Generals point ways to better Blue Force

The military's Blue Force Tracking worked well during Operation Iraqi Freedom, but there weren't enough devices available and not enough bandwidth to support the ones that did make it to the field, the general who led the Army's V Corps during the operation told a House subcommittee today.

"On average, U.S. Army divisions that received Blue Force Tracking only got about 150 systems per division," said Lt. Gen. William Wallace, testifying before the House Armed Services Committee's Terrorism, Unconventional Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee. "That was based on limitations in satellite capability and the physical capability to produce those numbers and get them into the field."

Blue Force Tracking allows U.S. and allied leaders to keep close tabs on their forces. In its final version, it will consist of global positioning applications, communications — most likely through the Joint Tactical Radio System — logistics and supply, and tactical overlays.

Systems that were in place for the recent Iraqi conflict were "extraordinarily successful," said Wallace, now commander of the Army's Training and Doctrine Command. But bandwidth concerns were one of the largest hurdles to be overcome, he said. Satellite communications delivered Blue Force data, but commanders competed for bandwidth and the existing connectivity was largely insufficient, especially for the more mobile forces on the front lines, he said.

The Blue Force systems that were deployed were done so largely in commanders' vehicles, or reconnaissance vehicles and others assumed to be in close combat with the enemy, Wallace said. It would be more useful if all vehicles could have them, he said.

"What Blue Force Tracking did not do, because of the level of fielding, is give individual vehicle views because of its thin fielding," he said. "Blue Force Tracking provides the ability to deny fires to occur, but it doesn't clear fires. Because of that, there's going to have to be some kind of identify friend or foe system that compliments Blue Force Tracking."

Marine Maj. General Keith Stalder, deputy commanding general of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, said his Marines had two systems in the desert: Blue Force Tracking and the Marines' Mounted Digital Automated Communications Terminal (MDACT).

Stalder said he deployed 319 MDACT units and 177 Blue Force devices to Marine units, and 47 Blue Force devices to United Kingdom units.

"That coverage allowed us to function and operate much in the same manner as our colleagues in V Corps," Stalder said. We pushed "those systems to the most forward elements and those elements that might come in contact with the enemy in a situation where it required us to add as much situational awareness as possible."

Individual shooters still make the decisions on engaging targets, but a system that clearly distinguishes between friend and foe would help. But Blue Force, Stalder said, lacks fidelity — the ability to be accurate 100 percent of the time.

Lt. Gen. Daniel Leaf, vice commander of Air Force Space Command, said top Air Force officials have ordered improvements in Blue Force Tracking deployments in future operations.

"Because of its potential, the secretary of the Air Force (James Roche) and the chief of staff of the Air Force (Gen. John Jumper) visited Air Force Space Command some weeks ago and gave us strong direction to look at how we can improve, enhance and expand the role of Blue Force [Tracking] as part of our overall situational awareness," Leaf said.

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