Warfighting experiment tests Army field systems
- By Gregory Slabodkin
- Apr 14, 1997
The experiment, held last month at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, Calif.,
evaluated the simulated battlefield performance of a digitized, heavy armored brigade's
new computer, communications and intelligence-gathering systems.
"We are analyzing the performance data and will make our investment decisions on a
platform-by-platform, computer-by-computer basis," said Maj. Gen. William H.
Campbell, program executive officer for command, control and communications systems for
the Army's Communications-Electronics Command at Fort Monmouth, N.J.
"But the results that are emerging are favoring ruggedized computers. I believe in
most areas it would be too harsh an environment for the straight commercial stuff,"
Serving as the Army's Task Force XXI Experimental Force (EXFOR), the 1st Brigade of the
4th Infantry Division-Mechanized from Fort Hood, Texas, engaged in a series of battle
simulations against the National Training Center's Opposition Force (OPFOR). Unlike a real
war, there was no winner or loser.
"There were some battles that the red force won, some battles that the blue force
won and some battles that were draws," Campbell said.
As Task Force XXI systems integrator for C3, Campbell watched from the sidelines as the
"If you wanted to look at performance of the digitized EXFOR and compare it to
performance of other brigades that go out to the National Training Center," he said,
"I believe that you would see a significant improvement in performance over what
nondigitized brigades have done."
Although this was not the Army's first advanced warfighting experiment, the 6,500
participants gave the service an unprecedented opportunity to evaluate 72 computer and
communications prototypes, offering a glimpse of ground warfare and the infusion of
advanced technology in the 21st century.
Notebook computers, called appliques, were added to 1,000 Army aircraft, trucks, tanks
and fighting vehicles used during the brigade-level exercise to provide instant
situational awareness information on the battlefield. The goal was to keep EXFOR apprised
of the location of friendly and enemy forces.
"The biggest winner in my view was the real-time situational awareness provided
among the platforms and soldiers who were equipped with appliques," Campbell said.
"With the minimum of equipment-the radio, the Internet router, the computer and the
Global Positioning System-each of those platforms or soldiers would generate automatically
without human intervention a position report indicating who he was, where he was, his
direction and his heading."
The soldiers gathered that data every time they moved 100 meters or every two minutes.
The information then was distributed across the battlefield through a tactical Internet
application to all other users.
The Army deployed 12 Task Force XXI Tactical Operations Centers (TOCs) designed to
provide interoperable command, control, communications and intelligence facilities to the
The TOCs consisted of Army Battle Command Systems, including the Forward Area Air
Defense Command and Control, the All Source Analysis System, the Combat Service Support
Control System, the Maneuver Control System and the Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data
System. The TOC notebooks provided an interface between individual vehicles and the
"The air defense system linked with our appliques, and our tactical Internet was a
tremendous winner," Campbell said. "We were moving data from the radars through
the tactical Internet to the processors down to the missiles with a slew-to-cue capability
on the handheld computers."
The TOCs also incorporated stan-dard Army communications such as the Single Channel
Ground and Airborne Radio System (SINCGARS) and commercial products to form the tactical
Internet application, which was the conduit for the flow of information between the
components of EXFOR. But Campbell said that the Army keeps getting lost in cyberspace.
"The generation and transport of what we call command and control messages was a
challenge," he said. "The ability to move all of those messages from their
source to their destination did not meet the level of performance that I had hoped for.
However, the experiment provided the data that we need to determine how to make the
tactical Internet more robust."
The Army's strategy was to use commercial Internet technology-such as Open Shortest
Path First (OSPF) and Border Gateway Protocol 4 (BGP4) links-in constructing the tactical
Internet infrastructure. But the Force XXI AWE proved that in a dynamic environment those
two protocols cannot do the job.
So Campbell said the Army will rely on off-the-shelf products using the Internet
Protocol and User Datagram Protocol for the tactical Internet architecture in lieu of OSPF
"We also found that the infrastructure for data-only radios was too sparse and
that we need to change the proportion of data-only radios to shared voice-data
radios," he said.
According to Campbell, dust caused 5 percent of the EXFOR's computer problems.
The brigade dealt with the ubiquitous dust particles through such preventive
maintenance services as vacuuming systems and cleaning filters regularly.
Teams of contractors were on hand as troubleshooters during the exercise to support the
EXFOR with hardware, software and training questions in the heat of battle.
"In the early stages of the exercise, we had trouble calls on maybe 10 percent of
the systems per day," Campbell said. "When we got into the latter stages of the
exercise, it was down to maybe 5 percent."
For the 1,000 notebook-equipped platforms, the Army used a mix of commercial
off-the-shelf, ruggedized and military-specification computers.
Installed aboard fighting vehicles that crisscrossed the desert, the notebooks were
subjected to continuous pounding over the rough terrain as well as the heat and dust of
the harsh desert environment.
"Part of what this exercise was all about was learning where we could use systems
straight off-the-shelf and where we needed to ruggedize," Campbell said.
He said the exercised confirmed that ruggedization is required. The Army solved the
problem for computers and monitors by putting them in rugged cases. Printers posed the
biggest hardware problem.
"These were straight commercial printers," he said. "You put these
commercial printers out there in a sandstorm and there's going to be some failures."
Though the cost of the ruggedized equipment is more expensive than straight commercial
technology, Campbell said that it's still cheaper than buying equipment that is built to
"I think we've confirmed that for the overwhelming majority of the platforms, we
do not need to buy the $100,000 full-up mil-spec computer," he said. "As we're
looking at buying the next generation, we ought to be focused on a $10,000 package which
has an advanced computer that is packaged to last in these environments."
The Army through fiscal 2003 will spend approximately $1.4 billion on Force XXI