At the Cutting Edge of Mission Command



Mike O'Brien
05/01/2013

As the U.S. Army begins its latest Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) this month, the service has proudly unveiled its new streamlined blue-force tracking system.

The new system means that for the first time on the battlefield, maneuver and logistics forces will be able to message each other and share situational awareness, creating a complete and seamless operational picture in the process.

In the past this game-changing capability simply wasn’t possible because combat and support units in the brigade combat team were equipped with separate and incompatible communications networks that could not communicate with each other in real time.

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New technology that enhances the operator’s command and control network access will be among the subjects discussed at IDGA’s Mission Command event next month.

The Army’s new tracking system was created by integrating the vehicle-based Movement Tracking System (MTS) into the Army’s upgraded friendly force tracking system known as ‘Joint Capabilities Release’ (JCR).

JCR Logistics builds on the technology soldiers have relied on for situational awareness in Iraq and Afghanistan. The new FBCB2/BFT system has been integrated on more than 120,000 platforms and authorized or fielded to every brigade combat team in the Army.

The display screen shows blue and red icons over a geospatial imagery map. It paints a complete picture of the battlefield – including friendly and enemy forces, as well as terrain hazards — enabling units to synchronize operations and avoid friendly fire incidents.

For Brian Lehman, theCommand and Control Team Lead at Esri, advancements in Mission Command in the last decade have come about at an unprecedented rate.

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He told IDGA.org: "During the last decade of conflict, the pace and nature of operations has led somewhat to a divergence from the traditional MDMP. The amount of technology and the network infrastructure available in theater today is unlike any previous conflict.

"At present, there is significant focus on renewing the core skills involved in executing both the art and the science of Mission Command.

"Many officers who have served at perhaps the Company level and are now preparing to be a staff officer at Division will not have had much exposure to aspects of Mission Command that are required at that echelon. As a result, there is now renewed focus being placed on training doctrine relating to MDMP."

Mr. Lehman added: "Another significant change that has taken place is the collapse strategy executed by PEO C3T and PM Mission Command as well as the emergence of the NIEs as a way to iteratively advance and insert capability at a rapid pace compared to years past."

The next NIE, numbered 13.2, gets underway this month at Fort Bliss, Texas, and White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. It’s the fifth in the series of semi-annual field evaluations that is designed to keep pace with rapid advances in communications technologies and deliver proven and integrated network capabilities to Soldiers.

The NIEs build on previous exercises by improving the Army's integrated network and acting upon soldier feedback.

Speaking to Army.mil, the U.S. Army’s official website, Maj. Gen. Harold Greene, the Deputy for Acquisition and Systems Management, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology, said: "The NIE offers us the ability to evaluate and improve the network incrementally."

"It forces the community together in an environment where Soldiers are telling us what we did well and what we didn't do well -- very graphically, very visually, very obviously."

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Mr. Lehman said: "When you visit Aberdeen and the C4ISR campus it is truly amazing to see the amount of innovation going on there. The investments made in the network over the past decade are all focused on getting capability from strategic levels all the way to an individual dismounted soldier.

"That has been a tough nut to crack, but the capabilities we have today are proving to be a real game changer. The Capability Set approach results in technology insertion that gets new capabilities to our forces more quickly, and the NIEs ensure that those technologies are tested and proven.

"For Esri, as a COTS technology provider, this new approach allows us to get our latest technology to soldiers rather than being 2-3 releases behind the current version by the time a system is fielded. "

IDGA’s Mission Command summit runs from June 10-12 in the Washington DC area. For full details, go to www.MissionCommandEvent.com

(Photo: U.S. Army by Claire Schwerin, PEO C3T)