Digitized force prevails in desert

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Twenty-four hours into the Army's massive training exercise at Fort Irwin, Calif., the score is good guys 60, bad guys 40. And information technology is proving to be a winner, too.

With the first digitized division destroying 60 percent of the opposition force while having 40 percent of their own forces destroyed, IT is being effective in peering through the so-called "fog of war" — and Mojave Desert sand storms — according to service officials.

The "fog of war" is a term military officials use to describe the mass confusion that occurs in times of combat — times when it is often difficult, if not impossible, for soldiers to know their own location, let alone where other friendly forces or enemy forces are. Mother Nature made that metaphor a reality, however, when a severe sand storm hit the post Wednesday during the first battle of the two-week exercise.

The 4th Infantry Division — the Fort Hood, Texas, unit that is known as the Army's First Digitized Division — is the "blue force" in the Division Capstone Exercise at the Army's National Training Center in southern California. It's competing against a "red force" from Fort Irwin.

During the first battle, a sand storm left both sides virtually blinded. Although Army aircraft are expected to fly under all conditions during combat, the service will not risk flying aircraft under dangerous conditions during training exercises. Therefore, the good guys were left without much of the IT they will rely on in future battles.

"The weather was so bad that nothing flew — no [unmanned aerial vehicles], no helicopters," said Col. John Antal, deputy chief of staff for the 4th Infantry Division commander. "So, there we are: The division was ready to use all these great robotic vehicles. They got Apache helicopters, they got Kiowa Warriors [scout helicopters], and nothing can fly." He explained that the digitized division had to rely on more traditional scouts on the ground to spot enemy troops, but by using the Tactical Internet, those scouts were able to rapidly update the battlefield computers for the rest of the division, using icons to show where opposing force vehicles were located.

In addition, because nearly every 4th Infantry Division vehicle has a high-powered forward-looking radar system for detecting enemy vehicles, they all act as scouts. Despite the sand storm, one non-commissioned officer was able to know from eight kilometers away where an opposing force battalion was located and single-handedly killed them all — 15 vehicles — before he was killed.

The non-commissioned officer failed to register the enemy forces so that their icons showed up on the rest of the blue force's computer screens, but the opposing force could not withstand a 15-to-1 loss ratio and retreated.

Although Army officials say they do not want to talk in terms of winners or losers for a training exercise, the digitized division accomplished its goal during the first battle; the highly trained and greatly feared opposing force did not.

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