FBCB2: More security, bandwidth, users and information

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FBCB2, critical source for C2 information, gets major upgrade
By Claire Heininger

During a recent tour in Afghanistan, Capt. Adam Taliaferro’s unit had a lot of ground to cover — including remote areas that stretched beyond a reliable radio range.

At crucial moments, it relied on Force XXI Battle Command Brigade-and-Below/Blue Force Tracking (FBCB2/BFT) to communicate.

“After taking contact, we needed a Medevac [helicopter] outside of FM range, and we were able to use the free text message and Medevac report and immediately were able to get the bird in the air,” Taliaferro said. “In Afghanistan, minutes are crucial. By sending all the specific information they needed, such as blood type and his pulse rate and heart rate, it saved his life because it was that much faster.”

From text-messaging to plotting the locations of improvised explosive devices, Warfighters say FBCB2/BFT has changed the landscape for how lower echelons communicate and navigate. Now, the Army is in the midst of ongoing upgrades to increase the speed, accuracy and information available through FBCB2.

“The new network architecture will provide Warfighters with much greater bandwidth and vastly reduced latency,” said Col. Tom Olson, Project Manager for FBCB2. “These next-generation capabilities will enable increased combat effectiveness and survivability for Army and Joint users in the years ahead.”

FBCB2 is a digital command and control (C2) system that provides battle command and situational awareness (SA) information from the Brigade down to the Soldier level. FBCB2 paints a complete picture of the battlefield – including icons representing friendly forces, enemy combatants and landscape hazards – so units can synchronize operations and avoid fratricide.

“It gives you a pretty good picture of where your forces are,” said Lt. Col. Mark Raschke, who used FBCB2 in Iraq. “That allows you to make some decisions as far as the timing of action – how you command and control, how your plan unfolds and how you execute.”

The next iteration of FBCB2, known as Joint Capabilities Release (JCR), began fielding to operational units in January. Among the upgrades are a faster satellite network, secure data encryption and integration with historical information through Tactical Ground Reporting (TIGR), so users can better plan maneuvers while on-the-move.

The JCR upgrades are part of Capability Set 11/12, and Joint Battle Command-Platform (JBC-P) will replace JCR in Capability Set 13/14. There are more than 100,000 FBCB2/BFT units already in the field.

JBC-P will allow two-way, beyond-line-of-sight communication of voice, data and images between handhelds, vehicles, aircraft and higher headquarters. As part of the JBC-P upgrade, the Army will deploy the high-tech, high-speed Blue Force Tracking 2 (BFT 2) – a satellite communications network that is significantly faster than the existing BFT system.

The faster, more accurate BFT 2 will also benefit Blue Force Tracking-Aviation (BFT-AVN), the air component of FBCB2. Installed in more than 3,000 Army, Joint and Coalition rotary and fixed-wing aircraft, Unmanned Aerial Systems, and lighter-than-air platforms, BFT- AVN FBCB2 provides near real-time, beyond-line-of-sight SA and C2 messaging for aircrews and their Commanders. With JBC-P, icons representing aircraft, vehicles and dismounted Soldiers will appear closer to their actual locations.

JBC-P will also introduce Soldiers to a new user interface, a product of direct feedback from Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC)-led user juries with Soldiers and developers from the “video game” era.

“As linked in as digitized as our young Soldiers are, (FBCB2) is a fairly easy system to learn how to operate,” said Maj. Ryan Kranc, who used the system in Iraq and has also served as an instructor for fellow Soldiers.

With JBC-P,users will drag-and-drop icons, touch-to-zoom maps, collaborate through chat and analyze the battlefield through TIGR, a software tool that uses a “Google Earth”-like interface, pictures and text to provide a searchable database of unit activities.

TIGR can be used in almost any environment to show historical data of occurrences in distinct locations, so users can plan future maneuvers. It also lets Soldiers track common incidents, residents and leaders of a village. TIGR is scheduled to transition from Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) program management to PM FBCB2 on October 1, 2011 – making FBCB2 even more versatile in its support for Warfighters right down to the platoon or squad level.

“If it did nothing more than the imagery, I would’ve been happy with it, but then I learned to use the messages and the different reach-back capabilities,” Kranc said. “It’s a great capability at the lowest level.”

About the Author

Claire Heininger, Symbolic Systems, Inc., is a contractor supporting the Army’s Program Executive Office Command, Control and Communications-Tactical (PEO C3T). This special report was commissioned by the Content Solutions unit, an independent editorial arm of 1105 Government Information Group. Specific topics are chosen in response to interest from the vendor community; however, sponsors are not guaranteed content contribution or review of content before publication. For more information about 1105 Government Information Group Content Solutions, please email us at GIGCustomMedia@1105govinfo.com