CORAL SEA (July 26, 2011) Watchstanders from the Australian Navy, United States Army and United States Navy discuss training scenarios in the Joint Operations Command Center (JOCC) aboard the USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19) as a part of Exercise Talisman Sabre 2011. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communications Specialist 1st Class Greg Mitchell)

CORAL SEA (Aug. 2, 2011) - American and Australian Armed Forces used a new program to enhance communications abilities while embarked onboard the U.S. 7th Fleet flagship USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19) for Exercise Talisman Sabre 2011 (TS-11) July 9 - 25.

The Improved Connectivity Initiative (ICI) program changed the way two military forces communicated without compromising secret information during the exercise.

"The collaboration is endless," said Royal Australian Air Force Flying Officer Alex Barbaro, a communications watch officer during TS-11. "It enhances situational awareness, no matter where you are; from troops on the ground, at sea, and also from the lowest-ranking Seaman all the way up to Admiral."

The ICI is an agreement between the United States, Canada, Great Britain and Australia to improve connectivity among each other. This is done through a classified information technician system that provides real-time collaboration, command and control and information sharing to the warfighter directly from their national desktop, as opposed to a standalone coalition system.

"In an instant, we have gone from being one-dimensional to multi-dimensional, multi-service and multi-national," said Royal Australian Army Lt. Col. Andrew Butler, assistant communication officer during TS-11.

Australia is the first country to fully participate in the ICI initiative with the U.S., and TS-11 was the first time the program had been used.

ICI allows service members to use web browsing, interactive chat, interactive persistent chat and classified voice conferencing throughout the exercise. The interactive tools allowed the two countries to communicate in a joint environment without the requirement of having to use each country's standalone Command and Control equipment.

"The initiative exceeded nearly all expectations and was extremely effective in enabling increased information sharing across all mission areas," said Capt. John Holmes, 7th Fleet's communications information systems officer. "The Fleet Systems Engineering Team (FSET) reps worked around the clock to enable the numerous capabilities associated with ICI."

Holmes also said although there were a few shortfalls with some collaborative tools, there was always an alternative means of sharing information that allowed collaboration to continue. He said he sees a bright future for the program.

"I have no doubt coalition personnel will develop new ways to improve command and control mission effectiveness as we increase our familiarity and understanding of the architecture as this Initiative moves forward," he said.

TS-11 is a biennial exercise which combines U.S. and Australian air, land and maritime forces. The exercise provides an opportunity to conduct operations in a combined and joint environment that increases both countries' bilateral war-fighting capabilities to respond to crises and provide humanitarian assistance.

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