They are specialists, technical wizards in every sense.
They bring together complex communication systems, enabling multiple battlefield assets to work together, understand each other and view real-time movements seamlessly. Add multiple languages to this equation, as well as completely different coalition operating systems, and you quickly realize the need for a catalyst to make all this work.
“We are, in essence, the hinge pin of the coalition,” shared Col. Stephen P. Case, Commander of the 209th Digital Liaison Detachment based in Wackernheim, Germany. The DLD serves under the 7th Mission Support Command and is part of U.S. Army Europe’s reserve component.
“We see the battle plans from a coalition perspective,” said Case. “From this larger picture, we can fill any gaps we’ve identified throughout the entire system.”
The DLD is currently in Romania supporting exercise Saber Guardian, working under a NATO enhanced brigade. SG 19 is an exercise co-led by the Romanian Joint Force Command and U.S. Army Europe, taking place during June at various locations in Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania. The exercise is designed to improve the integration of multinational combat forces.
Any time multiple nations work together during a military exercise, there will be wrinkles that need ironing out, gaps that need to be filled. In this case, armed forces from Romania, Poland, Portugal, Italy and Canada teamed with the DLD to identify and resolve voice, data and operating system issues.
As an example, advanced parties initially occupied the DLD’s area of operations in Bordusani, Romania and immediately created a terrain model and digital graphics with named areas of interest. For follow-on forces, simply identifying those initial areas proved challenging due to differences among the naming conventions of NATO allies and partner nations, Case explained.
“Europe is a unique situation where you will have multiple ways of doing business,” shared Case. “But we are here to identify best practices in every warfighting function. In this case, logistics were improved by creating a common name for targets.”
This is just one of many examples where coalition partners learned to work together more efficiently, which is exactly why Saber Guardian is important.
During the month-long exercise, not only has the DLD partnered with numerous allied nations, they also continue to work closely with the Center for Army Lessons Learned to ensure future exercises will benefit from the knowledge gained in Romania.
“Getting everybody onto one page is a really big deal. It brings us together as a coalition, helping us become more interoperable,” shared Case.
U.S. based communication systems are not universally utilized throughout the European armed forces, including many NATO allies. What is unique about the DLD is their ability to put together a common operating picture for everyone involved.
A related issue that has frequently plagued previous multinational exercises is the fact that certain coalition radio systems are incompatible with U.S. systems.
“Right now, the Romanian radios do not speak to U.S. radios,” added Case. “The technologies are different, but we resolve this issue by building voice bridges to enable communication.”
Working with the Romanians during exercise Saber Guardian, on their soil, and operating within Romanian-controlled bases has provided ample opportunity for collaboration. For instance, lessons learned from this multinational exercise have taught both forces to not rely solely on cell phones as a secondary form of communication.
“The technologies we have established help keep people off their fallback methods of communication,” reiterated Case.
This is extremely important for security reasons, especially when going up against an opposing force with the capacity to triangulate cell phone signals. In this case, the more time spent together with NATO allies, the more refined the operation becomes.
“It’s great working with coalition partners,” added Case. “Not just learning their tactics, techniques and procedures, but also gaining a different perspective.”
However, Saber Guardian is not just about enhancing military preparedness. The exercise provides an opportunity to build solid, lasting relationships with partners that U.S. forces will continue to work with in the future.
“The Romanian culture, their language, the things they love and appreciate; it has all been a tremendous reward for us,” said Case.
With operations stretching from the snow-capped Carpathian Mountains of Transylvania to the beautiful Black Sea coast, Romania has given Soldiers many incredible memories over the last month.
With all that Romania and Saber Guardian have offered, the DLD has worked hard to give back just as much as they have received. Their primary focus has been to provide reliable, real-time connectivity among coalition partners.
“We are able to view our partners’ picture of the battlefield and embed their information into our systems,” shared Case. When the Joint Task Force commander wants to see what’s happening in the field, DLD provides the solution.
“The commander can tap into our system and receive a complete picture,” added Case.
This is not meant to replace commander to commander dialogue. Instead, the DLD enhances their communication by providing greater situational awareness.
This awareness stretches beyond simply NATO land forces. The DLD also assists in coordinating air defense and airspace management, as well as synchronizing fire support.
Despite this multifaceted capability, the DLD can also scale from coalition, corps and division level operations down to brigade level by splitting their team into two autonomous, yet fully capable sections.
“As a reserve officer, it makes me proud that reserve units would be entrusted with one of the more complicated tasks to ensure interoperability among the joint, multinational theater,” shared Case.