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American Forces Press Service

Exercise Seeks Battlefield Information Effectiveness

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 29, 2009 – U.S. warfighters and allies operating in Afghanistan and Iraq depend on various sensor platforms that can provide information about the enemy’s whereabouts night or day, a senior U.S. military officer said today.

That’s why the annual joint Empire Challenge demonstration, which explores how to improve dissemination of vital intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance information to battlefield commanders, is so important, Air Force Col. George J. Krakie, the director of this year’s exercise, told American Forces Press Service.

“It’s about bringing all these different ISR capabilities together to form a coherent picture for the warfighter of the battle space that’s around them,” Krakie said. This year’s four-week demonstration, he said, was held in July at several locations across the world.

Empire Challenge 2009 was the sixth of the series and the first managed by Norfolk, Va.,-based U.S. Joint Forces Command, Krakie said. The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, he said, ran the previous exercises, which are directed by the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence.

Senior officials had decided the demonstration needed to be “more operationally realistic and relevant,” Krakie said, so Joint Forces Command was directed to take the lead.

U.S. military members from all service branches as well as allied participants from France, Norway, Great Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand took part in this year’s demonstration, Krakie said.

Wartime commanders crave situational awareness –- the ability of knowing what is happening around you -- so they can make better, more informed decisions, said Krakie, who is chief of the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance integration division at Joint Forces Command’s intelligence directorate.

“What we’re trying to do for the warfighter,” Krakie said, “is to make sure that all the intelligence that is available, whether it be from these ground sensors or airborne sensors, can be brought together, moved around in an enterprise and made available to the warfighter.”

However, Krakie said, though unmanned aerial systems can provide analog or high-definition photo imagery and other useful information to commanders, that information quickly loses value if it’s not accessible and tailored to users’ needs.

“We don’t want to ‘dump’ large amounts of data on the warfighter at the tactical edge and force him to sort through all that data,” Krakie explained. “But what we do want to do is to make this data available to them to answer specific problems that they’re facing in accomplishing their mission.”

Empire Challenge demonstrations also evaluate new technologies -- such as the high-definition full-motion video sensor being considered by the Air Force -- and how they could fit into existing infrastructure, Krakie said.

The high-definition video was impressive, he said, but some allied participants in the exercise had difficulty accessing the information. “That’s another piece of the interoperability that we work -- to make sure that these sensors are interoperable” among U.S. and allied forces, Krakie said.

This year’s Empire Challenge was conducted at 20 sites worldwide, Krakie said, with scenarios based on lessons learned and case studies that came out of Iraq or Afghanistan.

The main ground demonstrations conducted at China Lake, Calif., took advantage of geographic and climatic conditions similar to those found in Afghanistan. China Lake “had the terrain we wanted,” Krakie said, as well as the heat, dust and wind.

Empire Challenge 2010, slated for August, is planned to be of two-week’s duration will “be very focused on the battlefield problems that are faced in Afghanistan,” Krakie said. “We will do our best to mimic the network and command structure there,” he added.

One of the scenarios for next year’s demonstration, Krakie said, involves analysis of ISR involvement in joint close-air support missions. The focus in that area, he said, is to see how ISR capabilities can help to improve combat effectiveness while minimizing civilian casualties and reducing the likelihood of fratricide.

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