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Army Transformation Changes Force Targets for Digitization

July 2000
By Robert K. Ackerman
E-mail About the Author

Situational awareness takes center stage as experts maneuver to plan for rapid deployments in different types of operations.

The U.S. Army’s transformation to a rapid-response fighting force is compelling its information systems experts to shift their plans for digitization. Situational awareness is increasing in importance, sensors are becoming more sophisticated, and diverse elements and activities are being linked to make the individual soldier an information-enhanced warrior.

In practical terms, the transformation can be defined by the Army’s goal of deploying an initial brigade combat team (IBCT) to a crisis area within 96 hours of its departure order. This brigade team would expand into a warfighting division in 120 hours and into five divisions in 30 days. Ultimately, as technologies permit, the distinctions between light and heavy forces will begin to disappear.

Achieving these capabilities will require the introduction of new technologies that permit the mobile force to take full advantage of the digitized battlefield that the Army has been designing for more than a decade. Increases in operations tempo will require increases in sensor tempo. Wireless networking and satellite links on the move will be standard operating procedure, which in turn will require new antenna types. And, greater networking will mandate new routing and switching approaches.

This transformation is forcing the Army “to relook the systems that are coming online into the Army and the way we use them,” says Brig. Gen. Steven W. Boutelle, USA. Gen. Boutelle is the program executive officer for command, control and communications (C3) systems at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. His office is part of the Army’s command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, electronic warfare and sensors team, which also includes the Communications–Electronics Command (CECOM). He directs the integration of the systems that tie together all of the Army’s battlefield mission areas, which encompasses most of the Army’s communications systems as well as command and control systems such as air defense, intelligence, electronic warfare, artillery, maneuver and combat services support.

Gen. Boutelle explains that requirements for many of these incoming information systems were designed during the Cold War. Over the past few years, the Army has been able to adjust and modify these requirements to fit the existing military environment. Nonetheless, new requirements are being written for Army missions dealing with asymmetrical threats, operations other than war, and the projection force that defines the Army today, he adds.

The transformation is refocusing some advanced information system products to brigades instead of their originally assigned heavy units. Because of the reduced size of the new units, planners are hard at work streamlining the suites in their operation centers.

The first two IBCTs will be fielded at Fort Lewis in Tacoma, Washington. Another three to six may follow. Making a brigade more deployable requires reducing the unit’s footprint—weight and volume—by not shipping heavy equipment as far forward as before. This puts a premium on survivability and lethality in what may prove to be an asymmetrical battlefield.

Having a lighter force with less heavy armor will require leveraging command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) capabilities and situational awareness, the general states. “That will be your survival and will allow you to mass your power and your forces when you need to.” He continues that situational awareness has two sides: the command and control side and the logistics side. Describing situational awareness as a tremendous enabler for logistics, he notes that this capability has not yet been tapped.

For example, vehicles such as fuel tankers, mess trucks and bulldozers are being equipped with advanced Force XXI battle command brigade and below (FBCB2) situational awareness systems to improve their deployment efficiency. Traditionally, the Army has done poorly in deploying those platforms where they are needed, the general relates. Placing FBCB2s on these vehicles can double a unit’s efficiency, which translates to a brigade having to carry less fuel or building its necessary terrain constructs faster. Gen. Boutelle describes FBCB2 as the enabler that will allow Army planners to lighten the force.

This transformation requires networking the communications, command and control sides of the Army with sensors and sustainment, notes Col. Stanley Lejay, USA, director of the brigade combat team, C4ISR, special project office at Fort Monmouth. Col. Lejay has operational control of the system architecture work underway for the IBCT. The sensor, command and control and logistics computers all would be networked using the same communications pipes.

Empowering the individual warfighter would allow a single soldier, for example, to use a global positioning system (GPS)-equipped laser-designating device to paint a target for other soldiers, combat vehicles and aircraft. This technology already is being demonstrated, and plans call for deployment to brigades 3, 4 and 5 of the brigade combat team.

As the foundation for current Army operations becomes situational awareness, it is being attained through FBCB2 as well as the tactical internet and commercial protocols. Gen. Boutelle relates that these efforts have focused on the lower level of C3 systems. Now, the Army is going to use these systems for reach-back communications. This will entail extensive use of satellites, both military and commercial, and organic systems.

Core systems such as FBCB2, which provides situational awareness and command and control to lower tactical echelons, will not be as affected by the transformation, the general allows. However, their use will change. One area of change will be their location in the information architecture. For example, the secure mobile antijam reliable tactical terminal (SMART-T) system provides Army links with the Milstar satellite constellation. The super high frequency (SHF) triband advanced range extension terminal (STAR-T) is a triband system that also provides access to commercial satellites. Both of these systems likely will be moved lower in the architecture to provide greater reach-back capabilities, Gen. Boutelle offers.

The key to this reach-back capability may lie in high reliability, he continues. Once communications are moved more forward, effective communications in depth will hinge on brigade, task force or even battalion commanders being able to reach back for information or support with a high degree of confidence. The only way to achieve this will be through a mix of Milstar, tactical and commercial satellite communications, along with tactical internet, he predicts. These would be supplemented, when available, by communications relay packages on tactical unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and on the airborne communication node.

The financial collapse of the Iridium low-earth-orbit satellite system will force a change in plans. The Army planned to equip each division with 40 Iridium telephones for the many worldwide deployments they face. A need still exists for personal handheld telephones that avoid the complexity of military tactical satellite radio, Gen. Boutelle notes. The Army now is examining other cellular telephone systems that are emerging on the global market.

When the reach-back capability is realized, it will lead to substantial changes in Army force deployments, the general states. Ensuring a commander of this high-reliability, high-bandwidth, reach-back communications capability will permit offloading many personnel and hardware to safer areas. For example, many systems and their power generators can be relocated as far away as the United States. This removes them from harm’s way while freeing the battlefield force for faster, more agile movement.

Reach-back satellite systems will require antennas that operate on the move, the general maintains. The Army recently deployed satellite on-the-move antennas for brigade reconnaissance teams and brigade headquarters in the 4th Infantry Division. Instead of conventional dish antennas, these units resemble a round disk that is mounted in the back of a high mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicle (HMMWV).

Gen. Boutelle continues that these antennas are specific to PSC-5 Spitfire ultrahigh frequency manpack units. Some are active in Iraq, Kuwait and Bosnia and Herzegovina. They provide ultrahigh frequency tactical satellite communications both for extending the tactical internet beyond line of sight and for voice links.

The units also are used to extend a single channel ground and airborne radio system (SINCGARS) network via tactical satellite communications. A PSC-5 operator can use a satellite to reach to a distant location and enter a SINCGARS network that includes another PSC-5.

CECOM’s research, development and engineering center, or RDEC, is working on high-bandwidth operations on the move that feature data flows of up to 45 megabits per second. This capability has not yet been brought into the architecture, the general notes, but it lies in the future. Other systems have been tested with conformal and phased array antennas.

FBCB2 also can run over the PSC-5 Spitfire, and it currently is being evaluated running over commercial satellites. Work underway involves testing the ability of FBCB2 to run over multiple systems. This would provide a variety of different systems to enable communications in depth. With production versions now appearing, researchers are prototyping handheld FBCB2s in an upcoming joint combined force advanced warfighting experiment.

In some cases, FBCB2 software can be rehosted on a platform that either lacks a computer or is already equipped with an embedded unit. In aviation, the software is being ported to the Lynx operating system, and this will permit it to be placed on board a vehicle in the form of embedded battle command with all of its inherent capabilities. For the M1 tank, FBCB2 resides on a separate card that is plugged into a backplane. All of the Army battle command system (ABCS) systems have FBCB2 ported into their software, the general notes. And, FBCB2s are the units slated to equip the Army’s bulldozers and tankers.

The general offers that the fastest-moving technologies involve routing and switching. “We are now a router-based architecture—we are IP [Internet protocol]-based, and that in itself is a significant event,” he declares. The Army currently runs the [transfer control protocol] TCP/IP Internet protocol, and it hopes to evolve through the warfighter information network-terrestrial system to voice over IP. The new advanced system improvement plan SINCGARS can accommodate a special card that gives it a router capability. The newest conventional SINCGARS comes with a built-in router.

The march of information technology works well with the Army’s top-down digitization program. Heavy divisions were the first to receive large computers and bulky satellite systems. Now, as the service is moving to medium and light divisions, the size and weight of this high-technology gear is shrinking drastically. “We have removed 20 tons of computers out of the 4th Infantry Division over the past year,” Gen. Boutelle states. This was achieved in part by rehosting many systems on notebook computers and reducing reliance on heavy UNIX systems. While the large UNIX systems are still valued for their processing power, computers must become even lighter to satisfy requirements for light forces.

New protocols are essential for larger numbers of soldiers to take advantage of this new digitization. Gen. Boutelle notes that industry has addressed many of the complexity problems of network use with advances such as self-forming and self-healing networks and automatic- joining systems. The Army is working with many companies such as Sun, Microsoft and Motorola to ensure that many protocols currently being written for industry are adaptable to the battlefield. The goal is to incorporate some advances on local area networks initially and on wireless and high-bandwidth networks eventually.

One approach suggested by Col. Lejay is to use IP addresses as facilitators to network sensors and sustainment computers. An individual tank, for example, will have a logistics IP address that is queried by FBCB2’s embedded battle command to generate information in the tactical internet for the standard Army management information systems (STAMIS) logistics resupply computers. This all would take place in a logistics quick-fire mode. Col. Lejay offers that the key to this capability will be to have IP addressing in all of the domains—command and control, sensors and sustainment.

A greater reliance on situational awareness, coupled with faster operations, will shift the emphasis to sensors. Gen. Boutelle calls for sensors that can collect and provide vital information quickly. Sensors must be able to identify an enemy and report its location down to the battlefield in seconds. Above all, multiple sensor data must be merged, correlated and disseminated quickly to the warrior, he declares.

Gen. Boutelle predicts the digitized battlefield will be enabled by a balance of commercial and military technologies. Where several years ago experts believed that most goals could be attained through commercial off-the-shelf acquisitions, this perception changed “as you really peel the onion back,” the general states. The military is not a driver for the commercial market, so the defense sector must develop its own solutions for some requirements.

“We still do not have commercial off-the-shelf gear that really meets the rigors that we need as you move forward on the battlefield,” he warrants. “Things like FBCB2 are ruggedized, and that is the kind of middle of the road that we are going to be on.” At the corps and theater levels, ruggedized or military-specific equipment is not as necessary, and commercial gear can come into play to a greater degree. He describes the reliance on commercial technologies as a sliding scale ranging from slight use for the forward warfighter, increasing to maximum use at the sustaining base.

“If we went pure commercial, all of our potential adversaries would have the same access we do, so our nation’s leverage must be how well we integrate that, how well our sensors do, and how well we can make that information quickly available to the warfighter,” he adds. Operating systems, protocols and software are likely to emerge more from the commercial sector, but the true power the United States has over its potential adversaries is the potential to integrate these commercial software products into military systems, the general allows.

As with any institutional shift, cultural changes pose their own challenges. “There are not large groups of people out there who understand networking, communications in depth, and reach-back and also share the vision of the medium-weight force and the projection capability,” Gen. Boutelle declares. “You have to find all those people who have the same common knowledge and get them together to make this happen.”

Operating networked systems changes the requirements for operating personnel. “We have to train a new breed of warfighter who understands how to leverage it,” Gen. Boutelle emphasizes. “It’s one thing to train a function, [but] it’s another thing to go back into the art of war—that is, how do you fight it.”

Existing training institutions still tend to maintain a stovepipe approach to training, he notes. Field artillery schools train for field artillery, and intelligence schools train for intelligence, for example. That emphasis must be shifted to training on how to receive information from other specialty areas and use it, the general says. The Army Training and Doctrine Command has identified these needs and is working to solve the problem, he adds, but it will require massive changes in the institutional training base.

“We must rapidly change the way we think and do business,” Gen. Boutelle declares. “We need to train leaders who understand that [training] process.

“It is imperative that we do that, especially with our communications people,” he continues. “We’re competing with industry for people who can set up routers and switches and satellite systems.”

Planners Focus on Sensors For Brigade Effectiveness

The U.S. Army’s transformation portends a pre-eminent role for real-time sensors. By 2010, every entity on the battlefield—aircraft, vehicle and soldier—will be a candidate for a sensor. A major challenge lies in bringing technology down to size to fit those platforms. And, these sensors must be operating in advance of engaging individual soldiers to ensure their clear overmatch capability.

No longer will forces have the luxury of waiting even a few seconds for vital data. Near-instantaneous target identification will be necessary to improve the survivability of the brigade combat team.

Major changes may not be in the works for the Army’s sensors, but the primacy of their role in the brigade combat team construct is changing, suggests Edward Bair, Army program executive officer for intelligence, electronic warfare and sensors, Fort Monmouth. According to Bair, one of the minimum parameters for the reconnaissance version of the Army’s pending interim assault vehicle will be a long-range advance scout surveillance system sensor, or LRAS3. Effectively a second-generation forward-looking infrared system, it will allow scouts to see as far as 10 kilometers—a tenfold improvement over current capabilities. This will enable distant target artillery location down to 60-meter-quality coordinates.

Pre-eminent among sensor systems for the brigade combat team is the tactical unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). Slated for fielding within 18 months, this UAV will be equipped with electro-optic and infrared sensors. It will provide brigade commanders with the ability to see over the next hill in real time. Bair emphasizes that UAVs will increase in importance with the transformation.

“In my opinion, we haven’t even scratched the surface on the possibilities, as well as the challenges, of tactical unmanned aerial vehicles,” he states. “Not only are we going to be flying them, more and more our threats are going to be flying them. We will deal with an airspace management and deconfliction challenge at the brigade level.”

Reach-back capabilities will become important for sensors as well as for commanders. Reduced-weight deployments mean that the Army will not be able to bring every sensor in its inventory to the theater. The ability to reach back and capture data in near real time from corps and above sensors is vital, and the brigade’s common groundstation is central to that capability. This unit receives joint surveillance target and attack radar system (JointSTARS), Predator UAV electro-optic infrared sensor and synthetic aperture radar, and Apache Longbow data as well as data from national sensors. Bair describes it as a critical link for the brigade commander to plan while holding back from engagement areas.

This increased emphasis on sensors also requires significant leaps in their technologies. Bair notes that the commercial sector performs well in building basic sensor technologies, but the new sensors must be more timely in terms of responsiveness.

Size and weight also are major issues. “We need dramatic reductions in weight,” he declares. “For the tactical unmanned aerial vehicle, we need all-weather sensors that see as far as possible, but we want them to weigh less than 60 pounds. In most instances, sensor technology is not there yet.” Time frames for these necessary advances range from about one year for electro-optical infrared to at least three years for signals intelligence sensors.