Exhibition showcases warfighter IT links

FORT BRAGG N.C. - Three weeks ago Capt. Ronald Lewis a helicopter pilot with the 82nd Airborne Division Aviation Brigade temporarily traded in the cyclic controller of his Kiowa Warrior helicopter for a mouse hooked up to a Sun Microsystems Inc. workstation.

Since then he has tested the ability of powerful software tools to help collaboratively plan a mock operation run by the Joint Warrior Interoperability Demonstration (JWID) Task Force (JTF) headquartered here.Lewis explained that before he put his hands on the controls of the Advanced Planning System (APS) developed by the Defense Advanced Research Panning Agency planning such an operation - which involves carefully coordinating the activities of air land and sea units from the Army Air Force Navy and Marines - could take days or weeks.

Each service would develop plans for their units plot them on map overlays and then fax the overlays to the other services. This in turn would result in another round of faxes and yet another set of overlays. Each service would develop operations orders and then would have to collate those manually with operations orders from the other services.

But those labor-intensive and time-consuming tasks have been reduced to easy-to-manage computer files and commands on a workstation that allows the JTF component commanders to share their plans quickly over workstations hooked together by a wide-area network. Lewis said the APS in some cases can reduce a task that once took days "into just a few seconds."

While APS has a "few glitches " Lewis said he believes in its value so much that he added "I hope there's money to buy this."

APS may emerge as one of the "golden nuggets" of this year's JWID an annual exercise designed to test the ability of advanced systems based upon commercial components to improve the operational capabilities of warfighting forces in all the services.

Lt. Col. Dean Ptaszynski the JWID operations officer believes APS and other planning systems tested in JWID could have real-world utility. "The planning tools provide a real solution that would be very helpful to the warfighter " Ptaszynski said.

Col. Gerald Cummins deputy commander of the 18th Airborne Artillery and the JWID JTF commander said he would like to see yet another JWID project that enhances interoperability move quickly to the field."We've been trying for seven years to digitally interface AFATDS [Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data System) to the Air Force CTAPS [Contingency Theater Automated Planning System] and we're finally doing it here " he said. "We can finally get the Air Tasking Order directly into AFATDS instead of having to send a helicopter to pick it up as we did in Operation Desert Storm."

Besides interoperability another key goal of JWID is to demonstrate systems that put control of information directly into the hands of task force commanders. Ptaszynski believes the Global Broadcast System (GBS) demonstration delivers that capability. The Pentagon has fielded a prototype GBS system - capable of sending megabits of data through high-powered satellites to small Earth terminals - in Bosnia. But Ptaszynski pointed out because the uplink and much of the information reside in the Washington area commanders in the Bosnian theater have little control of the system.

JWID took a step toward resolving that control and information management issue with the demonstration of a C-130 transportable Joint in-Theater Injection Terminal (JITI) with a 7-meter dish that can be deployed easily to a theater commander.

"This will make GBS more responsive to the users " Ptas-zynski said. "It gives a lot of capabilities to the field commanders."

JITI developed jointly by the Army Space Command and the Air Force Communications Agency (AFCA) using off-the-shelf components from the Hughes commercial Direct Broadcast System and Stanford Telecom allows task force commanders to develop and then broadcast information - including intelligence and weather - in-theater and then broadcast directly to units under their command according to Capt. Guy Werner of AFCA. It also can handle the broadcast of live audio feeds from Unmanned Aerial Vehicles Werner said.Because JITI allows a commander to broadcast information directly from the theater to users it also eliminates the need for a "reach back" circuit to the United States Werner said. He pointed out that today video feeds from Bosnia are sent back to the United States on one circuit and then uplinked in Washington - an extensive and costly round trip.

JWID features more than 40 technology demonstrations many of them attempts to push the integration of commercial communications technology such as cellular telephone systems and Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) switch technology into existing battlefield systems. Army Col. Rock Schmidt the JWID director said there is no such thing as a "pass or fail" grade in the exercise some things just might not work. But he hopes to find those golden nuggets that can be acquired and fielded speedily.

In Cummins' view the real value of JWID should be measured not in terms of systems that make it to the field. "The success here is in the trenches " he said. "It comes from giving the soldiers the time and ability to sit down and talk with the engineers and the vendors. The engineers really listen and understand."

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