Learning by doing
- By George I. Seffers
- May 29, 2000
The Army has begun to help a former Cold War adversary build an advanced
command and control system in hopes that it can apply what it learns to
improve communications among its own widely distributed systems.
Army officials from the Communications-Electronics Command's Research
Development and Engineering Center at Fort Monmouth, N.J., are helping the
Czech Republic army define and test a new command and control architecture.
The Mitre Corp., a nonprofit corporation, also is involved.
The blueprint will allow the Czech Republic to shed its manual Warsaw
Pact-era command and control structure so that it can communicate better
with the more automated forces that make up NATO. The U.S. Army hopes the
project will show how it can improve its own command and control system,
made up of numerous systems that cannot communicate with one another.
The Army historically has given individual communities such as intelligence,
logistics and indirect fire a great deal of autonomy in developing and procuring
command and control systems, but those individual systems were not designed
to share data with other systems. The Army's Tactical Command and Control
System, for example, is made up of five independent systems. Those systems
have to be adapted or modified so that they can share critical battlefield
Army officials said they hope that by helping the Czech Republic military
build an interoperable system from scratch, they will gain valuable insight.
"I intend to see it happen," said Louis Marquet, director of Cecom's
Research Development and Engineering Center. "Certainly for the Future Combat
System it will be this way. On the interim brigade, when we go three to
five years from now, I think there's an opportunity to directly inject the
experience we get from [helping] the Czechs. I don't see why we need to
wait until 2012 before the output of our information technology programs
is going to become useful."
The Future Combat System will be a family of technology-laden vehicles
to make the Army lighter and more lethal. The Army plans to field them around
2012. Two interim brigades at Fort Lewis, Wash., are being equipped with
existing systems to serve as a prototype intermediate force until the Army
fields the system.
The Czech Republic embassy could not be reached for comment.
Danny DeMarinis, associate technical director at Mitre, said the lessons
learned from the Czech experience should benefit the Army's effort to upgrade
its command and control system. "The bottom line is that there are two benefits
to the U.S.," he said. "First, you build a system [for the Czechs] that
is interoperable with U.S. and NATO forces. Second, the lessons learned
are immediately transferable to the U.S. If there weren't such benefits,
we wouldn't be involved."
Because the Czech Republic is funding the command and control rebuild,
Army lessons learned are lessons learned for free, Army officials said.
During the trade show TechNet 2000 in Prague, the two armies intend to publicly
demonstrate a prototype infrastructure for the Czech Republic's brigade-level
maneuver forces. Once the initial capability for maneuver forces is operable,
the Czech military will be able to expand the capabilities to the rest of
The Czech command and control infrastructure, estimated to be in place
within the next five or 10 years, will be almost exclusively purchased
commercially. The infrastructure will be based on PCs, possibly using a
Windows 2000 operating system, rather than using the larger, more powerful
computers such as Sun Microsystems Inc.'s Unix systems, which are needed
for a larger military force. In addition, the Czechs will be able to purchase
equipment loaded with cutting-edge technology such as Extensible Markup
Language. The U.S. Army, on the other hand, must add the latest technologies
to existing systems.
"A lot of the systems we have today were built when Web technology wasn't
even around. [Web technology] was inserted after the fact, but the full
power of it was not exploited," a DOD source said. "Now for the Czechs,
we are defining a system around the evolving standard."
However, one command and control expert said the Army dreams of building
a new infrastructure are more fantasy than reality.
"It's wishful thinking. It would be great nirvana if we could wish away
all the legacy systems and start from scratch," said Tony Valletta, former
acting assistant secretary of Defense for command, control, communications
Despite pronouncing the Czech effort to be a great opportunity, Army
officials conceded that obstacles exist to overhauling the service's own
command and control structure. "So far there is no real dedicated funding
to support the kind of technology injections needed, even though the words
"technology injection' show up on all the charts for the Brigade Combat
Team," Marquet said.