Command keeps troops connected

335th Theater Signal Command

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FARWANIYA, Kuwait — The technology that enables journalists to broadcast live satellite feeds from the front lines in Iraq also helps military commanders view a common operating picture of the battlefield and make decisions on the move.

Army Maj. Gen. Rip Detamore, commander of the 335th Theater Signal Command at Camp Doha, Kuwait, said real-time intelligence and imagery — provided by unmanned aerial vehicles as well as vehicle, cargo and personnel tracking systems — is being used by military leaders at base command centers. The information also is being beamed directly to the command and control vehicles of commanders in the field.

"In the broadest sense, what that provides and what they are so dependent on is the real-time intelligence and imagery provided to the battlefield operating systems," which helps track friendly and enemy forces and shorten the cycle between sensor and shooter, Detamore said during a phone interview March 31. "It's an enabler the warfighting commander has not had in past. It's battle command on the move, basically."

Detamore said all the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) assets that the Defense Department possesses are functioning in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and are helping to form a common operating picture for the Army commander at Coalition Forces Land Component Command (CFLCC) and other commanders worldwide.

"We have integrated the [ISR platforms] on our communications and data networks and provide the bandwidth for them to operate," he said, adding that he could not provide a specific number of the computers or systems being used due to the war's constantly changing nature.

Detamore said he was saddened by the fatal friendly fire incidents that coalition forces have endured, but that without the "blue force," or friendly, tracking systems being used, even more tragedies would occur.

"We're never satisfied with anything less than perfection with that type of technology," but as many Pentagon officials, military commanders and analysts have previously noted, "nothing will ever be absolutely perfect," Detamore said.

And for every tragedy, countless more successes are born from military technology on the battlefield, Detamore said, adding that "every hour of every day," another story comes in about how lives were saved thanks to a communications system or enhanced situational awareness on the battlefield.

One recent example is the Army's Movement Tracking System (MTS), which is normally used by the logistics community to track and communicate with tactical vehicles on the move, but in recent days, it also has been used to call a MedEvac helicopter into Iraq to aid a wounded soldier and to ensure that another unit did not enter hostile territory.

Detamore, 57, a reservist, retired from active duty in 1997 and has been in Kuwait since November 2002. The 335th Theater Signal Command, which supports all Army land component communications as well as CFLCC and all of its subordinate elements in southwest Asia, manages that vast array of information technology systems from the Theater Network Operations and Security Center (TNOSC) at Camp Doha.

His reserve command is co-located with the 3rd U.S. Army near Atlanta and includes active military personnel and reservists. A core group of 35 personnel generally ensures that the TNOSC is operational around the clock, but that number has grown to more than 200 employees during the war, he said, adding that doesn't take into account the myriad contractors who also help make everything work.

"There is probably nothing so integrated and joint as the signal corps and the operations we do for the warfighter. There are no standalone systems because we touch so many places through worldwide connectivity into the Global Information Grid," he said. "I'm amazed every day by these people."

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