Digitized force may be held back from training until ready

Army Chief of Staff Dennis Reimer indicated last week that the Army may consider delaying training exercises for its brigade-level digitized force that currently are slated for March and April 1997.

Reimer speaking at a press conference at the start of last week's annual meeting of the Association of the United States Army (AUSA) said the Army will not "waste money" to send the Experimental Force Fort Hood Texas to the National Training Center Fort Irwin Calif. if the force was "not ready" for the exercise.

"It's just not good stewardship to put [the force] on the battlefield if the troops are not ready " said Reimer.The digitized brigade which is part of the Force XXI program involves field tanks armored fighting vehicles and trucks retrofitted with rugged computer "appliques" and Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers developed under a contract held by TRW Inc. and its primary subcontractor Science Applications International Corp.

The digitized force will use a wireless tactical network to exchange data and feed information to command-post computers which will provide commanders with real-time information on the disposition and movement of friendly forces. Commanders also will be able to tap into data streams that show the disposition and movement of enemy forces.

The Army has been installing and testing the appliques in computers at Fort Hood for more than a year with most of the systems performing as expected according to an Army source. Reimer's caution the source said stems from the initial test of the digitized force in 1994 when some systems were rushed into the field. "If we had waited a few more weeks we would have had a better experiment " the source said.

Reimer and the Army used the AUSA meeting to showcase a variety of emerging and advanced computer technologies that could find a place in Force XXI. Capt. Chris Macedonia an Army doctor demonstrated a Silicon Graphics Inc. workstation-based 3-D ultrasound device that he described as "the only system of its kind in the world."

Macedonia who used the system to examine and treat patients at a field hospital in Bosnia this summer said the ultrasound system helps diagnose and treat trauma and soft tissue injuries which are common on the battlefield as well as assess disease or damage to internal organs such as the gall bladder or kidney.

The system performs multiple scans of a patient which are used to create a 3-D image that either can be viewed on the scene or transmitted to a rear area hospital for diagnosis by an expert.

The Army Research Laboratory Aberdeen Md. demonstrated a "virtual sand table" that allows commanders and staffs to assess the current layouts of friendly and opposing forces on a table-mounted rear projection system. Maj. James Vaglia said this system correlates data from a number of inputs including GPS receivers and the All Source Analysis Systems with a Silicon Graphics workstation providing the computer power operated by a staff officer through a voice input system.

The Army debuted a virtual reality system called the Virtual Maintenance Assistant and Trainer a Pentium PC-based system that "talks" with Army mechanics who are fixing faulty equipment. The VMAT provides a mechanic with spoken maintenance assistance in virtual environment.

Networked Distance Learning systems will play a larger role in Army training said Gen. William Hartzog commander of the Training and Doctrine Command. "We have used Distance Learning to [provide] four courses this year to [troops] in the Sinai [Peninsula] and if we can do it in the Sinai we can do it all across the United States " Hartzog said. "We have a plan and money and we want to buy space [on networks used for Distance Learning]."

Reimer added that such a network also would provide a means to distribute civilian higher-education courses to Army troops.

Gen. Johnnie Wilson commander of the Army Materiel Command said "in-transit visibility" of supplies and equipment tops his list of priorities with the price of radio-frequency tagging devices for example dropping below $100. He added that AMC plans to pursue development of both RF and laser tags and sensors to track suppliers and equipment.

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