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Coordinated land strike: The science behind Joint Fire Support

In a war zone, when a target has to be hit or an urgent response is required, you need all the help you can get – whether from your national forces or from allied forces – to accomplish your mission. Since you can’t call 9-1-1 on the battlefield to ask for the most suitable form of assistance, Defence R&D Canada – under the guidance of project manager George Prudat and project director Greg Walker – is developing a joint fire support system for the Canadian Forces and coalition partners.

The technology demonstration project, known as Joint Fire Support (JFS), was created in 2006 to facilitate and optimize the use of the combined resources of our Canadian Forces (navy, army and air force) and allies in a coalition environment.

“Our objective is to have the most appropriate weapons system available – whether it comes from a ship, a tank, an airplane or another source – used to defeat the threat,” said Walker. “Automating and speeding the process of selecting the shooter, and checking Rules Of Engagement and No Fire Zones, will reduce the kill chain and result in a much higher percentage of requests for fire being successfully executed. The ultimate impact sought is to improve the effectiveness of our forces.”

Even though the research project will not be completed until 2013, the contribution of DRDC’s scientists is such that it has already enabled Canada to forge an international reputation as a leader in the area of joint fire support. A significant early output was the detection of code errors in an operational system. These errors were discovered during experimentation and the corrections were subsequently sent to theatre within 48 hours.

How did they do it?
The project’s success and Canada’s gradual ascendance to a leadership position in the field was the result of a number of factors, the first of which is collaboration. Developing a system large enough to allow a number of forces to help each other requires preparation and consultation. Before asking two separate forces to cooperate with each other in a theatre of operations, it is important for the key players to have an interoperable collaborative tool and it is necessary to determine what needs that tool should meet. In short, it needs to proceed from an internationally accepted operating concept for Joint Fires.

Because such a clearly defined concept was missing, DRDC and its Canadian partners called upon their international allies in The Technical Cooperation Program (TTCP), which brings together Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, to assist in developing a first draft. The result was a highly relevant operating concept – one nation participating in the discussions also chose to adopt it for its own use.

When the time came to determine which collaborative system to base further development on, rather than acting alone, DRDC turned to the United States to build on its knowledge and use one of its well-known systems, the Joint Automated Deep Operations Coordination System (JADOCS). By choosing to study, test, adapt and improve JADOCS, an interoperable tool that is compatible with those of other countries, DRDC researchers and their partners killed two birds with one stone. Not only did they save time and money by using an existing system, but they were also able to use their resources for testing the tool and developing Canada’s knowledge and skills in a completely unique laboratory alongside members of forces with operational experience in Afghanistan.

The effort and resources deployed by DRDC and its partners quickly paid off. The agency was able to demonstrate to other countries that, through its research and testing centre, Canada could optimize a fire-support solution in a coalition environment and make a direct, innovative and essential operational contribution. “Our facilities enable us to create joint-fire scenarios to give combatants the option of exploring various techniques, tactics and procedures,” said Walker.

By carrying out the simulations repeatedly, with extensive data recording, DRDC was able to find no fewer than 23 potentially serious programming errors in the software currently used in the theatre of operations. Corrective fixes have since been applied. Hence, the JFS technology has been beneficial years before the demonstration program will be completed.

Snowball effect
One of the other determining factors in the success of this technology demonstration project is in the interest and involvement demonstrated from the earliest stages by National Defence and the Canadian Forces. By seeing the relevance and value of the project in place, the Canadian Forces Warfare Centre (CFWC) offered to conduct experiments on joint fire support at its facilities.

The CF also expressed the desire to obtain DRDC assistance to create its own JFS capability and teach a forces command and control unit in a joint setting (1st Canadian Division) to operate in a joint support environment. The DRDC team thus was able to take advantage of the considerable resources placed at its disposal to enhance its expertise while also in turn contributing to training CF members and creating the Joint Battle Lab for operational deployment.

More to come
Now well positioned on the world stage as a result of its experience and expertise in this area, Canada is more sought after than ever for its contribution. As an example, the JFS test bed and the expertise of CFWC will be incorporated into an exercise being organized by TTCP for February 2012 known as Coalition Attack Guidance Experiment II (CAGE II). Additionally, TTCP has formed a new technical panel called Combined Fires, which will continue to focus on and progress this important work started by the JFS TDP.

What would be best for one of the most renowned technology demonstration projects in the agency’s history is, of course, more development and discoveries! With the creation of a new test bed added to CFWC, the continuation of testing experimentation and training on joint fire support, and the development of a partnership with Australia, there is no doubt that DRDC scientists have a number of irons in the fire. And to think that there are still two more years of discoveries to look forward to!

Nancy L’Étoile is a public affairs officer with Defence Research and Development Canada.

Author: Nancy L’Étoile from the June/July 2011 issue published

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