This June, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) held its biannual Valiant Shield joint Field Training Exercise (FTX). This U.S.-only training operation brings together warfighters from across domains and services to train in real-life mission scenarios in a theater that is becoming increasingly important for U.S. national defense.
However, this training exercise is also an excellent demonstration of the latest warfighting technologies and solutions. The military’s industry partners view Valiant Shield as an excellent opportunity to showcase their new technologies and the advancements that they’ve made toward the military’s most urgent priorities and requirements.
To learn more about what the demonstration was about, and how companies like Collins Aerospace supported it, The Modern Battlespace sat down with Alex “Neutron” Datzman, Senior Principal Systems Engineer for Mission Engineering at Collins Aerospace. Here is what he had to share.
The Modern Battlespace (TMB): To start, tell us a little bit about Valiant Shield. What does it involve? Who partakes in it?
Alex Datzman: Valiant Shield is a joint exercise in the Indo-Pac theater that focuses on threats within that theater. We are interested in how a joint force would integrate and execute a defensive response for the U.S. Government against any adversaries in that area.
What that entails are specific mission sets focused on responding to likely scenarios that may arise. How would the DoD close kill webs? What is the most advantageous way for a group to operate? How effective are our joint capabilities when tested? These are the kinds of questions that Valiant Shield looks to answer.
TMB: Why is the DoD interested in the Indo-Pac theater specifically?
Datzman: That interest comes from a shift in our national defense strategy, which took place in 2018 under Secretary Mattis. He had the department shift focus from the Middle East and made the primary concern revolve around China and Russia. As such, the Indo-Pac theater has become one of the most important for gaining experience and a better understanding of how to operate.
What we are trying to do is define the technology and solutions that will let us operate effectively in this fast-paced theater and defend our interests. Exercises like Valiant Shield give us a chance to do some free coordination and preplanning. Given that the tyranny of distance in that theater is so immense, we need to take every opportunity we can to do just that.
TMB: You mentioned joint forces, is that just U.S. joint forces or are there allies in the region who are participating?
Datzman: Valiant Shield has been and is still a U.S.-only exercise. However, there are some territories and locations which support the exercise, mainly allowing us to deploy systems, and to make use of their weapon ranges, so there are a vast number of participants.
That being said, Valiant Shield is mostly focused on the Navy, but all services participate. Space Force, Air Force, Marine Corps, and the Army all participated in the joint exercise and deployed forces in the theater to support Valiant Shield.
TMB: So, what does Valiant Shield demonstrate for allies and adversaries? Did Collins demonstrate anything in particular?
Datzman: Overall, we view this exercise as an opportunity to demonstrate the latest technology and solutions that can help the warfighter win in the battlespace. As such we demonstrated a new advanced intelligent gateway solution that we have put on a KC-135. This gateway is an advanced EDGE processing node that can integrate multiple different waveforms and produce and transmit data across the joint force in a way that’s never been done before. We put a version of that gateway on the ground as well in an agile, deployable operations center to represent a couple of other areas that we are focusing on.
Additionally, we’ve tied that back to command and control organizations in the Continental United States. Moving that data such a distance means we’re gathering ISR data from various sources and pushing it to players inside and outside of the theater. This is connecting the joint forces in a way that has never been done before.
TMB: You mentioned some ground applications, can you detail those a bit further?
Datzman: Absolutely. On the ground side, we have connected with Marine Air Control Squadron (MACS) 4 and provided them a demonstration of the movement of that data and the potential of the pictures that they would see that they don’t have right now.
Additionally, we partnered with the OSD R-EAC team and provided them with a ground station so they could also see the movement of data and what was being done. We brought all these together in one network with our corporate siblings at Raytheon Intelligence and Space (RIS) and the Raytheon Multi-Mission Testbed (RMT) platform which acted as an ISR collection source for us as we bridged SA and C2 across joint boundaries. We also connected all this to the Common Mission Control Center (CMCC) at Beale Air Force Base to both leverage and contribute to their integrated and fused multi-domain ISR picture.
To put it simply, we created one giant network on the TTNT network and then provided the players with information off that network via Link 16, TTNT, and MUOS back to the continental U.S. (CONUS) apparatus.
TMB: So, what are the benefits that these innovative solutions deliver to their users?
Datzman: There have been a number of benefits that active warfighters have shared with us. The first is the capabilities above and beyond Link 16.
While Link 16 is a great tool, one that has provided lot of benefits over its predecessor systems, it does suffer from significant latency. It is also limited in what can be sent to the user as it is not an IP-based mesh network. Link-16 is also more vulnerable to adversary attacks than other options. While we need to leverage Link-16’s proliferation and other strengths, this new system fills in the gaps provides assured communications in a stressing environment.
“This solution enables machine-to-machine capabilities that can be used in a timeframe that advantages U.S. players and U.S. forces to stay ahead of the enemy.” – Alex “Neutron” Datzman
Another benefit is the consolidation of data across disparate networks. When you have different bits of information coming in on different pipelines it can be hard to sort and deliver it to the warfighters who need it most. But if you combine those pipelines and fuse that information together, the warfighters get more data – more usable information – in a timeframe that is more valuable to them.
In addition, because it is all data, this solution enables machine-to-machine capabilities that can be used in a timeframe that advantages U.S. players and U.S. forces to stay ahead of the enemy. In the past, we had to send all data to a collection point and have a service member sort the data and produce a report or a document for distribution and use.
Right now, we’re working to provide the ability to move at machine speed, not at the pace of people. With that, we hope to enable warfighters and decision-makers to take action in a timeframe that lets us succeed against any enemy regardless of any existing capability.
TMB: Right now, we hear a lot about the military’s Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2) initiatives and priorities. How does what you have demonstrated fit into those?
Datzman: JADC2 is the central focus and strategy for the DoD. It’s not just one service, and it’s not just one technology; it’s a network of interconnected technologies, policies, tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP). It’s how we’re going to fight a data-centric war in the future in a joint multi-domain fashion. So, I would say that the work we’ve done and that we are demonstrating at Valiant Shield fits precisely into JADC2 strategies.
“This really marries up with the U.S. Air Force’s Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS) capabilities… this could advantage joint players in that theater of operation by leveraging high-TRL technologies and fielded platforms.” – Alex “Neutron” Datzman
We are showing an ability to take existing and future waveforms, data, and information in the battlespace and move it around on the forward edge in a way that really hasn’t been done before. It connects CONUS organizations with the warfighters out on the tactical edge and moves that data around to those players who need access to it the most.
This really marries up with the U.S. Air Force’s Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS) capabilities and compliments the ABMS CR-1 Activity. We really wanted to show off just how this could advantage joint players in that theater of operation by leveraging high-TRL technologies and fielded platforms.
TMB: Why was this level of connectivity something that the military has struggled with in the past?
Datzman: It has been a struggle, and there are a few reasons for that. We are now at the point where the value of data is recognized, and the services understand that having as much as you can get is crucial, but making sense of that data and getting it to where it’s most useful in a timely manner is a real challenge.
“We’re trying to show that [sharing and process data] can be done where the conflict or the battle is happening, in real-time, at machine speed.” – Alex “Neutron” Datzman
We’ve been dealing with silos or stovepipes. Famously, nobody (F-35 included) could talk to the F-22. While this has been improving, that problem, or similar ones, have been present in many of the products produced by industry, largely because each service has worked independently to develop their own solutions with defense partners.
But this is one of the areas Collins has placed a lot of focus. We want to connect that joint data, that ISR fusion of information, and move it around the battlespace. We are looking at these silos and trying to find ways to break down some of them so that we can get data and information across the joint force.
We’re chipping away at that. We’re focusing on how to do that at Valiant Shield with our advanced intelligent gateway demonstration. We’re trying to show that it can be done where the conflict or the battle is happening, in real-time, at machine speed. All those are coming together as we demonstrate this capability and show value to the joint force on what it means to have access and information to data from disparate sources.
TMB: Can you share some of the technologies that are making all this possible?
Datzman: The biggest innovation is our ability to communicate and connect over long distances. As an example, our gateway uses MUOS to transmit up to a satellite and over to the Combined Movement Coordination Center (CMCC) at Beale Air Force Base. That is not exactly something new, but with the combination of new waveforms, our advanced gateway with Rosetta software, our multiple independent levels of security (MILS) Cross-Domain Solution (CDS), and a new solution called INFAMI, now you have a very powerful communication and intelligence fusion node.
Another new technology, more a novel application of existing technology, is the use of app-based solutions. This is similar to a smartphone but on an aircrew multi-function display (MFD). With an iPhone as an example, you can get information from an app and share it when connected to the network, but you can still use the app when it is disconnected.
“Our goal is to bring these technologies and their capabilities to the battlespace where they can provide the warfighter the most good.” – Alex “Neutron” Datzman
This app-based system also has the benefit of allowing capability at the tactical edge as opposed to in the rear, away from the battlespace. The advanced, intelligent, ground or airborne gateways connect a large number of disparate players and moves the data and information together in real-time and at machine speeds.
Our goal is to bring these technologies and their capabilities to the battlespace where they can provide the warfighter the most good, whether they are on the ground, in the air, on a ship, or anywhere.
TMB: How do these new Collins Aerospace technologies fit into the military’s open systems and open architecture directives?
Datzman: Having an open mission systems concept is a key to making the JADC2 strategy a reality. Collins is not developing this technology as a proprietary driver; we’re making it so it can play with an entire network of open architecture solutions including third-party players which we see as a true growth potential area.
We are supporting this growth by using events and demonstrations like Valiant Shield to show the advantage of having an open architecture system that bridges not only fielded platforms and waveforms but also embraces and builds upon advanced and future platforms and waveforms. That’s the most important piece of all this, open architectures allow the DoD and the defense industry to bring in players old and new to create a more robust, effective, and adaptable future for the warfighter.
At the end of the day, what we want to see is a future where our warfighters remain the most well-equipped, most advanced, and most formidable fighting force in the world and that is what was on display at Valiant Shield.
To learn more about Valiant Shield and how Collins Aerospace is working to support the future of the US Military, click here.