with sharing data here in Arizona, rather than trying to solve it in Kandahar.

Operation Empire Challenge 10 actually kicked off July 26, and is now slated to continue through Aug. 13.

In addition to Fort Huachuca, other facilities involved in the exercise include the Navy’s Air Weapons Station in China Lake, Calif.; the Joint Intelligence Lab and Systems Integration Center in Suffolk, Va.; and the Combined Air Operations Center at Langley AFB in Virginia.

Coalition sites in Britain, Canada and Australia also are participating, along with NATO’s command and control agency in the Netherlands. Krakie says all of the sites are linked together in real-time by high-speed, secure military data networks.

Krakie says this is not just any hypothetical exercise based on suppositions handed to the Empire Challenge team by a group of analysts. Instead it is based on field reports and data of interoperability problems encountered by coalition forces in theater.

“We look at case studies, we have a list of documents we go through, ISR studies, work that’s been done by the ISR taskforce at the Secretary of Defense level,” Krakie says. “Again, we can’t do everything, so we focus on the problems most pertinent to the warfighter.”

He says in one case, the Empire Challenge team has had success ironing out data sharing between the Air Force’s aerostats, a helium-filled blimp used for surveillance, and the British military’s CORTEZ electronic surveillance and reconnaissance system.

He says as officials in Arizona resolve a problem, the British observer at Empire Challenge is on the phone with his counterpart in Afghanistan discussing how to implement the solution on the ground in the war zone.

Krakie says that Fort Huachuca was chosen for this year’s Empire Challenge 10 exercise because the mountains and high desert plains in that part of Arizona provide nearly identical conditions found on the ground by coalition troops fighting in Afghanistan.

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