A rough ride for battlefield systems

Army report calls for updates to the service’s battle command systems.

The network-centric Army’s armored force of the future had a rocky debut in Iraq, according to a report leaked late last month.

The Army’s battle command systems installed in the service’s new Stryker infantry carrier vehicles need significant performance improvements to meet warfighters’ needs, according to an Army report that draws from lessons learned during the Iraq war.

Army analysts at the Center for Army Lessons Learned (CALL) cited speed, interoperability, overheating and maintenance problems with the Army Battle Command System (ABCS) installed in vehicles used by the service’s first Stryker Brigade Combat Team. They also reported utility and operation issues with the unit’s digital radios and drones. The service’s digital combat systems took 10 years to develop and cost $20 billion.

CALL analysts recommended that Army officials enhance the Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below (FBCB2) system, another digital system installed on the Stryker, which gives soldiers access to warfighting information and lets them communicate through instant messages via computer terminals in their vehicles.

“The computer processor speed in FBCB2 is too slow, especially when large units are moving at high speeds simultaneously, which causes the FBCB2 to often lock up,” CALL analysts stated in “Initial Impressions Report, Operations in Mosul, Iraq: Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry.”

The analysts said ABCS, a network of 11 applications that provides warfighting data, including intelligence, weather updates and artillery stocks, could not communicate with the Maneuver Control System (MCS), which integrates with ABCS so commanders have a common operational picture of the battlefield.

“ABCS components were not interoperable with MCS because of software shortfalls, mission environment and communications links,” they wrote in the 102-page report that was intended “for official use only.” It was completed in December 2004.

CALL analysts also learned that the digital systems in Stryker often overheated in the desert environment. They recommended that “air conditioners should be added to the Stryker vehicles to prevent electronic overheating problems.”

CALL analysts said the brigade’s digital radios provided limited usefulness, and the drone robotic aircraft that take pictures offered inferior resolution of enemy positions compared with images from commercial digital cameras purchased by soldiers. They added that commercial carriers such as FedEx and DHL Worldwide Express delivered parts to the brigade much faster than the Army logistics system.

A land warfare expert and a government waste investigator found the Army’s hardware and software problems troubling, especially because military officials are emphasizing network-centric warfare and the importance of sharing data between U.S. and coalition forces.

“The truly alarming information to emerge from the report is the inadequacies of the Army’s FBCB2 and ABCS systems and their inability to connect with the newer MCS,” said Dan Goure, a vice president at the Lexington Institute, a public policy think tank.

“That the command and control systems are inadequate is a criticism of the Army but not of the Stryker,” Goure said. “How is it possible that in 2005 the Army is deploying major command, control, communications and computer systems that are too slow and cannot talk to one another?”

“The Stryker represents a first look at the Army of the future,” said Eric Miller, senior defense investigator at the Project on Government Oversight. “The vehicle has less armor and weight and is supposed to have high-tech systems that will give it superior battlefield awareness and eliminate the need to even get close to the enemy. So when a computer overheats or slows down, and soldiers are deprived of information on the enemy’s location, the Stryker becomes somewhat of a sitting duck,” Miller said.

An Army spokesman said service officials plan to implement ABCS Version 6.4 soon, the system’s latest release. It will serve as the new software standard for the Stryker brigades, the 4th Infantry Division and all service units.

“ABCS 6.4 is going through an operational test at Fort Hood, Texas, next month, and the ABCS 6.4 initiative addresses interoperability issues discussed in the reports by taking advantage of changes in software, architecture and the use of the automated information server,” said Tim Rider, public affairs officer at the Communications-Electronics Life Cycle Management Command. The command oversees the development, integration and maintenance of the Army’s warfighting information technology systems, including FBCB2 and ABCS. He said the command could not make an official available to discuss the report until later this week.

Lt. Gen. Joseph Yakovac, the Army’s deputy to the assistant secretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, said he is satisfied with the performance of the service’s battle command systems deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The ABCS and FBCB2 systems that deployed with the Stryker brigade are being constantly improved by the Army, often based on feedback gathered in reports like the CALL report in question,” Yakovac said. “The latest hardware and software, reflecting preplanned and these soldier-driven improvements in interoperability and operational suitability, are currently participating in a test and evaluation event at Fort Hood and will deploy with the 4th Infantry Division.”

Dick Devlin, public affairs officer for the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, the Army’s first Stryker Brigade Combat Team, said in response to the report: “All of the users of the Stryker variants I’ve had occasion to talk to or listen to about the vehicle have given it high marks.… I’ve heard virtually no negativity toward the weapon system.”

Lt. Gen. William “Scott” Wallace, commanding general of Fort Leavenworth, Kan., and the Army’s Combined Arms Center that includes CALL, refused to comment on the report. Janet Wray, a spokeswoman for Wallace, said he would not comment on the report until service officials make it public.

Herb Browne, chief executive officer of AFCEA International, said the system’s overheating problem is disappointing because military officials had 12 years to fix it from the first Persian Gulf War. However, the retired Navy vice admiral said the hardware and software problems are typical for new systems.

“I did not read a lot in the report that surprised me,” Browne said. “The first deployment with anything, there is always a shakedown.”

An official from a company that developed one of the Army’s digital systems voiced a similar explanation.

“I haven’t read the report, but my initial reaction is to recount the overwhelmingly rave reports we receive from commanders and soldiers in the field on the operational effectiveness of FBCB2, both in the Stryker and from other platforms,” said Jim Hardin, director of business development for command, control and communications at Northrop Grumman’s Mission Systems business unit. The company developed FBCB2.

“Regardless of how much soldiers in the field like and rely on the system, we are constantly working to improve FBCB2, not only in speed of transmission but also in numerous other ways,” Hardin said.


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A report from the Center for Army Lessons Learned detailed the plight of digital systems used in the service’s first Stryker Brigade Combat Team.

The report, a review of the unit’s systems during its tour of duty in Iraq in late 2003 and 2004, highlighted the strengths and weaknesses of the service’s computer systems. Here are some of the report’s findings.

  • The Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below system is too slow, operates inconsistently and includes aerial images from old data.

  • Army Battle Command System components are not interoperable with the Maneuver Control System because of software shortfalls, mission environment and communication links.

  • Near Term Digital Radio cannot quickly and reliably transmit digital traffic to battalions.

  • Unmanned aerial vehicle optics and satellite imagery are insufficient for the level of detail needed for urban operations. Commercial cameras provided greater detail than images from the UAVs and were more timely than satellite imagery. They also were more covert than having soldiers drive a combat vehicle through a city block.

    — Frank Tiboni and Bob Brewin

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