Military brings systems arsenal to war

left: Maj. Chris Holinger tracks aircraft from the Combined Air Operations Center. top right: The MV Cape Texas speeds to the Persian Gulf laden with e-mail-ready trucks. bottom right: The Military Traffic and Management Command can track cargo using the MPOC's comm suite.

DOD's Dyke Weatherington says the department has eight UAVs deployed to perform intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions in Iraq.

Helene C. Stikkel

From tactical comm to hospital support, IT has become a member of the warfighting team

As the 48-hour deadline for Saddam Hussein to step down as president of Iraq ticked down last week, U.S. forces fired the first salvo: a flurry of e-mail to Iraqi commanders.

Defense Department officials bombarded Iraqi commanders with messages that asked them to not fight but instead surrender to incoming U.S. and allied forces, said Marine Corps Lt. Gen. James T. Conway of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force stationed in Kuwait.

But the e-mail barrage is minor compared to how DOD and the military services will use IT in Iraq'from tracking troops and supplies to planning attacks and carrying them out.

Military officials have dispatched unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to cover the country and provide support to warfighters. And hundreds of ground tactical vehicles in Kuwait are outfitted with communications systems that will let soldiers and commanders exchange data on the front lines of the battle.

The Navy set up mobile hospitals with built-in systems infrastructures that integrate communications with Joint Forces commanders and tie back to the Composite Health CareSystem II at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.
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The Navy also has outfitted mobile fleet hospital units with IT networks designed by GTSI Corp. of Chantilly, Va. The networks use Hewlett-Packard Co. servers; an IP-based PBX phone system from Shoreline Communications Inc. of Sunnyvale, Calif.; ruggedized Panasonic wireless notebook PCs; and software that gives hospital staff access to patients' electronic medical records, officials said.

'This saves time and saves lives,' said John Cantrell, an account executive with GTSI's Navy team. 'It's faster response.'

Supply side

To monitor supplies''everything from butter to bullets''and speed up the logistics process, the Army is using a Web-enabled tracking system, Army spokesman Stephen Larsen said.

Military planners will rely on the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program for weather predictions in the theater. 'For the Army, obviously, they want to know moisture and soil content. They don't want their tanks bogged down,' said Major Gen. Judd Blaisdell, director of space operations and integration for the Air Force. 'The Navy needs to know winds and sea state. Obviously, the Air Force, we're not going to do refueling operations in thunderstorms.'

At the Combined Air Operations Center in southwest Asia, joint teams overseen by the U.S. Central Command direct missiles at targets, coordinate joint battlefield operations, plan search and rescue missions, and offer special operations support to warfighters. CAOC is the nerve center for any air operations that occur during the strike on Iraq.

That includes UAV efforts. Dyke Weatherington, deputy director of Defense's UAV Planning Task Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, said eight models of UAVs stand ready to perform intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions in Iraq.

In preparation for ground maneuvers, the Army over the past several weeks has installed its Movement Tracking System in hundreds of ground tactical vehicles in Kuwait. The system uses satellites to transmit e-mail messages between troops and commanders and to show vehicle operators their precise positions.

Although the eight-year, $418 million MTS contract was awarded in June 1999, the Army only recently began installing the systems in tactical vehicles such as Humvees. Via commercial and DOD's Global Positioning System satellites, MTS makes it possible to identify positions and track the progress of vehicles. 'MTS will help get logistics faster to where it needs to be to support the soldiers,' said Robert Straub, deputy assistant project manager for MTS.

The Military Traffic and Management Command has boosted response time and its ability to track cargo since it began using the Multimedia Communications System, a command, control, communications and computers suite that is installed in both Mobile Port Operation Centers (MPOCs) and Deployable Port Operations Centers.

During the first Gulf War 12 years ago, the command tracked cargo using paper. The military moved more than 400,000 containers in 1991, and using paper to keep on top of needs was an ordeal, officials said.

'More than half of the cargo containers in theater were filled with mystery items,' said Corrina Panduri, project leader with the Defense Wide Transmission Systems program. 'Nobody knew where these items'including more than $2.7 billion in spare [parts]'were supposed to go.'

MMCS, which has been deployed to port centers near Iraq, provides immediate information on the location and status of a container and its contents, Panduri said.

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