Better together - Effective interoperability in the COE pays dividends
Multinational and coalition operations are the norm and it is essential that armed forces can effectively interoperate. Learn more about the 6 steps to interoperability.
Establishing and understanding requirements is of paramount importance. If you are not aware of your needs then you will not know what information you can or are interested in exchanging. Here it is all about the details and the more granular you can go the better.
There are several ways to understand your requirements and the capabilities of your systems. One is to gain experience in their use, which is a matter of time and resources, and can be rather complicated. Another approach – and which can be very beneficial – is to receive technical specifications and manuals from the vendor. The vendor should know what the system is and isn’t capable of, and should have documented this in detail.
If you don’t fully understand the true capabilities of your systems, you might be forced to find out during interoperability exercises with coalition partners. This will be an expensive mistake to make, not just in terms of time and resources, but also in terms of the issues that you might cause for the exercise and your partners.
Knowing me, knowing you
Testing with partners is of course a major aim in verifying interoperability, however, this should be done as efficiently as possible in order to make the best use of everyone’s time and resources. Identifying the areas where your systems won’t be compliant or capable of interoperating ahead of an event will prove beneficial – if you already know that the outcome will be incompliancy, then there is no need to test that specific aspect.
Avoiding ‘big bang’ tests with inconclusive results is extremely important. Consequently, risk reduction events ahead of multinational exercises will enable you to mitigate problems that you might have faced down the line. Here, no details are too small or insignificant, and a coalition interoperability matrix is an important tool.
Before entering into interoperability exercises and tests it is of course essential that your personnel – system operators, administrators, information managers etc. – know their own systems, if they don’t, the risk of bringing a large multinational exercise to a standstill becomes real. National tests and exercises are a must before deploying on a multinational operation.
Walk, jog, run
While it may be tempting to test multiple capabilities and at operational loads, a cautious and well-structured approach will pay dividends in the long-run. Initial testing should be carried out in controlled environments – well-equipped infrastructure with reliable networks – then you can gradually add more and more stress and complexity, and build up to exercises that truly represent the real world. Tests should be about learning and not success stories - learning what works, what the workarounds are, and what not to do. You and your coalition partners want to be as knowledgeable and prepared as possible before you undertake a live operation.
Once you and your partners have proven the ability to interoperate and share information in an effective manner, your capabilities can be built on and improved in a variety of ways. Introducing and refining common tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) can act as a force multiplier. In an ideal scenario the lead nation will initiate this process, but realistically it is the responsibility of all partners. The challenge is in maintaining both national and international TTPs, operators cannot be expected to maintain two separate ways of working as this would be overwhelming. Ideally you should merge parts of your national TTPs with those employed in the international operating environment, with as few differences as possible.
Maintaining interoperability and improving the performance of your systems does not just come in the form of technology refresh. While industry can provide support through software updates, new hardware, and technical support, the direction for the development of standards, TTPs etc. lies in the hands of the operators and it is here that communities of interest (COIs) and expertise come to the fore, establishing these will ensure that the work put into developing interoperability will continue to bear fruit.