High-tech warriors, high-tech wars
- By Dan Verton
- Jun 28, 1998
After years of developing advanced information technology for the battlefield, the military services are poised to reduce the number of people sent into battle, largely by using IT to improve the way forces are supplied.
Of course, the Defense Department has steadily reduced the size of the armed forces since the end of the Cold War. According to the latest information released by DOD, the number of personnel stands at about 1.4 million, down more than 200,000 from five years ago.
But the Army's announcement this month that it would cut the size of its divisions to 15,700 from the Cold War-era size of more than 18,000 is the first time personnel reductions have been linked directly to the use of IT. Military planners are applying IT in a way that is producing clear-cut advantages on the battlefield while allowing more men and women to remain out of harm's way.
Although less dramatic, the Air Force, the Navy and the Marine Corps are pushing forward with their own initiatives to retool their forces, with a focus on using technology to shrink the manpower needed to carry out logistics support on the battlefield.
As the services' logistics programs are examined, "they're all in some measure an IT-based approach," said Ray Pyles, senior information scientist with The Rand Corp., a think tank specializing in public policy and national security research.
Rather than linking supply operations with troops on the battlefield, the services want to use technology to allow forces to order spare parts and munitions directly from the front line for "just-in-time" delivery, Pyles said.
In addition, the increasing range of high-tech weaponry has resulted in an exponential increase in the size of the battlefield, putting a premium on the capability to access resources remotely, Pyles said. "One could anticipate having a much more dispersed operation in the future. The technology has certainly moved in that direction."
A Digitized Battlefield
The Army's restructuring represents a milestone in its effort to "digitize" the battlefield, using computers and data communications to create an "information grid" that allows widely dispersed soldiers to exchange information.
The Army has been testing this concept with the 4th Infantry Division, or the Experimental Division, based at Fort Hood, Texas. The new division is radically different from what it used to be, with more reconnaissance forces and no native logistics units. Rather than lug around hordes of supplies and logistics personnel, the new division will rely on an automated version of re-supply, or "just-in-time logistics."
"We have as the basis of this division a suite of computers," said Gen. William W. Hartzog, commander of the Army's Training and Doctrine Command. "The way you ought to think about this is [that] we took about an 11-story building worth of computers and modified them so that they can be used in battle and during movement," he said.
Because of the advantages that IT provides, the Army removed all of its logistics personnel from the division and placed them in a centralized division support command. The support command will deploy supplies when and where they are needed.
"We've cut some of the gun slingers, but most of the reductions in personnel have come [as a result of] efficiencies in logistics," a division spokesman said. Today, with the ability to have total asset visibility logistics, personnel can, "with the click of a button, find out what supplies are going out and where and when they're going."
According to the spokesman, logistics personnel also can reroute those supplies by pointing and clicking on a computer screen. "We've gone from a supply-distribution system to a need-distribution system," the spokesman said.
Both the Air Force and the Marines are taking a similar approach to support operations. In particular, these services are looking to lighten the load of their expeditionary forces, which make the first thrust into a battlefield.
The Air Force believes it can reduce manpower requirements by 95 percent for its Air Operations Centers, which provide mission planning and other command and control (C2) support to Air Force operations.
The Air Operations Center that was deployed during the Persian Gulf War required 25 C-17 aircraft and more than 1,000 people. But the Expeditionary Air Force of the future will be based on a small, lightweight facility near the battlefield that reaches back to the United States to access critical planning data, such as target information and other intelligence.
Lt. Gen. William J. Donahue, director of communications and information for the Air Force, said the new Expeditionary Air Force will allow the service to deploy a C2 center without "the legions of support" personnel that typically accompany it. The new expeditionary force will "merely need to reach back for the data," Donahue said.
To achieve this vision of the future, the Air Force is planning to establish an Air Operations Support Base at Langley Air Force Base, Va. The new support base will be staffed by 100 people and will be deployed using a single C-17 aircraft.
Later this summer, the Air Force plans to kick off an annual experimentation exercise known as Expeditionary Force Exercise. EFX '98 will test the ability to rapidly deploy a small operations center capable of reaching back to base centers and other rear-area locations for its critical planning information.
EFX '99, which is currently in the planning phase, will focus on the application of space technologies and will dovetail with next year's Joint Warrior Interoperability Demonstration, for which the Air Force is the lead service.
The Marines are taking a similar approach with the Marine Air-Ground Task Forces, which are often the first warfighters to go into battle, establishing a beachhead and paving the way for other forces.
Speaking earlier this month, Debra Filippi, deputy assistant chief of staff for command, control, communications, computers and intelligence (C4I) systems integration as well as deputy chief information officer at Marine Corps Headquarters, said the Corps is developing new maneuver concepts that place C2 aboard Navy ships, not on land with the Marines, which reduces the service's footprint ashore.
Ship-to-Objective Maneuver, which was first introduced into the Marine Corps lexicon in 1997 by Lt. Gen. Paul K. Van Riper, then the commanding general of the Marine Corps Combat Development Command, emphasizes sea-based C2, logistics and fire support. According to a Marine Corps concept paper, "Improved information connectivity allows the landing force command element to remain at sea, capable of effective command but much better protected from enemy attack."
By not deploying the command element on land, the Marines will create a force that is highly mobile, flexible and can move around the battlefield faster, according to Lt. Col. Len Blasiol, deputy director of the Concepts Division at the Marine Corps Combat Development Command. "We envision an environment where commanders will have near-real-time or real-time knowledge of the battlefield, providing them with more flexibility to maneuver during the assault," he said.
Central to the new concept will be wireless technologies and cellular communications devices designed to keep Marines highly mobile and able to communicate in urban environments, Filippi said.
This summer the Marines' working group on Ship-to-Objective Maneuver will meet to hammer out the details of how the Corps should proceed to make the concept a reality, Filippi said. Concepts like Ship-to-Objective Maneuver will help the Marines "formulate our C4I presence in the future," she said.
The Marines also have formulated a new concept called Sea-based Logistics, which aims to reduce or eliminate the land-based presence of large numbers of support personnel. To accomplish the mission of Sea-based Logistics, the Corps is looking at ways of resupplying forces with unmanned aerial vehicles and steerable kite-like parafoils that are guided by the satellite-based Global Positioning System.
Besides eliminating the natural operational "pause" associated with establishing a logistics base, these IT efforts will reduce the number of support personnel that have to go into battle and also will allow infantry personnel to be deployed on the front lines instead of guarding rear-area support installations.
"Information technologies can assist us in streamlining our logistics capabilities and will allow us to get the right supplies to the right place at the right time," Blasiol said.
Mike Decker, the Marine Corps' deputy assistant chief of staff for intelligence, said many of the force reductions being made throughout the services are "based on the assumption that the decision-maker's knowledge of [friendly and enemy] forces is far more detailed than in the past."
Ship to Shore
While the Marines are looking to move some operations from shore to ship, the Navy is testing a concept in which IT support operations will move from ship to shore.
Specifically, the Navy is studying ways to consolidate its Fleet Operations Centers and Network Operations Centers, where the majority of IT systems and network management takes place, according to a spokesman from the Navy's Chief Information Office.
The consolidation will provide the Navy with a better understanding of the technical and manning requirements of these centers, at which point the Navy will look at ways to "smartly insource or outsource" various functions, depending on needs, the spokesman said. Eventually the Navy wants to move most of its network operations center activities, such as network administration and technical support, off ships and into shore-based installations.
"What you have then is a floating [Internet Protocol] address that is [World Wide] Web-based" and takes advantage of the efficiencies provided by IT, the spokesman said. By doing so, the Navy also hopes to reduce the frequency of deployments made by a shrinking systems administrator pool.
A pilot project along these lines is under way at the Naval Base in San Diego, with a draft proposal for a similar project in the works for the Atlantic Fleet in Norfolk, Va. As the Navy continues on its road to consolidation, it expects to experience a gradual reduction in personnel, the spokesman said.
The Navy's Smart Ship program, an IT initiative started aboard the USS Yorktown and aimed at reducing workloads and enhancing the crew's effectiveness, is already beginning to produce tangible benefits.
With Smart Ship, the Navy aims to automate many of the processes associated with running and maintaining a ship, such as monitoring and controlling engines and other key functions. Technologies that are making a difference include a wireless internal ship communications system, integrated IT-enabled navigation systems and a shipwide data communications network linking the various systems, said Capt. Larry Burrill, the Smart Ship program manager.
So far the Navy has been able to cut 44 positions from a crew list of more than 390, Burrill said. Over the next five years, the Navy plans to expand the use of Smart Ship technologies to all of its cruisers and will retrofit many of its older Arleigh Burke-class destroyers with components of the Smart Ship infrastructure.
In a more administrative and practical sense, the Navy is looking at ways to manage ship-to-shore rotations more efficiently for systems administration and engineering personnel. According to the Navy spokesman, the move is designed to help the Navy compete with the attractive salaries being offered in industry for systems personnel. Sailors who have been at sea a long time tend to find these salaries and a chance to stay home a little more often very attractive, the spokesman said.