To the Editor:
I have seen the future of warfare....the Army's ability to use information to dominate future battles will give the United States a new key to victory, I believe, for years, if not for generations to come.
--Secretary of the Army, William Cohen, after his NTC visit to witness the TF XXI AWE
The Task Force XXI (TF XXI) Advanced Warfighting Experiment (AWE) was a success. Prior to the 4th Infantry Division (Mechanized) 1st Brigade Combat Team's (1BCT) deployment to the National Training Center (NTC) in March 1997, some believed that the AWE was a preordained "success." They believed the Army was just going through the motions to validate this success--nothing could be further from the truth.
The fact that an entire Army brigade was digitized with cutting edge information technologies operated by quality soldiers and conducted coherent tactical combat operations digitally was a substantial accomplishment. This event provided the Army with an azimuth to dramatically redirect the way we think about and employ technology on the battlefield and how we leverage it to achieve information dominance. Technology was not the only venue, however. The TF XXI AWE addressed the proper mix of forces, new doctrine, fine-tuning our modernization strategy and leader development programs, and how we train soldiers, battle staffs and entire units of redesigned and digitized forces.
The 1BCT deployed with nearly 1000 vehicles. There were 73 separate technology initiatives consisting of more than 5000 new items: Appliqué, Precision Lightweight Global Positioning System, Enhanced Position Location Reporting System, Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System, Battle Command Information System, and 1386 others. At the time of the AWE, the 1BCT was indisputably the most digitized ground combat force in the United States.
Many "rear echelon observers" have distilled certain truths or beliefs about what really happened and what these findings mean to information warriors. Even with final reports, I suspect varying degrees of acceptance of certain truths will remain. Here are a few distilled results and thoughts.
Challenges. The 1BCT's challenges were equally split between training, technology and "process re-engineering" (tactics, techniques and procedures (TTP)). Technology without training and solid TTP is a waste. My guess is that a well-trained, nondigitized unit with sound standard operating procedures (SOPs) will always be more lethal than an ill-trained digitized unit.
Dominance. What is "information dominance"? Everyone in the AWE wanted it. Do we know what it feels like, and if we achieve it, how will we know? "We have unmanned aerial vehicles and Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar Systems airborne, therefore we have information dominance"-type statements can be incorrect and dangerous. Perhaps the enemy has equivalent assets flying, which equates to information parity (at least for aerial surveillance). Information dominance is more clearly evident with achievements like "we are out-thinking the enemy, hitting him before he moves; we know his intentions and we are moving before he can locate and target us." Dominance is relative.
Close Combat. Close combat operations are emotional events. Emotions cannot be digitized and displayed on a computer screen, nor can computers react as fast as a soldier's voice. "Situational awareness" to a tank commander in close combat is what his eyes and intuition tell him. I wonder if the FM voice net will ever become obsolete? Digitization cannot substitute for basic soldiering skills, emotions, or intuition. Digitization is a tool; the "toolbox" remains the soldier.
Training. All soldiers must learn the technology. In most units, only lieutenants, E-6s, and below operated the systems. Captains and higher ranking individuals were reluctant to run the systems. One (very) senior officer stated, "We need to fire all officers above O-2 because they refused to learn the technology." When battle staff officers did not believe what their digital "common relevant picture" was telling them, they bypassed and ignored it. One senior observer stated that at every after action review, when the observer/controllers compared the pictures of reality from their instrumentation to the Appliqué-Maneuver Control System-ASAS picture, there was virtually no difference! He said, "I don't know what it will take to get these folks to trust the machines."
This lack of "trust" probably stems from a lack of understanding. Soldiers trust and depend on what they know best. Experience is largely non-transferable, but training is transferable.
The bottom line is that information warriors must be tactically proficient first. Any "worship" of technology must be consciously tempered. As a means to an end, technology can provide a significant combat multiplier to turn information dominance into mission success.
William T. Coffey, Jr.
Colorado Springs, Colorado