Tracking system helped manage march on Baghdad, Franks says

Army Gen. Tommy Franks watched ground forces advance toward Baghdad on dozens of high-definition, flat-panel plasma monitors.

On one screen, the former commander of the Central Command observed a blue icon representing friendly forces moving across a plasma television, far ahead of its squadron and approaching enemy territory.

'It was moving boldly toward downtown Baghdad,' Franks recalled.

Franks began to fear that the troops were too far ahead of supporting units, but he soon got word that the blue forces on the screen were only 30 minutes in front of a reconnaissance force headed for Saddam International Airport. That airport, Franks was informed, would be seized in less than four hours.

The message and the technology used to convey it got the same reaction. 'Oh my God!' Franks said to audience laughter at the third annual Network Centric Warfare 2004 conference today, in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement.

Franks' story highlights the emergence of systems that can track allied and enemy forces in conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Systems such as the Force XXI Battle Command, Brigade and Below help military planners keep forces moving and fighting quickly and efficiently.

'FBCB2 for the first time in history gave ground commanders a precise sense of forces,' Franks said.

The same was true in Afghanistan, Franks said.

When the Soviet Union invaded the country in 1979, it committed 625,000 troops to the region for longer than 11 years. The Soviets saw 15,000 soldiers die in battle and 55,000 more wounded. But the United States-led coalition that has been in Afghanistan since 2001 has suffered far fewer casualties, thanks to a smarter way of fighting, Franks said.

'Operating in a netcentric way completely destroyed the Taliban in 75 days,' he said.

The digitally connected Franks, carrying a BlackBerry device and a credit-card-sized Casio digital camera in his suit pocket, said the military has made huge advances in technology but stressed it needed to push further to reap all the benefits of network-centric warfare.

'As we seek to transform the armed forces to become more network-centric, we need to think of effect first,' Franks said.

He said the military should add support and sustainment on the end of command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, the phrase it uses to describe most of its IT operations.

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