You are here

Technology Invades the Battlefield

Advances in communication bring U.S. Army headquarters closer to soldiers in the field.

With U.S. soldiers stationed around the globe,
four-star generals at the Pentagon aren't
waiting anxiously for reports from the field.
Instead, they are leading the command and
watching the troops' every move.

Using Blue Force Tracking, a satellite system prototyped in
Bosnia and Kosovo, the Army, Marine Corps, and coalition troops
and commanders can identify the location of friendly forces as
they move forward in Abrams tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles and
Humvees, as well as Apache,
Blackhawk and Chinook
helicopters.

In past wars,
commanders located ground
forces by calling each of the
units on the radio and
plotting its position on a
board. By the time they made
it through the list—sometimes hours later—it
was time to start over.

"For commanders to be
able to step back and see
where everyone is, have all
those people communicating
back and forth, sending
graphics and overlays—that
was the first time the Army
has done that in significant
numbers in a truly hostile environment," says Army CIO and
Lt. Gen. Steven Boutelle.

"In sandstorms, when you couldn't see 10, 15, 20 yards in front
of you, you could look down at your Blue Force Tracking screen
and see exactly where you were," he adds. "That allowed us to
fight through those sandstorms and make sure that when we saw
something off at the distance, we didn't shoot our own forces."

Underlying communications advances in all the services is the
Department of Defense's (DOD's) Network-Centric Warfare initiative,
which ties together disparate
systems via an Internet
Protocol (IP) platform.
Infrastructure changes enable
the Army to upgrade active
and reserve posts and camps,
build an unmatched
worldwide network, boost
capabilities of its Web portal
and further hone systems.

"We're trying to be more
modular, more lightweight,
more deployable," says Lt.
Col. Bart Hill, strategic
communications officer for
the Army CIO/G-6.

Marching Into the Future

The Army's Installation
Information Infrastructure
Modernization Program (I3MP), a $2.1 billion project, is
revamping networks on posts and camps globally: going from
copper to fiber, upgrading switches and equipping posts with tools
to fight the war on terror. I3MP is leveraging the DOD's $800
million-plus Global Information Grid (GIG) Bandwidth
Expansion project, which, when completed, will provide up to 10-gigabits-per-second capacity to
selected installations.

"Then you've got the
network, and that will tie
anyplace in the United States
to anywhere in the world,"
Boutelle says.

Troop communications
are also getting a boost on the
fly. For instance, the
infrastructure for the 3rd
Infantry Division was rebuilt
with new commercial
switches and satellite systems
when it returned from
overseas. The new equipment
was in place and fine-tuned
before the division returned
overseas.

During the next five to 10
years, the Army's next-generation communications
system, the Warfighter
Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T), will
be integrated into
communication systems.
WIN-T specializes in on-the-move operations and can
extend below the battalion
level to individual vehicles.

Recently, the Army used
line-of-sight and satellite
systems, but was unable to
create one system that could
operate over both networks,
Boutelle says. The system he envisions for the Army would
operate on line of sight within five to 20 miles, but the
moment it lost connectivity, would reach out for the satellite.

Currently, the Army uses 20 percent military satellite systems
and 80 percent commercial.
"We need to reverse that over
the next 10 to 15 years, and we
have satellites scheduled to
launch that should do that,"
Boutelle says.

An underway Army effort
will train and re-equip
reserve and active units so
they can handle specialized
missions and ensure the
availability of backup
battalions, he adds.

"The Army is working on creating modular plug-and-play units prepared to go to fight," reports Army
communications officer Hill. "Instead of months and weeks
[to deploy troops], we're going from weeks to days."

As the Army moves forward, Boutelle has high hopes for
the new soldiers who grew up with technology. "It's like a
thousand flowers
blooming," he says. "The
enemy we have today is
extremely adept at bringing
in commercial technology,
but our strength has
been—and always will
be—in integrating different
systems."

Technology is changing
the way the Army operates,
but is the Army
significantly different
today from what it was a
few years ago?

"Yes and no," says David
Fraley, an Army reservist
and military analyst at
Gartner Inc. in Stamford,
Conn. From a soldier's
perspective, it is, Fraley
says. Army Knowledge
Online (AKO) is a Web
portal that points to
databases and applications
containing everything from
personnel records, payroll
options and classified
operational information to
e-mail and instant
messaging tools. AKO lets
soldiers do necessary tasks
and keep in touch from any
location, whether it's an
office in Washington or a
camp overseas.

"[Soldiers] now have tools that allow them to make
contact with the rest of their life," Fraley says. "That's
important because they can maintain some normality while
they're deployed."

On the downside, the
Army and joint forces are
years from completing
work on such projects as
the DOD's GIG, an upgrade
of the military's core
networks. "They are at the
very early stages of the GIG
project," Fraley points out.
"By every metric, the
delivery of the GIG is on
track, but it's still a long
way from being done."

ARMY INITIATIVES AT A GLANCE

• Re-outfit units returning from overseas with advanced communications.

• Build a communications system that allows for both line-of-sight
and satellite communications.

• Shift from 80 percent commercial satellite systems and 20
percent military to vice versa.

• Upgrade active and reserve posts and camps around the
world to allow for a more modular, deployable Army.

• Build a worldwide network that links Army camps, posts and
stations to the Global Information Grid via Defense Department
high-bandwidth terrestrial links and satellites.

• Tie into that network the Army Knowledge Online Web portal,
put new enterprise systems behind the AKO portal and ensure
consistency of data from all the repositories behind AKO.

MILITARY HISTORY: ARPANET

The Department of Defense played a key role in developing what
is today's Internet. In response to the Soviet Union's launch of
Sputnik in 1957, the DOD formed the Advanced Research
Projects Agency (ARPA) a year later. The goal was to provide the
most advanced technology to the military and survive a nuclear
attack. Almost 10 years later, the DOD began linking together a
network of computers, called ARPANET. By 1969, several
ARPANET-sponsored universities were linked via a 50kbps line.

Dec 31 2009

Comments