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Integration and Interoperability – At the Core of Canada’s C4ISR Solution


Canada has identified that it needs an effective, enduring, and scalable system, or system of systems, to provide automated support to its command and control (C2) processes. With wars in Europe and the Middle East, growing tensions in the Pacific, and challenges globally to the rules-based international order, the need must be addressed now.

Canada’s C2 solution must provide national-level enterprise to tactical-edge connectivity and functionality, all domain situational awareness, and interoperability across all domains and services. This would support accelerated decision-making in the C2, Intelligence, Fires and Sustainment functional areas.

The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) vision for an integrated combat force is, “a CAF that is relevant to our National Security Partners, abreast of our Allies through first day interoperability, with decision advantage over our adversaries.” With the stated goal of being “digitally enabled” by 2025 and “digitally transformed” by 2030, a focused Defence Team effort will be required.

Defining Integration and Interoperability

Before discussing the need for interoperability and integration, a few definitions to synchronise the is beneficial. Specific to technology, integration and interoperability are two terms that describe how software systems interact:

Integration is not defined in either NATO or CAF documentation, but from a technical perspective, the definition provided above is widely understood. It should be noted that while there are many tools and procedures available to integrate related systems, this approach can be expensive—especially given that many commercial or military off-the-shelf products require an investment of time to integrate successfully. As a result, both cost and time must be considered as the CAF evolves its C2 system to take advantage of new innovations.

The NATO definition for interoperability is “the ability for Allies to act together coherently, effectively and efficiently to achieve tactical, operational and strategic objectives.” The CAF definition goes further by stating that interoperability may be achieved through the compatibility of doctrine, processes, and materiel. Also, interoperability can refer to the exchange of information between coalition partners.

The CAF has been engaged in interoperability work for decades, often as part of NATO programs. Let’s review some of those efforts.

CAF Interoperability Efforts

Three examples of CAF engagement in interoperability programs are:

  1. Federated Mission Networking (FMN) supporting C2.
  2. Coalition Shared Data (CSD) supporting Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR).
  3. NATO Armaments Ballistic Kernel (NABK) supporting fires.

Federated Mission Networking (FMN)

Federated Mission Networking (FMN) is a NATO-led initiative that aims to integrate military systems, networks, and platforms from coalition partners into a cohesive and interconnected framework. The FMN approach enables different forces to collaborate seamlessly, ensuring the exchange of critical information and maximizing operational effectiveness.

The FMN Vision is “Day Zero Interoperable Forces,” which means to enable effective information sharing, collaboration, and decision-making among Forces in a federated environment. This, in turn, improves operational effectiveness and efficiency. Nations are committed to creating, maintaining, and evolving their own C2 systems to meet commonly agreed requirements.

The short-range goal of the FMN Vision is the optimization of current operational mission environments. FMN nations have committed to synchronizing their current systems to mitigate gaps in interoperability and to reduce the time required for effective information sharing.

The intermediate goal is the adaptation of existing capabilities which mean to harmonize the current capabilities to enable FMN nations to benefit from prior and current investments. The long-range goal is interoperability by design, with the FMN capability development being aligned with FMN nations’ defence planning processes. Despite this commitment, progress for all nations, including Canada, is significantly behind schedule.

Clearly, progress towards FMN objectives mist be a priority for the CAF, as the goal of Day Zero Zero interoperability is fully in line with the CAF vision. Further, primary coalition partners are active participants in the FMN program, making it an obvious area for greater effort and investment.

Coalition Shared Data Server– Next Generation (CSD-NG)

Canada actively participates in STANAG 4559, an example of using standards to achieve interoperability. This STANAG is a cover for three Allied Engineering Document Publications (AEDP) that define the NATO standard for ISR Product Library and Services.

Canada implements this AEDP through the development of the Coalition Shared Data Server (CSD) and more recently, CSD-Next Generation (CSD-NG). Canada’s solution, developed through a Land program, is now used by several different organizations within the CAF.

Over the years, the CSD has been used in many test and validation activities and exercises (CIAV, Bold Quest, Unified Vision, CWIX, etc.) to verify and validate its compliance to the agreed standard. Canada has produced a reliable and stable ISR Product Library implementation that can support Canadian forces deployed in a coalition of NATO partners, which gives Canada access to coalition ISR products.

The development of the CSD-NG highlights one of the challenges of introducing innovation while remaining interoperable with partners.. The CSD-NG is a modern application, offering enhanced security, easy configuration and efficient setup, synchronization, and an intuitive, easy-to-learn, modern web user interface.

Further, it supports multiple ISR data models and Canadian extensions. However, its development and fielding have been slowed as other nations’ programs have not kept pace, thus delaying the updating of the STANAG to maintain interoperability.

This highlights a real-life problem. Implementing change and maintaining interoperability between partners is slow. In a time of rapid changes due to the technology evolutions and cyber threats, we collectively need to be far more agile in our development, integration efforts, as well as ratification and procurement processes.

Field Artillery (Fires)

 One of the biggest pluses for NATO in the area of fires is the 25+ year investment in the common implementation of STANAG 4355, the Leiske Modified Point Mass, and Five Degrees of Freedom Trajectory Models, which nations are committed to implementing, including Canada. . The NATO Armaments Ballistic Kernel (NABK) and other tools such as the Tabular Firing Tables Toolkit (TAFT) have been collaboratively designed, implemented, and tested by the partners as the leading implementation of this STANAG.

Canada has been contributing to this program on a continual basis since joining the multi-national team in 1998. Canada’s implementation of the NABK is through the Fires Automation and Targeted Effects System (FATES) application, which is also based on Canadian procedures and unique needs. The NABK allows NATO nations to work at the speed of relevance on artillery interoperability solutions and TAFT has greatly facilitated the timely use of donated artillery ammunition to Ukraine.

The Network

Although this article has focused on the programs and applications that support C2, the central role of the network must not be forgotten. Whether it be a Mesh radio system at the tactical edge, or an enterprise cloud network, it continues to be essential to provide seamless connectivity, access, and cyber protection.

 One of the many lessons learned from the war in Ukraine is the importance of resilient networking. The network transports the data that the applications use to support all domain situational awareness and accelerated decision-making by commanders at all levels.

New technologies such as Low-Earth Orbiting (LOE) satellite constellations and advanced crypto algorithms, which include commercial algorithms, offer military planners more network options than ever before.

Integration to Leverage Interoperability Efforts and Meet the CAF’s C2 Needs

The CAF has fielded and is using a range of COTS, MOTS, and in-house developed applications to meet its force generation and operational needs. As already described, , many of these tools are effective and interoperable within their domain. Despite this, there remain many holes. The systems are often standalone, complicating their use and reducing their effectiveness in accelerating a commander’s decision-making. One of the major deficiencies is an effective application for pan domain situational awareness. Despite years of effort, the selection of a core battle management application that supports all domain situational awareness has so far evaded the CAF.

This application must be integrated with the many effective applications that have already been developed or purchased and are in use throughout the CAF today. It must also be interoperable with the C2 systems of the CAF’s coalition partners as Canada’s defence policy envisions operating in coalitions to achieve Canada’s defence objectives. Further, this integrated solution must be fully tested in a joint and coalition environment.

Conclusion

Integrations and interoperability efforts throughout the CAF are critical if the CAF is to meet Canada’s defence objectives and be an effective coalition partner in global operations. The challenges to achieve an integrated and interoperable force are significant. Even our biggest allies continue to struggle. The complexities of integration and interoperability will be the focus of the 2024 Vanguard C4ISR and Beyond Conference, providing participants an opportunity to continue the discussion started here. DND and CAF leaders, coalition partners and industry partners will present their perspectives, perspectives that will shape the forward. The time to act is now.

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