With this issue of SIGNAL Magazine focusing on Army technologies, George I. Seffers takes us right to the heart of the action in Afghanistan in his recent coverage as an embedded journalist. As SIGNAL's technology editor, Seffers had the opportunity to get up close and personal with the needs of warfighters in that mountainous, unforgiving terrain. Dismounted soldiers have to be the boots on the ground and go where no vehicle has possible ventured before. In his article, "Critical Need Pushes Prototypes Into Afghanistan," Seffers talks to the folks who explain how the newest of the new technologies need to be fielded quickly, even if that means putting a prototype system into action in order to provide digital communications capabilities to warfighters in real time. It may seem like the old adage of "toss the child into the water and he'll learn to swim" type of operation, but it's much more sophisticated, with operational test and evaluation built in from the start. Speaking on these concepts is Lt. Col. Joseph Hilfiker, USA, former communications director for Regional Command-East (RC-East), who explains that most of today's military communications systems are designed to be mounted inside vehicles. Of course, that capability has to be able to move to the mobile soldier-the one on two feet-when terrain blocks vehicles. When the landscape obscures the view, line of sight must go beyond line of sight, which includes the Distributed Tactical Communications System (DTCS). The DTCS is developed by ITT Defense and Information Solutions and uses the Iridium satellite signal for encrypted, on-the-move, omnidirectional capability. Other critical systems include the Broadband Global Area Network satellite terminal, which can hook up to a Harris 117 radio and have the ability to chat; and the Panther SATCOM system from L-3 Communications. The main goal is putting the technology into the troops' hands, through such avenues as embedding GPS chips into DTCS radios and issuing personal digital assistants-PDAs-to troops. The Panther system can hook up to the Afghan Mission Network-a definite bonus. One great advantage to working with prototype systems is that they're less entangled in red tape than so-called programs of record, according to Col. Hilfiker:
All of this is done in theater-research and development in theater. All the stuff we're doing with DTCS, frankly if it was a program of record, there would be people lining up to tell us we can't do it. There are too many rules.
The colonel also discounts the idea that having these capabilities in RC-East might create interoperability problems with forces in the other regions. However, he emphasizes, very few operations require forces from different regions to work together, and on those rare occasions when they do, the prototype systems are just another added capability RC-East can bring to the battle. For success stories and program details, read the full article. What are your thoughts on early fielding of technology? Are there other ways to speed up the process from drawing board to battlefield without sacrificing quality? Share your ideas here.