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Tactical Concepts Come to Life

November 2002
By Maryann Lawlor
E-mail About the Author

Experiment reveals pros and cons of strategies for the future.

Emerging technologies and new strategies may result in as much as a tenfold increase in the U.S. military’s operations planning capabilities. In what has been touted as the largest military experiment in history, participants analyzed how the armed forces will fight in the future and what tools they will need to wage war more effectively. Although many of the systems and concepts are aimed at a 2007 battlespace, several of them may bring more immediate benefits for warfighters.

Millennium Challenge 2002 (MC 02), a three-week experiment sponsored by the U.S. Joint Forces Command (JFCOM), Norfolk, Virginia, tested and validated joint and service-specific experimental warfighting concepts (SIGNAL, July, page 51). More than 13,000 participants in nine live-force locations and 17 simulation locations across the United States took part in the experiment that included both fielded and computer-generated forces. In addition to the concepts, experimenters examined the capabilities of individual technologies.

Although MC 02 had several specific objectives, the primary goal was to determine the extent to which U.S. forces can establish and maintain knowledge superiority when facing an adversary. MC 02 personnel also investigated capabilities that would ensure access into and within a battlespace as well as how to employ other-than-military assets to conduct warfare and maintain an effective fighting force against enemy tactics that are different from those the United States has faced in the past. The U.S. Defense Department and Congress will use MC 02 data to judge the effectiveness of the force and military transformation progress to meet current and future threats.

Lt. Gen. B.B. Bell, USA, commanding general, U.S. Army 3rd Armored Corps and Fort Hood, Texas, relates that MC 02, like many other experiments and exercises, is the military’s effort to come to grips with the infosphere, one piece of which is the technology. Gen. Bell, who was the commander of the U.S. joint task force for MC 02, says information has become one of the elements of combat power.

For eons, military operations have consisted of four elements, the general explains. Firepower is the ability to deliver lethal projectiles. Maneuver refers to positioning the troops for a tactical advantage. Leadership is the unifying force that brings firepower and maneuver together. Protection recognizes that regardless of how well the first three are executed soldiers must protect themselves.

“Recently, we have found it necessary to add information as an element of combat power—both lethal and nonlethal,” Gen. Bell offers, explaining that information unifies the other elements. “We’ve never looked at it holistically before. But events like MC 02 help us understand the infosphere and teach us how to harness the infosphere,” the general observes.

MC 02 participants were able to see how far the U.S. military has come in wielding information as a combat power, he adds. The collaborative information environment (CIE) supported rapid decisive operations and began the transformation of the traditional military decision-making approach.

“In MC 02, we could see, through the power of information technology, that some of the procedures and doctrinal approaches that we use could begin to shift from staff-centric to commander-centric operations and from a planning-centric to an execution-centric method,” Gen. Bell explains.

The CIE allowed commanders at all levels to evaluate information concurrently. They could assess the situation and then reach a consensus about the best action to take. The general estimates that the commanders could plan and be prepared to execute military operations about four times faster than they did using traditional methods and could accomplish the tasks more effectively.

Col. Christopher Shepherd, USA (Ret.), says MC 02 met all of the objectives outlined by the planners. The colonel is the standing joint force headquarters (SJFHQ) project lead, J-9, JFCOM. The experiment allowed members of all of the services to explore new ways to communicate and test tactical theories to determine how they would actually work in a battlespace. He estimates that collaborative technologies could result in a tenfold increase in planning capabilities.

Four strategic concepts were tested: effects-based operations, operational net assessment (ONA), SJFHQ and the joint interagency coordination group.

While participants generally found MC 02 beneficial and were pleased with the venue and the results, Col. Shepherd points out that any experiment is about more than just successful tests.

“We found some things that need additional work. For example, in ONAs we were trying to integrate a lot of diverse databases, and we need a policy on information sharing. We found some things that didn’t work at all, like coherent information operations. MC 02 did exactly what an experiment is supposed to do. We don’t just learn from the successes but also from the times that concepts didn’t work exactly the way they thought they would. That’s a lesson, too.

“There also were a lot of things that we didn’t plan on learning that we found out from the experiment. For example, users did not need a lot of training in the collaborative information environment. They came to the event with skills because they were already used to working with collaborative technologies,” Col. Shepherd says.

The SJFHQ concept was explored with the help of an experimental prototype that facilitates collaboration. For MC 02, the mission-needs statement of the deployable joint command and control (DJC2) system had been approved by the Joint Requirements Oversight Council; however, the program was still in the concept stage.

A DJC2 prototype, developed jointly by JFCOM and the U.S. Navy, acted as the platform for many of the experimental e-tools employed during MC 02. It allowed users to search for and collect information while making recommendations through the built-in collaborative tools.

Current operations in Afghanistan illustrate the need for this type of platform. Military planners and strategists from U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), Tampa, Florida, operate from a command and control headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base because currently a deployable capability does not exist for the CENTCOM commander to operate effectively inside the theater.

After operation Enduring Freedom began, CENTCOM recognized the need and importance of being inside of the theater and was granted funding during fiscal year 2002 for a deployable headquarters for the CENTCOM commander. Funding to further develop DJC2 was set for fiscal year 2003.

While the capability to share information and communicate in real time has become easier in established operations centers, commanders and troops en-route to an area of operations must continue to rely on traditional communications methods to stay up to date about changes that are occurring in the battlespace as they travel.

A technology used in MC 02 offers one solution to this dilemma. The Joint En-route Mission Planning and Rehearsal System–Near Term (JEMPRS-NT) extends the collaborative environment so commanders can continue to be in the decision-making loop while in transit.

MC 02 was the first test venue for this portable command and control system. The technology’s developers believe that if JEMPRS-NT is implemented throughout the military, it could revolutionize how conflicts are planned by eliminating the en-route blackout period.

The system consists of a case of computer laptops and other hardware with a uniquely engineered federation of servers and software. It streamlines and compresses the bandwidth-heavy information used by ground-based communications systems and meshes multiple streams of data into a single stream.

For the experiment, a common operational picture (COP) synchronous tool allowed the four global command and control system (GCCS) elements to work in concert. An experimental collaborative workspace provided users with capabilities such as text chat, voice over Internet protocol and instant messaging.

During MC 02, Gen. Bell experienced the hands-on benefits of JEMPRS-NT. As he traveled from Virginia to California, then on to the USS Coronado, Col. Shepherd says experiment participants were unable to tell when the general was en route.

Gen. Bell points out the benefit to commanders of being able to employ collaborative capabilities throughout the battlespace, including from the front lines.

“Five years ago when we looked at digitized systems tools, they tied us to a fixed location. These things now have gotten so compact that they’ve become mobile,” he explains. This capability allows commanders to lead from the front, which is critical, he adds.

Although much has been accomplished, battle command platforms that allow commanders to be forward in the battlespace still need some work, the general says. “The more we can free up the commanders to float throughout the battlespace but still remain connected to the information, the better,” he says.

During the execution of fixed base operations, Gen. Bell was impressed by the advantages effects-based operations offer to commanders. “The ability to develop and assess nodal databases has become essential. It allows organizations to drill down into certain aspects of the enemy terrain and empowers you to attack certain nodes to achieve an effect. We demonstrated that the development of ONAs will give answers to the commanders’ questions about how to achieve an effect. The military is able to get inside the capacities of the enemy and achieve the effect rapidly, decisively and without endangering the forces. That demonstrates that information, in its own right, is an element of combat,” he says.

One of the most unique aspects of MC 02 was the use of simulated forces. About 80 percent of the experiment’s forces were computer generated. The model simulation federation allowed MC 02 participants to explore strategies for future battlefields.

Annette C. Ratzenberger, chief, experimentation engineering department, J-9, JFCOM, and her staff linked 42 model simulations into what she calls the largest and most complex simulation federation ever built.

“We asked the services what we needed to portray and what models they usually use for experimentation. They nominated their models, most of which had never run together before. We brought them in, and with the services’ help we created the joint virtual battlespace that the joint force commander and his staff dealt with during MC 02,” Ratzenberger says.

The software simulated individual platforms such as tanks, aircraft and submarines. In some cases, the simulations featured comprehensive details. For example, the aircraft carrier included individual decks, elevators and even the landing signal officer waving the aircraft off the deck. Theater ballistic missiles were shown in detail that included their flight patterns. In other instances, the simulations were more generalized. The effects of tank rounds, for example, were simulated; however, individual rounds were not.

Ratzenberger and her team were extremely satisfied with how well the live and virtual forces melded. “In the simulation world, you could not see the difference between live and simulated entities. So when military leaders were visiting, we had a hard time discriminating between the two,” she relates.

Typically, when a mix of live and virtual forces are involved in an exercise or experiment, they can only be viewed on the command, control, communications, computers and intelligence (C4I) devices. “On our simulation screens at MC 02, we were actually getting the feeds from the live soldiers and equipment at Fort Irwin, California. So we could see the live soldiers moving around in the simulation. As a result, we saw a lot of unplanned interactions being attempted. This revealed questions about where we need to go with this live/simulation mix,” Ratzenberger explains.

One incident during MC 02 demonstrated an unintentional benefit of using virtual forces. Ratzenberger relates that during the experiment a fire alarm went off at the San Diego site. The participants had to evacuate the building; however, the simulation continued to run. “About two minutes later, we noticed that one of the Navy ships had started to fire, and we thought that someone hadn’t gotten the message that a fire alarm had gone off and the people at the San Diego site were not at their workstations. We didn’t get an answer. A half-hour later, the people in San Diego came back into the building and saw our message. They told us, ‘The ship you were looking at in the simulation was a ghost of a live ship using its land attack warfare system.’ That system is how they fire off of the ship and was tied to the simulation. So rather than firing live rounds, it continued to fire in simulated rounds. Without the simulation, the experiment would have stopped,” she says.

In another instance, a U.S. Army commander of the blue forces sent out his simulated forces as the lead element of an attack. Once the blue forces came into contact with the red forces, they relayed situational information to the live commander who changed his strategy based on the data.

Ratzenberger and her team were surprised at how smoothly the simulations ran. The virtual federation was built to continue running even if one simulation went down; however, it was a plan that never had to be used because the technology performed without incident.

This was a considerable accomplishment in light of how the federation was developed. While the majority of the simulations had been developed over a two-year period, Ratzenberger relates that toward the end of the planning process the services wanted to bring in new simulations. JFCOM had designed and published a joint federation agreement, and the proposed simulations were required to follow these rules. Because the services adhered to the agreement so well, participants were unable to distinguish between simulations that had been developed well in advance of the experiment and those that were added, she says.

Ratzenberger allows that some technical problems arose, but they were addressed through teamwork. “The people worked well together and worked to help with each other’s problems. Whenever there was something to solve or some issue, we didn’t have anyone saying, ‘It’s your simulation.’ They all worked through the issue. Some of the problems are the same ones we face in the real world,” she states.

The extensive modeling and simulation work for MC 02 will yield far-reaching benefits. During the next year, JFCOM will establish a continuous experimentation environment that will employ some of the subsets of the MC 02 simulations. The virtual joint operations center will be used to examine new problems on a continuous basis.

“In the past, we have had to tear it down after every experiment or project. In the near future, we will have a facility that’s our own, now that we feel that we’ve proven it will work. This is a big step. In MC 02, we had 32,000 to 35,000 entities at any one time, but that’s not where we want to be. We want to get up to 100,000 or more entities because today’s fighting will include more entities,” Ratzenberger explains.

Because the federation object model and agreement helped ensure that technologies could be used effectively within the virtual environment, it will be published as a manual for using the facility, Ratzenberger says. Organizations that want to use the virtual environment will have to meet these standards, she adds.

Air and Space Center Supports Experiment

The U.S. Air Force is closing the seams in the find-fix-track-target-engage-assess kill chain by increasing the speed at which the military’s finders, deciders and shooters can share information.

Military officials who participated in the U.S. Air Force Joint Expeditionary Force Experiment 2002 (JEFX 02), one component within Millennium Challenge 2002 (MC 02), say that work in many focus areas contributed to accelerated information sharing, and the results of the experiment demonstrate that the goal to achieve greater kill-chain efficiency is within reach.

The JEFX 02 team designed and constructed a state-of-the-art joint air operations center (JAOC) at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, that was used during MC 02 and will likely serve as the model for the next generation of air operations centers. The center included 60 infrastructure systems and eight new initiative systems that were tested. These systems will increase the capability to produce and execute air tasking orders, prosecute time-critical targets and manage intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets.

Lt. Gen. William T. Hobbins, USAF, relates that machine-to-machine communications and parallel processing were two of the key enablers of quick information sharing. The general, who is commander of the 12th Air Force, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, acted as the joint forces air component commander for JEFX 02. He emphasizes that the experiment focused on the importance of space assets in fighting wars in the future.

JEFX 02 examined several process and technology initiatives that ranged from search and rescue to predictive battlespace awareness. For example, the Combat Rescue 2007 effort integrates combat rescue systems and processes within the dynamic command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) collaborative environment at the operational- and tactical-level of command and control. A crash survivor’s location and condition can be obtained so the pilot can be considered a time-critical target, and rescue missions can be executed as such.

Gen. Hobbins explains that during JEFX 02 both live and virtual survivors were rescued, and although those missions were generally successful, some shortcomings were revealed. While information could be shared between combined air operations personnel and the rescue team, direct communication between the survivor and the rescuers needed work, the general offers.

Another initiative examined during JEFX 02 would support special operations forces. A combination of tracking and sensor technologies would allow the commander in a combined air operations center to track and query special forces units and request action or intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance data.

Data about the location of special forces troops would be fused into the common operational picture, which would help eliminate incidents of fratricide, Gen. Hobbins explains.

During MC 02, a series of initiatives allowed the JAOC to pull kill-chain information from six and seven computers into one, the general says. The various intelligence specialties were combined so that a commander could view it on one computer rather than several. Collaborative technologies allowed experiment participants to conduct virtual briefings and meetings.

In addition to the technical achievements, JEFX 02 revealed improvements that could be made in the structuring of an air operations center. For example, personnel within specific disciplines such as intelligence, space assets and available aircraft were seated together so they could immediately share their expertise. These types of changes will help reduce the time between when a target is found and when it is engaged through to damage assessment, the general explains.

With the help of technology, the kill-chain time frame decreased from hours to half-hours, the general says. While the execution time depends on a number of factors, the general reports that the experiment revealed that the time between fixing and engaging a target can be less than 30 minutes and in many cases less than 20 minutes. One goal is to reduce this amount of time to less than 10 minutes; however, Gen. Hobbins emphasizes that shortening the cycle depends on the ability to acquire and share extremely reliable information to avoid collateral damage.

The general points out that, at times, attacking a target immediately may not be the best tactic. Commanders may decide to wait and gather additional information about the adversary rather than launch a strike. “We’re getting smart in the way we apply information,” he says.

Although some of the technologies used during JEFX 02 may not be available to the warfighter for some time, Gen. Hobbins points out that the tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) explored during the experiment may immediately affect current operations.

“Most of the commanders that ran the JAOC at Nellis will go to operation Enduring Freedom in a few weeks and will take the knowledge with them. They can use the information about TTPs, so we are sending people there with knowledge,” he offers.