War game to test command system

As part of a war game next month, the Army will give many top-level service leaders their first look at the Battle Command System, which will fuse information currently delivered by 11 different systems.

The system, which saw limited use during the recent conflict in Iraq, integrates information accessed by every member of the service — from battlefield commanders down to individual soldiers.

A product of 11 individual systems, the system generally will require a heavy-duty desktop computer. A "lite version" was run on PCs in the Middle East and performed fairly well, said Lt. Gen. Peter Cuviello, former Army chief information officer, while speaking at the recent AFCEA International conference in Washington.

Still, some Army officials returning from Iraq were not satisfied with the system's performance. Some portions were never activated, and other parts are repetitive, including the ability to track friendly forces through the Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below system and the Blue Force Tracking system. One Army captain recommended that the service drop the system and start over.

The Battle Command System in development will eliminate the necessity for myriad systems that must be bridged together, because it's being developed with commanders and warfighters in mind, said Maj. Carl Wilk, senior project officer at the Battle Command Battle Laboratory at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

Army Battle Command System "is made up of 10 or 11 systems that are fairly stovepiped and oriented toward specific battlefield functional areas within the Army, like defensive maneuvers or combat service support," Wilk said. "Most of those systems, when they were being developed, were done for specific areas, not with the mind-set of being interoperable among themselves."

Army officials worked from January to April developing the Battle Command System capabilities development document (CDD), and it has been through numerous preliminary reviews.

A "seminar war game" is scheduled for August during which one- and two-star officers will get a first look at the system and provide feedback, Wilk said.

The system must be ready in time to work with the Future Combat Systems, a networked family of 18 systems that uses advanced communications and technologies to link soldiers with air and ground platforms and sensors.

FCS is the cornerstone of the Army's transformation efforts, and its first unit of action is scheduled to be ready by the end of the decade.

Some experts question why the Army is undertaking such ambitious transformation projects when it receives less acquisition funding than the other military services.

"It's a paradox of Army modernization that the service with the smallest acquisition budget is trying to develop the most complex networks," said Loren Thompson, a defense analyst at the Lexington Institute, an Arlington, Va., think tank. "There are 32 million lines of code in [FCS], and the complexity of future command and control networks really is without precedent anywhere else in the Pentagon," he said.

"The Army and the other services are getting embroiled in some extremely complicated networking architectures that need to be thought through carefully now."

It is necessary for networks to share information across previously stand-alone systems, as long as the weakest link doesn't jeopardize the whole thing, Thompson said. "I'm concerned that, as networks are integrated, the weakest one will become a portal for a clever adversary to disrupt the whole system," he said.

Wilk said his commander was in Iraq last month talking to senior leaders to determine if the Battle Command System needed more capabilities to meet soldiers' needs.

"We are going to review the lessons learned, but it takes time to walk through those and go down a couple levels to what the warfighter is really talking about, and make sure that is covered" in the CDD, he said.

After the August war game, Army officials will take about 30 days to review comments and incorporate them into the document. Then the plans will be presented to a requirements review council, a three- and four-star level review, in September, Wilk said.

Army officials have not decided if the system will be competed under one request for proposals or multiple solicitations. It will go through the normal acquisition process before the Army Requirements Oversight Council and the Joint Requirements Oversight Council, he said.

***

Command and control

The Army's future Battle Command System has three main components:

* The Army Global Command and Control System comprises several applications including logistics, medical, personnel, mobilization and deployment. The system features a common operational picture featuring near-real-time graphical snapshots of friendly and potentially enemy forces that top Defense Department commanders use to control and manage forces.

* The Army Tactical Command and Control System is organized into five battlefield functional areas: maneuver, field artillery, intelligence and electronic warfare, combat support service and air defense.

* Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below supports lower-echelon battle command tactical mission requirements, including improved information for command and control, and enhanced situational awareness, target identification and graphical combat area displays.

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