The U.S. Marine Corps is assessing a technology that will allow troops to assemble aviation command and control centers anywhere they can take a high mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicle (HMMWV). The new system is more agile, mobile and dynamic than the systems it replaces, and it gives Marines the ability to engage the enemy more quickly and effectively.
The U.S. Army's ambitious program to create a lighter, more mobile, networked and lethal force is facing budget cuts and concerns that the complex initiative may not be fully deployed. A recently released Congressional Budget Office report examines Future Combat Systems within the context of the Army's transformation efforts. It highlights the challenges facing the program and provides alternative approaches to modernizing the service's combat brigades.
The U.S. Central Command faces an array of technological and procedural problems in the area of command, control, communications and computers. From a need to include interagency and coalition partners on networks that do not support their access to information to a requirement to update communications infrastructures that are primitive, nonexistent or targeted by the enemy, creating network centricity that fully supports the troops is a constant challenge for the command.
As NATO shifts from a defensive alliance to a more responsive multinational organization, it is developing technologies and doctrines that provide commanders greater control over their assets. Key to this effort is a suite of systems that allows NATO commanders to establish logistics bases quickly to support a mission while minimizing its supply footprint.
The fusion of satellite communication, global positioning system and radio frequency identification tag technologies is giving the U.S. Marine Corps the ability to monitor the status of fallen comrades and battlefield assets. The Marines have several technology experiments underway that test the military's In-Transit Visibility/Total Asset Visibility concept, which seeks to identify, locate and monitor personnel, equipment and supplies from origination to destination. As the defense community grapples with how to assess and implement the capabilities these evolving technologies generate, field tests indicate they will improve situational awareness while saving time, money, resources and lives.
The combination of a low-tech platform and a high-tech radio is extending beyond-line-of-sight communications from 10 miles to more than 400 miles. The approach employs small hydrogen balloons that are sent into the near-space realm-defined as from 65,000 feet to 325,000 feet above Earth-toting two AN/PRC-148 radios that relay ground-to-ground, air-to-ground and ground-to-air voice and data communications. Although the capability was developed to address a combat-mission need statement and is scheduled to be deployed to theaters of operation in December, the benefits of this technique also could extend to homeland security as well as emergency relief efforts such as assistance in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
If actions speak louder than words, then current military operations are shouting volumes about the benefits of network centricity in warfare. Case studies sponsored by the U.S. Defense Department's Office of Force Transformation present an abundance of hard evidence that networked forces can be up to 10 times more effective than non-networked troops in high-intensity conflict missions. In comparison to voice-only communications, what experts call the "information position" is between 10 and 100 times better not only for commanders but also for the individual warfighter. The studies also point out that even less-than-perfect networks can be valuable.
The U.S. military is incorporating technologies developed for low-cost projectile and long-range missile guidance into a variety of field artillery weapons. Results of recently conducted tests demonstrate that a fast acquisition global positioning system product and a tactical-grade inertial guidance system could perform as testers expected in battlefield environments while continuing to provide required accuracy. The costs of these technologies are potentially lower than current systems.
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.
In routine headquarters operations or in a wartime theater command center, military personnel soon may be able to rapidly update their unit's World Wide Web pages to display vital, time-sensitive data without a webmaster's intervention. During a recent training exercise, a Web site content management tool patented this year enabled Signal Corps participants to revamp the Web pages themselves without complicated programming languages or hours of training. Leaders along the entire chain of command could immediately view changes in personnel and equipment readiness, information that is critical on every battlefield or during natural disaster victim-assistance activities.
The U.S. Air Force is examining the latest technologies for integrating enhanced communications and targeting methods throughout the command and control structure, reaching down to the tactical level to achieve mission objectives faster and with less risk to friendly forces. These approaches and devices will be applied in future operations such as conflict resolution and humanitarian relief.
A company-level signals training exercise between elements of the Arizona Air and Army National Guard and an active U.S. Army unit demonstrates the possibility of increased interservice cooperation at the tactical level. Participants in the informal two-day operation used the units' combined assets to set up a communications grid and familiarize active duty and reserve military personnel with each other's equipment and procedures.
By the latter part of this decade, a fleet of wheeled robots now evolving toward autonomy may perform many of the tasks handled by today's front-line soldier. The U.S. Army is experimenting with a prototype of radio-operated vehicles capable of engaging in various kinds of reconnaissance and surveillance activities. Once fully integrated into the service, these unmanned units will enable the execution of important objectives while reducing the casualties and logistical complexities often associated with rapid reaction forces.
U.S. Army rapid deployment forces will field an advanced communications management system that will provide its units with a more efficient data conduit than is available with legacy equipment. The vehicle-mounted platform consists of mobile switches and routers that feature integrated commercial and government hardware and software designed to provide voice, video and data service in a tactical environment.
The next air combat operation may feature command and control as a distinct warfighting element. U.S. Air Force planners are working to move information processing and decision making directly into the flow of combat.
The information assets inherent in strategic connectivity may soon extend down to the individual soldier in the foxhole. Not only will combatants be able to provide their own slant on theater operations, they also may be able to tap the massive data resources of the entire U.S. Defense Department.
A successful future U.S. Air Force tactical operation may end with both a bang and a whimper. Traditional munitions-based operations employing kinetic weapons increasingly are sharing the airspace with information-based nonkinetic measures. The result soon may be an air strike that neutralizes an adversary with only minor damage, if any, to enemy assets.
Construction of a new tactical communications infrastructure is underway in Iraq that will support tens of thousands of troops and eventually benefit the Iraqi people as it is turned over for their use when the U.S. military leaves the country. With the help of commercial capabilities and industry expertise, the infrastructure will improve tactical operation coordination between multiple sites by increasing the speed at which information can be shared from kilobytes to megabytes.
Even the most vocal advocates of Bowman would accept that the program's lengthy history has led it to become a synonym for procurement delay. Nonetheless, Bowman's in-service date was declared in March when the first unit, the British Army's 12 Mechanized Brigade, successfully completed a formation-level operational field trial using two mechanized battle groups and a brigade headquarters.
U.S. Army tank commanders now are looking up at information the same way fighter pilots do: through a helmet-mounted ocular. The head-up device allows tank crew members situated outside of the hatch to view the same information that is displayed on computers inside the tank. The equipment was introduced with troops in operation Iraqi Freedom.