More than any other branch of government, the military relies on cutting edge technology. But buying that technology is risky business. Products that perform well during corporate demonstrations do not always measure up when put through their paces by soldiers in the field.

A reasonable equivalent of those paces can be found at the Coalition Warrior Interoperability Demonstration (CWID), an annual three-week project of the U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. CWID brings together the armed services and government agencies of numerous countries to evaluate the interoperability of information-sharing technologies in combat conditions, allowing national coordinators to assess domestic and international programs and weed out those that fail to deliver what they promise.

The Canadian coordinator, Maj. Pat Bailey, rolls his eyes and chuckles while reflecting on those results. Without naming names, there have been some remarkable failures in the four years that the Canadian Forces Experimentation Centre (CFEC) has overseen Canada’s participation in CWID.  “We’ve had a few that just didn’t work,” says Bailey, who heads the project for the CFEC.

“CWID reduces the risk of emerging technology,” he explains, noting that a strong performance could ensure such technology a slightly quicker trip through the procurement process. “But if it doesn’t work as well as planned, the sponsor can walk away.”

Multinational Comparisons  For 2005, the interoperability trials took place between May 31 and June 24 and included forces and agencies from 23 nations on one experimentation network. Participants included the U.K., Australia, Canada, New Zealand, NATO and member countries, as well as NATO observers such as Russia, the Czech Republic and Lithuania. The CFEC evaluated five Canadian technologies as well as 12 from the international community; in all, 55 technologies were put under the microscope. The five CF-led trials included two situational awareness or mapping programs, one collaborative operations planning system and two intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) information dissemination programs.

Canadian companies can be exposed to as many of the participants as they choose, but to be accepted for the trials — overseen by the U.S. Joint Forces Command (USJFCOM) in Norfolk, Virginia — each product must be sponsored by a branch of the CF or a department or agency. Canadian participants this year included xwave, Black Coral, Microsoft, Lockheed Martin, Offshore Systems International, Titus International and Idelix Software

“The idea is to verify and validate technology that has already gone through the R&D process but is not yet on the market,” Bailey says, adding he looks for IT solutions that can be adopted within 18 months.

For John Jacobson, president of Vancouver, B.C.-based Offshore Systems International (OSI), CWID was the ultimate trade show, a rare opportunity to demonstrate a product before 23 countries simultaneously.

“Anytime you spend two solid weeks sitting side by side with your potential customer you are learning something new,” he says. “The flexibility of the demonstration environment allowed us to ask the end users what they liked and did not like, make a few changes, and then ask again. By the end of the exercise, you have a much clearer feel for how your technology would actually be used, versus how it was designed to be used.”

Not only is it a way for the defence community to observe new and evolving technology, but the coalition aspect allows for unique testing.

“This is a rare thing, given that most procurement is local, with testing and evaluation at the local — not global — level,” Jacobson says. “There is nothing else like it anywhere, as far as I can tell. CWID allows us to expose Canadian technology to 22 other nations in a way that is credible and measurable.”

OSI demonstrated its Common Operational Picture product line (COP PL), a system designed to provide near real time access to geospatial and tactical data sponsored by the Joint Intelligence Information Management (J2IM) division of the Department of National Defence. Because of how the technology was tested – “in an extremely aggressive and heavily loaded environment” – the trials forced OSI’s servers to “handle work loads that none of the existing program requirements would have predicted. We showed we could handle live Netcentric Warfare loadings.”

If there is a drawback, it’s the commitment of time and resources for smaller organizations such as OSI. Jacobson suggested a road map from “success at the demonstration to procurement of the technology” would help participants justify the expense.   On Trial  To evaluate each technology solution, Canadian Forces personnel measure it against specific objectives in a trial scenario. Gathered in a windowless room at the main site at CFEC in Ottawa – four other Canadian sites were on the network, including Valcartier, Quebec and Winnipeg, Manitoba – representatives from the various services sat in front of computer screens, role playing to conditions on the ground with simulated responses, coordinated over the network by the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) in Arlington, Virginia.

The trials, which took 18 months to plan, consisted of two scenarios, one involving homeland defence and the other a coalition task force (CTF). The first involved 14 incidents, ranging from a weapons launch in Boston to an oil tanker explosion in the Welland Canal, to detonation of a radiological device or dirty bomb at the Port of Seattle. Participants included U.S. Northern Command, U.S. Coast Guard, National Guard, FBI and Public Safety & Emergency Preparedness Canada.

The second scenario revolved around a fictional region of Africa, beset with ethnic tension, support for terrorist training and clashes over oil reserves. Two hostile nations were threatening stability in the region – which on a map looked suspiciously like the Carolina-Florida coastline – and two neighbouring countries, in danger of invasion, requested UN and NATO military support and humanitarian aid.

The CTF operation unfolded over 11 days and, through defensive and offensive operations, included establishing bases in friendly countries and delivering humanitarian assistance. In addition to U.S. European Command, participants included the ‘five eyes’ nations of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, U.K. and U.S., as well as NATO and member nations and the Republic of Korea.

Not surprisingly, says Bailey, the first two weeks were riddled with bugs as operators and technicians adjusted to the new technology. But by the third week, all was running relatively smoothly.

Hosted by the U.S. Northern Command (USNORTHCOM), CWID began in 1994 as the Joint Warrior Interoperability Demonstration (JWID), evolving from a U.S. Army program called Secure Tactical Data Network, which was intended to evaluate C4 capabilities. Among the initial technologies was a demo of what became the Global Command and Control system, adopted six weeks after the trial by the U.S. Atlantic Command to support military operations in Haiti.

In 2002, JWID shifted from solely assessing technology to focusing on coalition interoperability. Hosted by the U.S. Pacific Command, participants included Pacific Rim nations such as Japan, South Korea and Singapore as well as observers Malaysia and the Philippines.

Last year saw the introduction of government inter-agency information-sharing with the Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency, FBI and U.S. Coast Guard and the Canadian Office of Critical Infrastructure Protection. The program was renamed CWID in 2005 to better reflect the broader range of participants, and will be hosted for the first time by the U.S. European Command in 2006.

From a small, inter-service operation, CWID has grown to a multi-nation, multi-department demonstration of interoperable information technology, providing a platform for both industry and the military to evaluate each product under the pressures of realistic scenarios.