Technology a dependable ally in Iraq war

One year after the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom, armed services officials are evaluating battle plans, strategies and technologies to determine what worked and what didn't. One lesson is clear: Technology became as important to frontline troops as their weapons systems in a truly digital battlefield, officials said.

During the lightning-quick Army and Marine Corps campaign into Baghdad, a terrible sandstorm interrupted the advance. Ground troops had to rely heavily on mobile communications, Blue Force Tracking, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and automated air tasking orders. Friendly fire casualties were minimized, and the Blue Force Tracking System, which tracked troop movement, was hailed as successful. In the 1991 Persian Gulf War, 35 fatalities were attributed to friendly ground fire, but the 2003 war had only two, according to Defense Department documents.

Although Blue Force Tracking and UAVs have received most of the attention, the services also learned the value of bandwidth allocation, beyond-line-of-sight communications and the automated, on-the-fly processes used to designate targets for combat pilots or reroute supplies as needed.

Hungry for bandwidth

During the past year, senior military officials have spoken before Congress and on panels at conferences about the distribution of bandwidth. Their message suggests that DOD's allocation methods need revision to ensure better distribution of bandwidth to those who need it when they need it.

Navy Adm. James Ellis, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, speaking at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's DARPATech 2004 conference in Anaheim, Calif., this month, said troops and their commanders need appetite suppressants for their bandwidth cravings. That is because what is available is unlikely to meet bandwidth needs soon.

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