Soldiers take digital battlefield

If things go well when the service's first digitized division conducts a major field exercise at Fort Irwin, Calif., April 1-14, the Army may be on the verge of a historical change in the way it fights on the battlefield.

The field exercise, known as the Division Capstone Exercise (DCX), will be conducted in two phases — the first in April and the second at Fort Hood, Texas, in October. The exercises are the culmination of six years of work toward digitizing the Army's armored forces, said Maj. Gen. B.B. Bell, commander of the Army's armor center at Fort Knox, Ky.

Because the information technologies give troops and commanders a better understanding of the battlefield situation, Army officials believe they can revamp centuries-old warfighting doctrine and develop tactics that are decades beyond those of potential adversaries.

Some changes in the making include: Army forces being more dispersed on the battlefield rather than in neatly organized formations; use of cyberwarfare; brigade commanders deciding when and where to fight rather than waiting for orders; fighting continuously day and night; and greater integration of air and ground forces.

Ever since "people first started getting mad at each other," Bell said military doctrine has changed little. During the American Civil War, troops fought standing shoulder to shoulder; in Desert Storm, tanks lined up much the same way. And although intelligence analysts might have a good idea where enemy forces are, it's troops on the ground who find them — and only when they are within yards of each other.

But that is about to change.

"We are on the cusp of a changing doctrine that empowers us through information superiority to find [the enemy] first without contact, to be fairly certain where we are and where our buddies are, and to be fairly comfortable if there are gaps because we're fairly certain there is no enemy in the gaps," Bell said.

The major difference between the April exercise and the first one in 1997 is that four years ago, the Army was experimenting with digitization. Much of the information technologies were prototypes haphazardly strapped to Army vehicles; the troops had hardly trained on them; and commanders were unsure how to use them. The April exercise, however, is a demonstration of the Army's digitized combat capabilities.

"You will hear a great deal about technology — and you should — but this business of warfare is not just about technology," Bell said. "It's about new doctrine, new how-to-fight concepts. We feel empowered to work our doctrine in a new and powerful way because some enabling things have changed." Digital development

Of the technologies being demonstrated during the April exercise, only two — maneuver control system and Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below — are still in development. All others — Army Battle Command System, Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System, and Enhanced Position Location Reporting System, among others — are ready for combat.

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