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Defense Planners Visualize Future Fighting Forces

November 1999
By Maryann Lawlor
E-mail About the Author

Battle laboratory draws on expertise from numerous sources to investigate the effects of a joint presence on the battlefield.

Using modeling and simulation technologies, military, government and industry representatives are gazing as much as 15 years into the future to determine how joint forces will function cohesively while fighting a battle or keeping the peace. The thrust for interoperable technologies is being taken one step further by focusing on joint concepts of operations that intertwine both the U.S. military services as well as coalition force strengths.

While technology specialists are busy designing hardware and software that can talk to each other, the U.S. Defense Department is examining the next step in the mission process. The Joint Experimentation Battle Lab, a facility that will act as the hub of cooperative testing and analysis, represents one of the first strides toward making more than just technology interoperable.

Discussions about joint operations have permeated the Defense Department throughout the 1990s. Joint Vision 2010 (JV2010), an outline of goals for a joint force issued by the department in 1996, melds predictions about technological capabilities with concepts about how battles will be fought in the future. In recent years, Defense Department leaders have reaffirmed their commitment to readiness for facing future adversaries with a united front—both on the battlefield and in cyberspace.

To further reinforce the concept of combined forces as well as the expanding nature of today’s threats, last month the U.S. Atlantic Command, Norfolk, Virginia, was officially renamed the U.S. Joint Forces Command. The new title better describes the group’s present operational role, according to Col. David Ozolek, USA, director of the laboratory.

Late last year, Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen designated the commander in chief of this command as the executive agent for conducting joint warfighting experimentation within the Defense Department. The move acknowledges the need for a single entity to lead investigation and analysis of joint concepts. Foremost among its tasks is determining the doctrine, organization, training and education, materiel, leadership and people implications of change. By using an iterative process followed by incremental refinements, the Joint Experimentation Directorate (J-9) tests concepts before the government makes long-term financial commitments. The directorate aims to find evolutionary improvements in military capability while fostering an environment where revolutionary, “leap ahead” capabilities can be developed, J-9 officials say.

The Joint Experimentation Battle Lab, one component of the command, has completed its first experiment, a look at the theater ballistic missile threat, and recently moved into its own facilities, bringing efforts that have been ongoing since December 1998 into a single location in Suffolk, Virginia. It will take advantage of computer modeling and simulation capabilities located in the Joint Training, Analysis and Simulation Center (JTASC) across the street and will have connectivity to information technology at additional government and civilian facilities.

Col. Ozolek describes the center’s purpose as the “operational side of Joint Vision 2010,” the template for services to build jointness in the military designed by former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. John M. Shalikashvili, USA.

JV2010 centers around four operational concepts. Dominant maneuver refers to the ability to position and coordinate widely dispersed land, air, sea and space forces. Key to this goal is the capability to obtain a complete picture of the battlefield. It is estimated that only 35 to 40 percent of the Vietnam battlespace was discernable, a number that increased to approximately 65 percent during the Persian Gulf conflict. Defense Department officials predict that by digitizing the battlefield, as much as 95 percent of the battlefield will be viewable by 2010.

Precision engagement, the second concept, includes intelligence, communications, attack and assessment capabilities combined into a single system. The goal is to enable U.S. forces to acquire targets, communicate their locations in near real time, assess the best weapons systems to carry out the mission, and then allow planners to assess the results.

Because adversaries could likely possess the same capabilities as U.S. and coalition forces, full-dimensional protection is seen as a critical component in future missions. JV2010 advocates developing approaches that protect friendly forces from threats posed from all levels, from individual terrorists to theaterwide attacks. Included in this objective is removing ballistic missile capabilities from potential adversaries. Information superiority is considered key to the success of this concept.

Focused logistics is the final concept outlined in JV2010. It would allow U.S. forces to be more mobile and versatile by fusing information, logistics and transportation technologies. The goal is a more capable, smaller deployed force and a reduced logistics presence than was possible in the past.

The J-9’s midterm goal is to synchronize joint forces by developing common concepts, processes and technology that move beyond deconfliction and into coordination in support of JV2010. In the long term, the aim is to build coherence across all services and weapon systems from the earliest design stages.

These concepts represent a different way of conducting operations and would result in rapid, decisive operations carried out in days or weeks instead of weeks or months, Col. Ozolek explains.

“On a large scale, the lab will develop future concepts and establish a new paradigm for joint forces. Historically, each service developed its own systems, but this led to interoperability problems and redundancy. This group will help avoid these two problems. So now, looking toward the future, we want to establish a context and build a coherent joint system from the beginning and validate with experimentation what works and what works best,” he says.

To accomplish this task, the laboratory will tap into some of the technologies that will be deployed in future missions. In addition to Defense Department facilities, it currently is working with the Energy Department, academia and the private sector. The laboratory recently held its first technology symposium, which was attended by approximately 200 industry representatives.

Although the Joint Experimentation Battle Lab will focus on total capabilities of the joint force, individual service experimentation programs will continue, Col. Ozolek states.

The 38,000-square-foot facility features working space, conference areas and small laboratories. It is managed by the J-9 and, in addition to battle laboratory personnel, includes liaison officers from individual services, united commands and government agencies such as the Energy Department.

Industry contractors, including General Dynamics and Cubic Communications Incorporated, also are participating in the work at the center. “Companies provide both the technology and concept developers. We work on things like business re-engineering or best business practices but in terms of how this applies in a military setting. We’re looking at best military practices for operations, experimenting with design then analyzing that approach,” the colonel says.

International experimentation also will be conducted at the center. “In terms of international work, you have to have intellectual compatibility as well as the technology capability in terms of their ideas about the concept of operations. The computers are the easy part,” Col. Ozolek offers.

Although equipment interoperability may be addressed with technical solutions, the laboratory will focus on the larger mission picture. Experiments will center on tactical operations against an enemy. Given a specific scenario, laboratory personnel will work on concept development, alternative courses of action, war gaming, dissecting actions and results, and examining parallel efforts. “We will look at designing the right physical plant, and analysis will be conducted as the experiment begins. Then, we will learn from each interaction. In addition, there will be analysis of this experiment and how it relates to other experiments within other operations,” the colonel explains. Lessons learned will not be centered as much on the technology as on the communications that are fundamental to the concept of operations, he adds.

This methodology has become critical in light of the changes in both technology and perceived threats. In the past, advanced technology was the purview of the government; it is now available to a broader group.

“The Cold War approach was a deficiency-based approach. We knew the threat and could do incremental improvements to address the threat. Now, there is a difference because plans must be based on the potential of threat. With technology exploding, we need to explore the potential for technology in terms of what it gives us, but also what vulnerabilities it opens us up to,” Col. Ozolek notes.

The center will focus and pool resources to effectively identify and apply technologies that are emerging to help steer future technology design. By ascertaining the unique needs of a joint military force, the Defense Department will be able to alert industry about which direction research and development for future tools should proceed. This is valuable information for companies, the colonel states.

Experiments can last from a few hours to a few months. The first joint experiment was conducted over a four-month period. Using simulation equipment at JTASC, laboratory personnel examined joint or coalition operations issues in defensive scenarios such as a ballistic missile attack. Participants reviewed advanced intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance technologies as well as dynamic tasking approaches that would be employed in 2010 or 2015. They also conducted trend analysis to determine what technological advancements the technology community believes will be developed by that time. This is the first in a series of large-scale computer-simulated experiments focusing on a number of threat target sets. These threats include systems such as theater ballistic missiles, surface-to-air missile systems, and command and control facilities.

While the laboratory is currently examining theater ballistic missiles in terms of mobile air defense systems and mobile command posts, future experiments will drill down from this more generalized assessment to the role of specific platforms such as aircraft or tanks, the colonel says.

These types of investigations are designed to go beyond the recommendation or acquisition of a particular weapon system. Experimentation is aimed at providing a “sneak preview” into the future capabilities of contents and systems based on the best guesses of defense laboratories and futuristic think tanks, which will predict how defense technology could change during the next 20 years, J-9 officials explain.

The future can be defined in two ways, Col. Ozolek suggests. In terms of the immediate future, the U.S. military is now better prepared to operate tomorrow with continuous incremental advancements and major investments in end items such as the F/A-18 Hornet, aircraft carriers and high-technology helicopters such as the RAH-66 Comanche. These items will be used differently in the near future, the colonel predicts. One of the Joint Experimentation Battle Lab’s responsibilities is to look even further into the future and ascertain what will come after battlefield tools like the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier and determine, in advance, what different pieces will be needed in a future battlespace, he adds.

“This is all part of the revolution in military affairs. Where should we make investments based on the experiment? Where will the value be in the future?” the colonel concludes.