Communicators Practice Joint Interoperability Skills
By David Vergun
Army News Service
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md., June 27, 2014 Napoleon Bonaparte once said: "The secret of war lies in the communications."
Multi-service personnel man the Joint Net Operations Control Center during the Joint Users Interoperability Communications Exercise at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., June 25, 2014. U.S. Army photo by David Vergun
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
This is as true today as it was two centuries ago.
The Army, along with its sister services, allies and first responders from across the country tested those lines of communications during a month-long Joint Users Interoperability Communications Exercise, or JUICE, which ends today.
Leading the Army's portion is U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Command, or CECOM, located here, the communications hub of JUICE.
On 9/11, the diverse array of first responders to the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were in many cases not able to communicate with each other over their radios. The same situation occurred during operations in Haiti, said John R. Kahler, team lead for the Joint On-demand Interoperability Network.
"We don't want that ever happening again," said Kahler, an Army civilian who has participated in annual JUICE exercises since they began 21 years ago.
This year is the first time organizations within the Department of Homeland Security, first responders from across the U.S. state emergency operations centers and the U.S. military and its allies were able to "communicate seamlessly," he said.
The umbrella these entities operated under is known as the Defense Support of Civil Authorities. DSCA is not just for training. In a real emergency, it would be activated, so this accomplishment is especially significant, he said.
"They didn't have to buy any special gear or anything else. They came to the battle with their own gear, hooked it up, and they were very happy," he added, explaining that their special multimedia software enabled this to happen.
The exercise scenario included an earthquake with power outages, so exercise players had portable power on-site at various locations throughout the world that were solar powered so communications would not be disrupted, he said.
The exercise also evaluated communications security and protection.
Kahler called it a "real war," with more than three million "hits" occurring. A hit might include someone trying to or successfully hacking into the system to monitor communications. It might also include the installation of malware to disrupt the exercise.
Every year of JUICE there's been an increase in attacks, but every year, the situational awareness of the JUICE participants has also increased, he said.
There had been discussions for forming a red team or an enemy player, but "we don't need a red team," Kahler said.
"We've got plenty of red players out there attempting to get into our network,” he said. “We're in the middle of a battle right now."
Air Force Maj. Stefano McGhee, director of the Joint Cyber Center for JUICE, explained how intruders are battled.
Joint Cyber Center comes up with solutions, should an intruder be detected in one of the world-wide networks. That solution is then sent to the Joint Network Control Center, which executes the solution by adding it to the database and installing a protective filter.
Most of the uniformed participants in JUICE are National Guard or Reserve service members. And most of those, McGhee said, work civilian jobs in information technology.
McGhee himself is in the Rhode Island Air National Guard and he said he is always in close communications with his Army Guard brethren, since nearly all missions and training they perform is in a joint environment.
The skills these citizen-warriors perform in JUICE are very similar to what they do outside the military. "We're basically geeks," he said.
Marine Corps Lt. Col. Grant Johnson, U.S. Strategic Command, said the exercise is incredibly important to what he normally does on the battlefield, which is flying F/A-18 Hornet jets in support of forces on the ground.
As a pilot, Johnson said he needs seamless communication on the ground with the soldiers, Marines and coalition forces he's supporting.
Just as important is protecting the homeland during earthquakes, floods or man-made disasters, he added.
Air Force Col. Eric Good, JUICE communicator, said in addition to ensuring secure and working communications across the services and civilian agencies, this exercise gives operators a chance to, "plan, collaborate, coordinate" tactics, techniques and procedures, as well as to learn about the cultures of other agencies, which may call the same piece of gear or system by a different name.
Air Force Maj. Chris Wimberly, JNCC officer-in-charge, said that in addition to uniformed personnel, contractors, armed forces civilians, and industry representatives are involved in the exercise.
Having technical representatives present “allows us to understand their technology and be able to use it more effectively without having to go through their training courses," Wimberly said.
While JUICE is an important annual exercise, the involvement of CECOM continues year-round in the form of the Joint On-demand Interoperability Network, or JOIN, of which JUICE is a part.
Power cords and cables hang down in cages overhead in a stadium-sized building at Aberdeen, so they can be quickly and easily accessed for re-routing as new hardware and software comes in for testing by JOIN personnel.
"JOIN provides a distributed testing environment in which systems can be tested across the same environment and can be leveraged to connect the tactical community into the acquisition community so they can test the sustainment, new software and new hardware, set up software and hardware and operate it," Kahler said.
JOIN also saves the services money and man hours by testing and setting up networks at Aberdeen to locations worldwide, he said.
For instance, when the Army conducts its annual network integration evaluation exercises, JOIN will pre-test all of the gear that will be used to ensure it's in working order and networked correctly, Kahler said.
During the Network Integration Evaluation event itself, labs at Aberdeen participate by collecting data for scientists and researchers to pore over so they don't have to send their people out to Texas and New Mexico, he said.
That type of assistance occurs across the services worldwide all the time, Kahler added.
JOIN also helps with systems certification and has a working relationship with Joint Interoperability Test Center at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, he said.
"So if a program manager has a system that's prepared for joint certification, rather than send it out there for 45 days with technicians, we can do it remotely here on site and watch and document the test results," Kahler explained.