Army envisions wireless networks replacing TOCs

The sprawling battlefield command post that has been a mainstay of Army operations will eventually be replaced with a mobile-communications infrastructure, service officials say.

On the battlefield, the Army uses tactical operations centers (TOCs) at the company, brigade, battalion and division levels. A TOC typically consists of vehicles, large tents, maps, radios, an-ten-nas, generators and lots of coffee. It can take two hours to set it up and just as long to tear it down so it can be moved, a frequent requirement in combat.

As mobile, wireless devices such as cell phones and handheld PCs become commonplace, Army officials are considering how similar devices could replace many of the functions of a TOC. But the Army needs to transmit vast quantities of voice, video and other data with equipment that is rugged enough for combat, and the technology must operate anywhere in the world without relying on a fixed infrastructure. Essentially, the Army wants the Internet without the wires, but it must be reliable and secure.

The objective is to create a command post composed of a single vehicle: the commander's vehicle. The command post will be wherever the commander is.

To work toward that goal, the service is spending millions of dollars on two closely related advanced technology demonstration programs: Multifunctional On-the-Move Secure Adaptive Integrated Communications (MOSAIC), a $45 million effort to integrate wireless technologies and protocols to provide the infrastructure for the Army's next- generation Tactical Internet, and Agile Commander, a $48 million program focusing on decision-support tools that will enable commanders to conduct operations virtually anywhere.

"When you have a cell phone, it's tied to a fixed infra-structure, and that changes a lot of the approaches and protocols that allow you to have mobility," said Gary Blohm, MOSAIC program manager.

To be truly mobile, a commander must be supported by such technologies as voice over IP, IP quality of service, mobile IP and ad hoc networking, all of which must be integrated into a highly adaptive system using commercial technologies to the maximum extent possible, according to Army documents.

"Our two programs are time-phased, and we're attempting to jointly execute them," said John Soos, Agile Commander program manager. "MOSAIC is providing a quality-of-service communications network, and Agile Commander is developing command and control applications that will be adaptive within the constraints of the network." That means "the applications will gracefully degrade as bandwidth becomes limited," he said.

As Gen. Eric Shinseki, the Army chief of staff, said during a recent speech to the Association of the United States Army in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., a TOC is only a true command center when the commander is there. When the commander isn't there, he said, it's just "a place for the staff to hang out."


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