A clickable Army

The Army's top soldier plans what he calls a "major transformation" of the service from a tank-heavy force designed to fight the Soviet Army on the plains of Europe into a lightweight deployable machine capable of quick response anywhere on the globe, relying heavily on technology to cut the fat.

Gen. Eric Shinseki, who took over as Army chief of staff in June, called for the radical shift because he believes the current force structure cannot meet the demands of the post-Cold War era that demands rapid deployment.

A new generation of command, control, communications, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) technology—based on Internet-based applications accessible with smaller and lighter computers and satellite dishes than in the current Army tactical inventory—will play a key role in helping the Army achieve the "agility and versatility" to meet the demands of the peacekeeping missions and small wars that the Army increasingly has been involved in, Shinseki said.

In particular, the Army can use technology to improve logistics support, Shinseki said in his first major policy speech that outlined his vision for the new Army at last week's Association of the U.S. Army annual meeting in Washington, D.C.

By improving the ability of deployed troops to get the supplies they need when they need them, the Army can reduce the amount of airlifts required to provide logistics support up front. With the "right technological solution," Shinseki said, the Army should be able to put a combat-capable brigade anywhere in the world in 96 hours, a division on the ground in 120 hours and five divisions in 30 days. It took the Army months to deploy the forces to the Middle East required for Operation Desert Storm in the early 1990s.

The Army faces serious challenges in developing a family of tough-but-lightweight wheeled vehicles to replace its 70-ton tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles, and the service faces similar challenges in shrinking its C4ISR gear to meet the requirements of the lightweight Army, top officials said.Much of the current inventory of battlefield tactical communications and computer gear still is built around systems housed in shelters mounted on 2.5-ton or 5-ton trucks.

The gear is so large that when the Army Signal Command dispatched 140 soldiers with satellite terminals and switching gear to East Timor this month, it required a C5 aircraft—the largest airlifter in the Air Force inventory—to haul the load.

Devoting such a large amount of lift for such a small amount of communications capability will not work in the new Army, said a high-ranking strategist on Shinseki's staff. "From the chief's perspective, I think that if you can get hundreds of channels of satellite television on an 18-inch dish at home, the Army should be able to communicate with an 18-inch dish in the field," the staff member said.

Maj. Gen. David Gust, program executive officer for Army intelligence, electronic warfare and sensors, said that moving to smaller dishes presents another problem. "If you have a small dish on the ground, you need a higher-powered satellite.... It's the law of physics," he said.

That goal runs up against the reality of the current military communications system, which relies largely on low-powered satellites, according to a contractor who declined to be identified.

If the Army wants lighter, more deployable ground satellite equipment, the contractor said, it will have to move to commercial satellite services until the Defense Department launches a whole new family of higher-powered aircraft—a project that would cost billions of dollars.

One commercial supplier, Inmarsat, could meet the Army's needs now, providing 64 kilobits/sec service to a terminal "not much larger than a briefcase," the contractor said. But, he added, the Army would need to allocate the funds to lease such service at a cost that "easily runs to millions of dollars a year."The Army already has made progress in trimming the size of its C4ISR gear, officials said.

The Army has reduced the ground terminals for the Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar Systems (JSTARS) from a package that once required a shelter mounted on a 5-ton truck to a shelter mounted on a Humvee.

The JSTARS equipment suite—which includes computers and a receiver to pick up signals from a JSTARS aircraft orbiting over a battlefield—will soon be compressed once again, "fitting in several small shipping cases," Gust said.

Shinseki said the Army's digitization effort, designed to outfit all the vehicles on a battlefield with computer and communications equipment that can pinpoint the location of all enemy and friendly forces, will play a key role in the new lightweight force.

Much of that gear, built around rugged Unix computers developed by TRW Inc., was developed to fit into the Army's current inventory of vehicles.

Soldiers from all ranks interviewed at last week's meeting said that the biggest obstacle Shinseki faces as he tries to transform the Army is not the equipment or funding but the dramatic cultural change his vision will impose on an organization resistant to change.

"I suspect that moving this quickly will be unnerving to some," Shinseki said. "But I've spent a little time in central Texas where they have a great saying: You can't wring your hands and roll your sleeves up at the same time."

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