Army transformation changes direction

Long before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks launched the war on terrorism — in fact, even before the first war against Iraq — Army officials were pondering transformation.

In many ways, transformation and modernization are not new issues for U.S. military forces. Yet in recent years, the effort has taken on a new sense of urgency because of fundamental global changes brought about by the end of the Cold War, which has necessitated that the armed services, especially the Army, become more agile.

The goal was relatively simple: Use technology to make the fighting forces more flexible so they could fight the less conventional battles the United States faces these days. The advances were made possible by the rapid development of information technology, communications and guidance systems. Under the moniker of network-centric warfare, the Army hoped to use computers and communications systems to connect all weapons systems and give U.S. soldiers and commanders advantages in situational awareness and decision-making.

Yet Army transformation, as it has been known during the past four years, is over.

The multiyear, multibillion-dollar initiative to field a lighter, rapidly deployable force by 2010 could be delayed two years while the service concentrates on equipping existing units with the latest communications and computer systems to help defeat al Qaeda, military and industry officials say.

In April, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told new Army chief of staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker to focus the service's transformation efforts on near-term issues. Communications systems for soldiers in vehicles and on the ground excelled in Iraq and will likely be put on a fast track for distribution servicewide.

Schoomaker, a former commando who now holds the service's top officer post, "has a new mandate from Rumsfeld. He wants more focus on the Current Force to win the war on terrorism," said Ted Stroup, a retired Army lieutenant general who now serves as vice president of education at the Association of the U.S. Army, an Arlington, Va., lobby group.

The two goals of the Army are to win the war on terrorism and to modernize existing forces and equipment. During the past few months, Army officials have been conducting a servicewide assessment and have identified 15 areas that must be addressed immediately. But Schoomaker said the top priority is people.

"First is the soldier. He is the centerpiece of our system," he said. "Humans are more important than hardware."

Schoomaker hinted at these changes during his first day on the job. "Can we sustain our high pace with our current methods of preparation? Can our combat training centers better reflect the context in which we will fight? Are we organized for the long haul?" he asked in his Aug. 1 arrival message. "The American soldier remains indispensable. Our soldiers are paramount and will remain the centerpiece of our thinking, our systems and our combat formations."

Rumsfeld also noted the change in a mid-August Pentagon speech to Defense Department personnel. The new Army chief of staff and Army secretary are facing important issues, "namely, the Future Combat System and the question of what the Army should look like in the period ahead," Rumsfeld said.

Such comments do not bode well for FCS, military and industry officials say. The $14.9 billion program aims to field a force of 18 lightweight manned and robotic air and ground systems connected by a fast, secure communications system.

FCS may get pushed back to 2012 so that current funding can go to the Current Force and so that transformational technologies, such as ground-based lasers, can mature, Stroup said. Some DOD and Army officials think the 2-year-old war on terrorism might last more than five years, maybe 20, he said.

"The FCS concept and idea will not be done away with," Stroup said.

Schoomaker and officials at Boeing Co., which helps the service manage FCS, declined to comment.

The Army already has reinforced this strategy with a public relations campaign. The service no longer will use language such as Legacy Force, Stryker Force and Objective Force to describe its existing and next-generation organizations and equipment, opting instead for the terms Current Force and Future Force.

Schoomaker's public relations blitz is overdue, military and industry officials say. Although most of the credit goes to former Army chief of staff Eric Shinseki for starting the transformation in 1999, they say, the Army must become a "One Army Force" quickly, and grouping the service into the two new categories is the best way to do that.

Digitization ups and downs

Military operations in Iraq marked the mostly successful debut of the Army's digitization efforts.

The service fielded several systems designed to give commanders and their troops fast access to command and control data. A key element was the Army Battle Command System (ABCS), a network of programs that provides warfighting data, including intelligence and weather information.

The Army's top armor officer confirmed that the service will take that digitization effort servicewide.

"As part of the Army's review of current ABCS systems, we have recently developed a strategy and set aside resources for providing a 'good enough' digital battle command capability to the rest of the force," said Maj. Gen. Terry Tucker, commanding general of the Army Armor Center at Fort Knox, Ky. "In fact, we intend to provide this digital battle command capability within the next four years."

Army officials have defined "good enough" as giving soldiers the ability to accomplish missions. They will capitalize on existing technologies now, at an affordable cost for servicewide deployment, said Tucker, who helps oversee armored vehicle training and doctrine.

The nine-year, $20 billion ABCS initiative improved soldiers' knowledge by allowing them to exchange e-mail-like messages and access warfighting information on computer systems as far away as the United States.

Digitization also saved lives by letting troops know where they were on the battlefield. During the Persian Gulf War, 35 U.S. soldiers died in friendly fire incidents. Twelve years later in Operation Iraqi Freedom, that death toll fell to two.

Commanders and troops credited ABCS with dramatically decreasing ground friendly fire incidents in Iraq. The networked computer programs provide warfighting information, such as maneuver control, intelligence, artillery and weather data.

Soldiers accessed ABCS through the Force XXI Battle Command, Brigade-and-Below (FBCB2) system. The 10-inch, color, video and touch-screen display lets them send and receive data transmitted by radio and satellite communications inside their Abrams tanks, Bradley armored personnel carriers and other warfighting vehicles.

When the first 3rd Infantry Division unit from Fort Stewart, Ga., crossed into Iraq in March, it communicated the advance to U.S. commanders using FBCB2 instead of a radio — a combat first. Seven months later, troops continue to use the system to determine their locations and their buddies' locations on combat missions, which appear as blue icons. When known, enemy positions are shown as red icons.

"It's awesome," said a captain from the Army's 101st Airborne Division of Fort Campbell, Ky., which seized northern Iraq. He was quoted in an after-action report compiled in July for the Army and Marine Corps.

"During numerous ground assault convoys, spread over days, way out of frequency modulation reach, we could talk to anyone that had it in our unit," the captain said. "[It] was an extreme help with communications. Also, it was a big plus with navigation. It made knowing where you were a breeze, and who was around you. I don't want to ever have a truck without it."

Despite successes in Iraq, digitization efforts experienced hardships and problems. The 3rd Infantry Division used vehicles prepositioned in the Persian Gulf region that were not initially equipped with the service's latest communications and computer systems.

As war approached, Army leaders had to decide whether to send the 3rd Infantry Division into battle with the old, radio-based communications and computer systems used during Operation Desert Storm or equip it with ABCS.

The Army fielded its most technologically advanced vehicles to the 4th Infantry Division in 2000, but it based them at Fort Hood, Texas. The service's first digitized division never made it to the war because Turkey refused to let them deploy; its vehicles sat for weeks on cargo ships on the Mediterranean Sea.

The service started implementing ABCS in the late 1990s on 4th Infantry Division vehicles, followed by the 1st Cavalry Division, also from Fort Hood, the 3rd Infantry Division and then the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment at Fort Carson, Colo. The four units comprise III Corps, the counterattack corps, the U.S. military's and Army's primary war force.

On Sept. 25, 2002, top Army officials met at Camp Doha, Kuwait, to discuss several courses of action, but each had different time, money and equipment requirements, according to Brig. Gen. Mike Mazzucchi, head of the Program Executive Office for Command, Control and Communications-Tactical at Fort Monmouth, N.J.

Gen. John Keane, retiring Army vice chief of staff, was at the meeting and said with little hesitation, "We can do nothing less than provide the best."

During the next six months, the Army and FBCB2 developer Northrop Grumman Corp. installed more than 1,200 displays for Army, Marine Corps and British vehicles and trained soldiers to use the technology. Army officials also bought additional commercial satellite communications to give U.S. and British units mobile, wireless connectivity.

Peter Cuviello, retired Army chief information officer, said the process was "complex, man-intensive, something we don't want to repeat."

Lt. Gen. Steve Boutelle, the new Army CIO, called the process painful and vowed not to do it again.

Keith Kellogg, a retired three-star Army general who was the U.S. military's top IT official during Operation Iraqi Freedom, characterized service and industry FBCB2 officials as "heroes of the day for putting it together on the fly."

But ABCS and FBCB2 training crammed into two months revealed problems. The Middle East's harsh desert environment uncovered hardware durability issues. The rapid advancement into Iraq and onto Baghdad brought on communications blackouts because the systems, which include the heavy, Soviet Union-era Mobile Subscriber Equipment—Tri-Service Tactical Terminals (MSE-Tritac), could not keep up.

"We need to reshape signal units," Boutelle said. "MSE- Tritac was designed to sit on mountaintops in West Germany."

Since Operation Iraq Freedom, the Army documented more than 100 soldier fixes for FBCB2 and the Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data System, an ABCS application that lets commanders and soldiers know the availability of shells and missiles. Unfortunately, when soldiers dismounted from their vehicles, they had difficulty communicating.

Committing to comms

Consequently, the new focus on the Current Force will likely mean improved soldier communications, which could generate near-term opportunities for vendors, military and industry officials say.

The Army may take digitization servicewide, said Cuviello, who now serves as vice president of information infrastructure at Lockheed Martin Mission Systems in Gaithersburg, Md. The step would connect the service's existing technologies and systems. "It needs to happen," he said.

Stryker, the Army's new 19-ton infantry carrier vehicle that will be equipped to handle six brigades, also will receive ABCS. The service tried in its 2004 budget proposal to cancel III Corps' digitization and protection updates in favor of FCS spending, but Congress blocked it in September.

Lawmakers not only reappropriated almost $418 million in improvements to Abrams and Bradleys, it fully funded FCS' $1.8 billion research and development efforts.

The Army lucked out on Capitol Hill, but it missed an opportunity during the past four years to take digitization to all service units, said Kellogg, who is now senior vice president of homeland security solutions at Oracle Corp.

"Before the Army put money against Stryker and FCS, it should have put more money on IT," Kellogg said. "The Army would be much better off."

Soldier communications also should improve when the Army fields Land Warrior in 2006, military and industry officials say. But the Army has delayed the $2.1 billion program twice because of technology and interoperability problems.

Land Warrior integrates the equipment and weapons that soldiers carry into their uniforms. The $20,000-per-unit package includes a helmet with a microphone and video display that lets soldiers send and receive data and a computer radio system with voice, navigation and Global Positioning System tools.

No communications or computer system works without a radio or satellite frequency, so the Army also is formulating a commercial satellite communications acquisition program to remedy the service's ad hoc plan implemented prior to Operation Iraqi Freedom, Boutelle said.

Commercial satellites provided almost 80 percent of communications in Iraq, Boutelle said. And the service cannot wait until the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical, a more mobile communications system to replace MSE-Tritac, is ready by 2008, he said.

"We can't continue to do it with brute force," Boutelle said. "We need to do it with operational plans."


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