Digital World Meets Combat During Desert Exercise
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Information Service
FORT IRWIN, Calif., April 18, 2001 - "A hammer isn't a
tool until you learn how to use it," said a specialist with
the 2nd Battalion, 4th Aviation, here. "It's the same with
"This" is a computer set-up that allows commanders at many
levels to talk, exchange information and perform many
missions. The Army calls the 4th Infantry Division the
first "digital division." Members of two brigades of the
division are here learning to use their new digital tools
during the Capstone Exercise April 1-14.
Officials said the system is a concrete example of what the
term "information superiority" means. Army Col. John Antal,
exercise chief of staff, said the system allows commanders
to know exactly where all their vehicles are and - with
input from intelligence systems - where the enemy is.
At the heart of this capability is the Force 21 Battle
Command, Brigade and Below system. The FBCB2 system is
mounted in vehicles and gives commanders a network to work
from. This wireless digital network allows them to share
information in a way impossible before. It's a concrete
example of the route all the services will take to create
the U.S. military detailed in Joint Vision 2020.
"You hear the expression 'reading from the same sheet of
music' all the time," said Army Maj. Gen. Steve Boutelle,
program executive officer for command, control and
communications systems at Fort Monmouth, N.J. "This really
does put commanders on the same sheet of music."
Essentially, the tactical network mimics the Internet.
Commercial software runs the system and any casual computer
user should be able to figure out how to navigate the
system easily. On the screen, friendly forces are shown in
blue. Enemy forces - when found - appear in red.
Each vehicle has an FBCB2 unit that continually updates the
network with the position of the vehicle. Commanders can
access the network and pull out the information they need.
Like the Internet, a number of users can use the
information at once. Gone are the days when commanders put
out information via radio, land line or by delivering map
overlays in person.
"Now, with the FBCB2, if an Abrams spots an enemy vehicle,
the crew puts a laser on it and automatically it appears on
the net," said Col. Tom Begines, an Army spokesman. But
that red symbol doesn't just show up on the FBCB2 display
in the tank, it appears on every console in the network.
The information grid includes many means of getting
information into it. A sandstorm at Fort Irwin demonstrated
the facility of this. Officials said that at one point
during the exercise a wind kicking at up to 60 miles per
hour obscured the battlefield. An attack was coming in and
all aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles were grounded.
Yet the 2nd brigade of the 4th was able to continue the
mission and in fact kick butt because JSTARS aircraft
flying above the storm put information into the grid. Antal
said the brigade destroyed roughly 60 percent of the
Command and control issues are obviously the big plus on
the networked battlefield. Commanders know precisely where
their forces are, which helps cut down on friendly fire
incidents. In addition, data such as grid coordinates
become a digital transmission rather than having people try
to radio in coordinates.
A forward observer, for example, can call for fire, give
the coordinates and adjust fire using the FBCB2. There need
not be a radio call.
The FBCB2 has access to the latest maps from the National
Imaging and Mapping Agency. Weather information can also be
part of the display.
Officials said operations orders could be modified as an
operation progresses. New information and new situations
can be fed into the network and all on the net can access
The system is having teething problems. "We're still
learning," Antal said. He said as the crews use the system,
they are becoming more familiar with its capabilities. It
is entirely possible, he said, that the warfighters might
come up with uses for the system that the technical experts
did not foresee.
The system does crash, he said. Individual consoles lose
communications with the network. "But others still work,"
Antal said. "And the 'carbon units' jump off their tanks to
pass information to others."
Officials said they would take the lessons learned from the
exercise and apply them to newer issues of the system. Army
officials said the system is part of a heavy division now,
but it could be fielded by the lighter divisions envisioned
for the future.
"This really is transforming the military to meet the
threats posed by enemies in the 21st century," Boutelle
said. "The war here has taken the theory and made a leap to