TRW takes the field for Force XXI

When the Army deployed soldiers to the Mojave Desert as part of its Force XXI Advanced Warfighting Experiment at Fort Irwin Calif. last month more than 80 employees from TRW Inc. went to the field with them.

TRW has been involved in Force XXI - the Army's vision of a "digitized" battlefield - for several years especially as the prime contractor developing Applique an advanced command and control software program that can be installed in tanks helicopters and other vehicles going to battle.

So when the 1st Brigade of the 4th Infantry Division at Fort Hood Texas - one of the lead sites on battlefield digitization - went to Fort Irwin for the exercise TRW had 85 employees in Army fatigues at Fort Irwin providing engineering and maintenance services with the troops on the battlefield and at support facilities behind the front lines.

Neil Siegel director of military systems at TRW said he was pleased overall with his team's performance especially given the demands that come with working on a program of such heightened importance to the customer and in the trying circumstance of a battle exercise.

"Obviously we worked people pretty hard to get it done and people were willing to do that because from the very beginning we caught a sense from the Army that this was not just another exercise " Siegel said. "We had the opportunity to help the Army fundamentally improve land warfare."

In a unique arrangement for information technology Defense contractors the Army created 10 "contact teams" for supporting programs and equipment by pairing two TRW employees with two Defense Department support personnel. These teams would repair equipment in the field or swap out the broken system and send it back to a support facility for repair.

In one trip out to the battlefield Siegel said he came upon one of the contact teams waiting alone in the desert terrain to rendezvous with a combat unit. Even a week after the exercise seven TRW employees remained behind to pack up the last equipment Siegel said.

In addition to the core Applique software TRW supported four other Force XXI initiatives including the Tactical Operation Centers which integrate command and control operations and the Combat Service Support Control System which fills out the battle picture with logistics medical financial and personnel information.

The Force XXI battle exercise was a challenge because it required the vendor to work in two seemingly contradictory directions Siegel said. The exercise was intended to test new technology so TRW was expected to deliver programs and equipment quickly rather than field a finished product. However in running a formal exercise the vendor needed to outfit about 1 000 vehicles and train 3 000 soldiers which involved safety releases training and other formal processes. "There were a lot of things that had to be done in the real way and lots of things that to meet the schedule and try out alternatives had to be done as an experiment."

Of course last month's exercise was just a milestone in a much longer process beginning with the award of the $283 million contract for Applique in early 1995. When TRW began delivering equipment to Fort Hood a year ago the vendor was expected to demonstrate the minimum capabilities it could deliver for the advanced warfighting experiment.

But the Applique team made its own job even more difficult when early in the process it showed the Army an incremental version of the software which generated a lot of excitement and a number of requests for improvements. "We may have succeeded too well " Siegel said.

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