Thursday, August 24, 2000

Exercises will help determine
whether 'light' is right for Army

By Sandra Jontz
Washington bureau

WASHINGTON — The initial phase of the U.S. Army’s vision of a scaled-down and more mobile force will be tested for the first time in September when 4,000 soldiers and some Marines will test new and improved equipment and ideas in combat exercises at Fort Polk, La.

Army officials introduced specific plans Wednesday for the Joint Contingency Force Advanced Warfighting Experiment, part of the Army’s multiyear initiative to scale back heavy equipment and better equip soldiers for combat.

The September exercises could be the linchpin to decide if the Army is headed on the right course toward a "light" force vs. a "heavy" one, said Lt. Gen. Randall Rigby, deputy-commanding general of the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command.

"We have to have forces more deployable without losing lethality in the effort," Rigby said of the reasoning behind the Transformation project.

The Army has a $150 million training budget spread out over the next three years and plans to use $104 million of that during this first round of training exercises .

The exercises, which will run from Sept. 5-20, will include servicemembers from the 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry), from Fort Drum, N.Y., the 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division from Fort Bragg, N.C., and Marines from Camp Lejune, N.C.

During some exercise, Marines will pose as the enemy. Most training will be conducted in the dark using live fire, Rigby said.

Some of the Fort Bragg soldiers will be equipped with a prototype of the Land Warrior equipment, displayed Wednesday by a solider clad in fatigues and toting the latest in technological improvements.

The Land Warrior equipment include variations of a lighter body armor that weighs 9 to 16 pounds, goggles that displayed a 1-by-1 inch screen, computer programs from which commanders can e-mail messages to troops and command central, and a rifle equipped with video technology, said Sgt. Ryan Recktenwald, from Fort Benning, Ga.

The experimental system, which troops will be wearing for the first time during the Fort Polk exercises, enhances a soldier’s ability to shoot, move, communicate and remain tactically aware, he said. Preliminary tests show it is waterproof, even after being submerged in 4 meters of water. The body armor and helmet can sustain some bullets without injury to the solider, Recktenwald said.

The Army hopes to have the Land Warrior system in full use by 2003 or 2004, said Col. Mike Combest, TRADOC Director of Joint Venture.

At Fort Polk, troops also will be testing the Enroute Mission Planning and Rehearsal System, an experiment to see if troops have the ability to react to and rehearse an unscheduled mission on their way to a combat destination, Rigby said.

The Army’s goal is to have troops in place 96 hours from notification of an incident. At present, the Army can’t meet that goal, Rigby said.

The system would allow pilots to use existing satellite systems to talk with fellow pilots and headquarters in order to devise a plan and rehearse it, all while flying out to the destination.

"The bad guy is not waiting out there with a sense of fairness," Combest said.

The soldiers also will be testing new Brigade Digital Fight equipment, including new computers on tanks and global positioning satellite systems. It will allow digital communication from headquarters to soldiers in the field.

Under this transformation, the Army is attempting to revamp itself in a post Cold War-era. The Army has an image of being slow to adapt to new environments and unable to handle small-sized peacekeeping missions, such as the one currently in Kosovo, officials said.

Though first publicly addressed by Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric K. Shinseki in October, the Army had been working on such a plan for about a year prior, Rigby said.

The plan includes initiatives to phase out all tracked weapons platforms and replace them with wheeled systems that are more lethal, but weigh 50 to 70 percent less.

The ultimate goal is for the Army to be able to move a brigade-size force of about 5,000 troops from the United States to anywhere in the world within four days, to move a division of 16,000 within five days and move five divisions within 30 days.

The plan wouldn’t be fully operational until "beyond 2010."

Some of the warfighting experiments already have been in use at Fort Lewis, Wash.