Military Changes Tactical Thinking

October 2007
By Maryann Lawlor
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Experiment participants receive
a briefing on maritime domain awareness at the U.S. Joint Forces Command’s (JFCOM’s), Joint Futures Laboratory, Suffolk, Virginia. The laboratory coordinated and administered Urban Resolve 2015 in the late summer and early fall of 2006, and at least one of the capabilities examined there was in the Afghan area of operations by January 2007.
Experiment leads to major shift in strategic philosophy and technical requirements.

The U.S. military is revolutionizing the way it fights in urban environments. A tactical transformational concept that shifts the emphasis from the adversary to the local population has been fast-tracked to commanders operating in Afghanistan, and it is being supported by technology that originally was designed to help market toothpaste to China. The technology, along with some very innovative thinking, reveals both intended and unintended consequences of actions so decision-makers can anticipate the impact each will have in a particular situation.

Within months of the conclusion of Urban Resolve 2015 (UR 2015), an experiment that took place in three two-week segments late last year, lessons learned from the event were making their mark in the Global War on Terrorism. Executed by the U.S. Joint Forces Command (JFCOM), Norfolk, Virginia, the experiment demonstrated that the urban fighting challenge is not one of overcoming terrain obstacles but rather entails controlling the environment—all the infrastructure and systems that make up a city. This radical concept change, written in partnership with the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps, was the first UR 2015 deliverable and led to overhauling the entire U.S. Defense Department master plan. And similar to a row of dominoes that falls when the first tile tips, the master plan overhaul is creating a cascade of newly needed capabilities.

David Ozolek, executive director of experimentation, Joint Futures Laboratory, JFCOM, explains that the need to examine urban operations more closely emerged as a priority when it became increasingly clear that cities were the preferred operating environment for U.S. adversaries. “These guys recognize that they’re not going to be successful in traditional combat, so they have withdrawn into the cities where they can strip away a lot of our traditional advantages,” he states.

The “traditional advantages” Ozolek is talking about are institutional in magnitude. For the United States, urban combat has meant taking one of only two paths: bypass the city or demolish it without regard for the population or the infrastructure. But the military began to understand that fighting in cities was more than a complex terrain problem that forced them to figure out how to move tanks, artillery and aircraft around the battlespace. It required a radically new concept of operations that had to be developed and tested from the ground up and examined from all angles in between.

“So we framed the ideas behind a new concept that essentially revolves around a principal idea that the center of gravity in an urban environment is the population and that you need to be able to separate the threat and the population. You need to be able to make the environment toxic to the threat, and you need to focus on saving the city by saving it, not by destroying it,” he states.

Once born, the concept and the capabilities predicted to make it work had to be tested; Urban Resolve 2015 was the forum for that testing. It was based on the fact that urban environments compound the danger of an enemy who blends with the population, increasing the risk of collateral damage. The experiment took place in a virtual environment that replicated Baghdad. People from multiple cultures, nations and institutions, with their own individual perspectives and objectives, posed potential challenges to a coalition.

More than 1,000 participants from 19 distributed U.S. sites and an international community of 14 nations represented by a regional combatant commander coalition center took part in the event. The UR 2015 scenario was set in Baghdad during the year 2015. A fragile government asks the United States to help stabilize the nation and prevent regional conflict escalation while restoring order to Iraq. To support experimentation of the concept that places the population as the focal point, the scenario called for the formation and deployment of a joint task force that executed a five-day major combat operation (MCO) that transitioned into stability operations. On the 35th day after the end of the MCO, the joint task force and host nation government had to isolate the insurgents and other enemy groups from their support sources, information access and communications capabilities as well as limit their freedom of movement.

From this point on in the experiment, the activity was not scripted; the meat of UR 2015 was a “free play” of ideas that attacked the problems presented in the scenario and then determined a coalition solution. Participants looked at the situation in the context of three capabilities sets based on a capabilities development time line. First, the joint task force executed missions with systems that became available in 2005. Ozolek’s group then measured the shortfalls and the U.S. military’s ability to handle the problems.

The second joint task force situation was a little more difficult to model, Ozolek says, because it involved employing a force equipped with systems that are in the Program Objective Memorandum (POM) for fiscal years 2008 to 2013. While many of these capabilities are under development, such as the Army’s Future Combat Systems, they do not currently exist in their final forms.

Two participants in the Noble Resolve experiment analyze some of the data being gathered during the event. Noble Resolve is a JFCOM experimentation campaign plan that was born from the lessons being learned during the Urban Resolve 2015 experiment.
To address this issue, JFCOM collaborated with the Army in the service’s ongoing series of experiments called Omni Fusion. The events allow the Army to examine technology, staff and unit organizational concepts at the tactical and operational levels. Both Omni Fusion and the Army’s Command Post of the Future (CPOF) were brought into UR 2015 to test their capabilities in a joint environment.

In the third joint task force situation, the capabilities being examined are not part of the current POM but are either currently available or would have to be developed to support the concept. Seven potential joint solutions were explored during UR 2015’s three trials; these were then subjected to two verification processes to ensure the validity of the results.

One capability that falls into this third category is the Synthetic Environment for Analysis and Simulation, or SEAS. Developed by Simulex Incorporated, West Lafayette, Indiana, SEAS allows the joint task force to model more than just military-on-military interaction within a simulated environment. While traditional simulations involve terrain-based icons using firepower to defeat each other, SEAS looks at the military adjudication as well as at the interactions among political, military, economic, social and informational elements as well as the infrastructure and the systems that make up the city itself. “It [SEAS] enables us to anticipate the impact of actions in any of those domains on the other domains and the impact that has on the center of gravity, the population. How will the population react to a particular course of action?” Ozolek explains.

The capability proved so powerful during the experiment that JFCOM decided it was a candidate for accelerated fielding because of the impact it could have in the stability operations currently underway on a global scale. And that impact was felt almost immediately as Gen. Daniel K. McNeill, USA, who was en route to becoming the commander for the NATO International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, learned about the capability. When SEAS’ potential became clear, the general asked JFCOM to provide it to the Afghan ISAF.

For several months, JFCOM conducted a field experiment that further explored SEAS’ capability in the real-world operational environment of Afghanistan. It was used to provide direct support to analysis, planning and decision-making on behalf of the ISAF in Afghanistan.

By late July, Gen. McNeill had to decide whether the effort should be continued, modified or ended. “His decision was—as commander’s often do—to choose course of action number 4: accelerate the effort. So we transitioned from a structure that had been basically a shadow effort underpinning legacy, traditional planning and decision-making in Afghanistan to a fully integrated effort. Our forward team of about six people and our reach-back team of about 25 people are doing a level of analysis that’s beyond the capabilities of a traditional staff. They are providing the staff and the commander with a set of insights and recommendations based on the capability that emerged from Urban Resolve, and it’s having an impact on their decision-making process and the way they’re structuring operations in Afghanistan,” Ozolek shares. In some cases, the commander’s staff has reversed recommendations arrived at through analysis and intuition because of consequences that SEAS uncovered, consequences that would have otherwise gone unnoticed, he reveals.

In addition to proving invaluable as an anticipatory, if not predictive, analysis tool, SEAS as it is being used in Afghanistan illustrates a value of technology in facilitating a reach-back capability. Ozolek explains that typically the analytical functions SEAS performs were performed manually and would involve sending an entire staff to the area of operations. With a very small presence on the forward staff and a larger group of experts situated out of harm’s way, UR 2015 demonstrated how a reach-back capability can work. “One of the things that we’re uncovering here is that you don’t necessarily have to move all that computing power forward. What you have to move are the requirements to the computing power, and that’s working very, very well right now in this particular mission,” he says.

Another capability that is coming out of UR 2015 as a revolutionary success is the transitioning of the thriving Army CPOF command and control project. Originally designed to be the land component of a tactical-level system used to present a common operating picture to commanders, it moved to use at the joint and operational levels during UR 2015. Transforming a service-specific program into a joint one is a novel approach, Ozolek says; the typical process is to build a capability from the ground up.

In this case, however, JFCOM started with what it believed was the best of breed from the CPOF family that had already demonstrated success in an operating environment, particularly in Iraq, then added the functions needed to move it from a land to joint system and from the tactical to the operational environment.

“We fed those additional requirements back to the project manager for CPOF along with some joint funding that could enable it. What we’ll see in subsequent blocks of CPOF fielding will actually be these joint capabilities in it. So the next block of CPOF will be JCPOF, with the ‘J’ standing for joint,” he explains. Fielding is likely to take place in weeks rather than years, he adds.

JCPOF will provide the logical solution to an age-old problem, an interoperability issue of sorts that pre-dates technology and can probably be traced to biblical times and the Tower of Babel. Although people can speak to each other, they are using different languages, so communication cannot actually take place. CPOF is built around the Mercator grid system that the land component uses; other joint force components use latitude and longitude coordinates to indicate the location of a target or object. What was needed was a translation capability that could move information back and forth from Mercator to latitude/longitude and back to Mercator. As a result, when a dot appears on the screen, it can be positioned using latitude and longitude coordinates, but if a user needs the location in Mercator, it is available, and all the participants in a mission are talking about the same point.

“That’s something that has escaped the joint force for decades. We had solved the communications interoperability problem—at least we could talk to each other—but we ended up describing things like, ‘Go look on the other side of that big mountain kind of off to my right.’ That’s not exactly the way you conduct precision warfare.

“Now, through experiments like Urban Resolve and partnership with a program of record like CPOF, we’re able to get that capability turned joint much faster than in the traditional independent joint development process,” Ozolek says.

JFCOM also examined other critical issues and capabilities that Ozolek cannot discuss because of the sensitivity of the material. However, he did allow that UR 2015 looked at countering improvised explosive devices (IEDs) by modeling how the system for building and distributing IEDs fits inside the urban environment. “We’re identifying methods and means by which we could conduct precision operations against specific points within the IED system that would cause the system itself to collapse,” he relates.

In addition to the numerous practical and almost-ready-for-primetime concepts explored during UR 2015, Ozolek believes that the experiment itself is an example of how the military has transformed the way it operates. Comparing UR 2015 to Millennium Challenge 2002 (SIGNAL Magazine, July 2002), he points out that five years ago when JFCOM tried to examine a problem that was not as complex as the urban environment, it took almost three years to put a large field experiment together. Millennium Challenge 2002 cost $250 million, and participants explored only a very small set of potential solutions.

“In this experiment, in half that time with one-tenth of the funding, we took on a much more complex problem; we were able to deal with a significantly extended number of potential solutions; and we got dozens of looks at these potential alternatives within a very compressed timeframe. So looking at that traditional faster, better, cheaper benchmark, UR 2015 was faster with a decrease in the time by 50 percent; better with an increase in the analytical capability probably by an order of magnitude; and cheaper because the cost was reduced from about $250 million to less than $25 million,” he says.

These statistics are compelling evidence that JFCOM has made great strides in advancing the art and science of experimentation, Ozolek adds. And these strides are made possible by both the human and technical sides of any experiment. First, the organizers and participants learn more from each event and apply their imaginations and innovations to expand the applications.

“And then the tools themselves are getting better. Two years ago, SEAS didn’t really exist—well, it did exist but it existed as a marketing tool that was helping some commercial entities understand how to sell toothpaste in China. It may sound facetious, but that’s actually what this tool was designed to do. And then, in working in partnership with the academic community, we said if you can use this tool to forecast public response to toothpaste, could you also use it to anticipate how they’d respond to more complex problems like security issues? And it turned out that it worked.” Ozolek shares.

Web Resources
Urban Resolve 2015:
U.S. Joint Forces Command:
Joint Futures Laboratory:
Simulex Incorporated:


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