JCF-AWE to test digitizing light forces

by Jim Caldwell

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Aug. 28, 2000) -- Realistic, stressful combat situations in September will let the Army learn how to equip infantry units with the same digital command and control systems originally developed for its armored forces.

That was the main point that a panel of senior leaders from Training and Doctrine Command told a group of reporters at the Pentagon Aug. 23, in an update briefing on the Joint Contingency Force Advanced Warfighting Experiment at Fort Polk, La., Sept. 8-20.

"What can we do with our technological enablers for our light forces to make them more lethal and survivable?" is how Lt. Gen. Randall Rigby, TRADOC deputy commanding general for Futures and the exercise director, phrased the goal of the JCF AWE for the Army.

To answer that question, the Army will use about 4,000 soldiers and a company of Marines in combat scenarios against the Joint Readiness Training Center's opposing force at Fort Polk. The soldiers are from the 1st Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, Fort Drum, N.Y.; 3rd Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment, Fort Bragg, N.C., and an armored company team from the 4th Infantry Division, Fort Hood, Texas.

The Marines are from K Company, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines.

The number also includes some special operations soldiers, observer controllers and evaluators.

Although the Army has 47 technological and doctrine initiatives to evaluate in the AWE, the "big ones" are a surrogate En Route Mission Planning and Rehearsal System (EMPRS), the light forces ability to use the Army Battle Command System in combat, and the Land Warrior system.

"EMPRS allows our airborne forces and our light forces to do planning and mission rehearsal while they're on the way to the exercise," Rigby said.

The EMPRS system, on board the aircraft, creates a wireless local area network connecting all planes, thereby allowing commanders and soldiers to do collaborative planning while enroute to their objective, he said.

"We really want to disseminate that information down to the company commander, the platoon leader and the individual soldier onboard those airplanes," Rigby said.

"A force will spend up to 50 percent of its time, from notification to actions in the area of responsibility, en route," said Col. Mike Combest, director of TRADOC's Joint Venture office. "Now that time is either going to be wasted or it's going to be utilized, and we're trying to give those forces the ability to maximize that time."

The AWE starts with the 3rd/325th making a combat jump to seize the Geronimo drop zone at Fort Polk. A Land Warrior platoon -- each soldier outfitted with body armor, a computerized backpack system and helmet-mounted monocular eyepiece -- is also part of the parachute assault.

About 15 hours later, 1st Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, with its attached company of Marines will arrive at the airfield to conduct search and attack operations, along with the 4th ID armored team, for guerrilla forces. Then the Land Warrior platoon will conduct a live-fire assault on the instrumented JRTC MOUT site.

Although live fire engagements are scheduled during the AWE, the action within the various battles is free play and not scripted, according to Combest.

The ability to coordinate actions with the Abrams tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles in the armored company team will be evaluated during the actions.

"That digital Army Battle Command System will go all the way from the platoon to the brigade level," Combest said, "and we want to measure how those digital enablers allow that commander to fight differently. How does it increase his lethality, his survivability and his operational tempo?"

The Land Warrior platoon will be engaged in several live fire events. They will do a nighttime ambush and a nighttime assault on a MOUT facility.

"(A soldier will) tell you right now that (Land Warrior) increased the individual effectiveness, but what does it do to an entire platoon under a very stressful situation, at night against a world class OPFOR in a live fire exercise?" Rigby asked.

Only a handful will wear the latest Land Warrior Version 0.6. Others will be equipped with an earlier version of the system, according to Sgt. Maj. William "Butch" Hancock, sergeant major for the TRADOC System Manager-Soldier at Fort Benning, Ga.

Development of the Land Warrior system has improved greatly over the past year and a half, Hancock said.

"We went from about 65 pounds and we're sitting somewhere about 42 pounds," he said. "We're talking combat fight load."

Since TSM-Soldier is "responsible for everything that the individual soldier wears, carries or eats," Hancock also displayed the Modular Lightweight Load System or MOLLE on which soldiers carry their field gear, ammunition and water. The MOLLE has been greatly improved over the design Land Warriors will wear in the JCF AWE because "we did not have enough time to transfer the electronics to this new load carrying system," he said.

He also showed two new individual camouflage systems that are lighter, fire retardant and capable of protecting a soldier from infrared and thermal systems. One of the camouflage systems will be used by the 10th Mountain Division reconnaissance platoons in the JCF AWE.

He also explained the permethrin-treated battle dress uniforms to ward off insects. The treatment the manufacture gives the BDUs lasts a lifetime, Hancock said.

Specialist from the medical field tested the effects of permethrin on soldiers, even though treated hunting suits are sold commercially.

"I believe the statistics say about one percent of the population will have an allergic reaction to permethrin, and normally it's just a slight rash," he said. "I can tell you right now a slight rash does not even compare to 300 chiggers chewing on you."

Sgt. Ryan Recktenwald, a Land Warrior demonstrator with TSM-Soldier, showed how easy it is for a soldier to transmit messages up to commanders or to squad mates. The capability of transmitting live photos has an immediate value to soldiers on the battlefield.

"We're going to take out a house," Recktenwald said. "My soldiers have never seen it. I can simply walk up, take photographs from a hidden position, e-mail these back to my soldiers. Now my soldiers know exactly what they are about to face."

Recktenwald also demonstrated Land Warrior's life-saving potential. Kneeling behind a conference room podium, he used the system's optics to zero on a target and noted how easily he could take it out without exposing himself or his position. In a matter of minutes he was also able to tap out and transmit a medical evacuation request.

Many items of equipment being tried at JCF AWE will be "surrogates," the TRADOC briefers also noted. The Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below, or FBCB2 digital system infantry soldiers will use, for instance, isn't the actual model being considered for fielding. The surrogate was created by attaching a commercial of the shelf computer loaded with FBCB2 software to a radio that continuously broadcasts the position location. By maximizing the use of surrogate systems the Army gains the necessary insights needed to improve dismounted forces, Combest said, while holding developmental costs to a minimum.

"It's good enough to get us at the investigative question that we are trying to answer - how does digitization impact the way dismounted forces fight and what offers us the greatest potential for increases in lethality, survivability and tempo?" Combest said.

The JCF AWE is also a part of Millennium Challenge conducted by Joint Forces Command, Norfolk, Va., in which the services will interact and operate with each other.

"We're going to come out of this having achieved some service competence," Combest said. "The other thing we're going to come out of this with is having improved our ability to function as a decisive member of a joint force."

(Editor's note: Jim Caldwell is a staff member of TRADOC Public Affairs.)