Making warfighters' systems smarter

Warfighters and commanders are benefiting from an increasingly rich array of intelligence information as a result of greater collaboration and technology improvements

It’s always sobering to listen to the military’s latest plans for providing warfighters with network-enabled information and then hear the tales warfighters and commanders share about their experiences on the battlefield.

It’s not that the military’s efforts to create sensor-to-soldier systems aren’t making headway or that warfighters aren’t already benefiting from a variety of advanced technologies on the battlefield.

But as one Army captain made clear to me after his recent return from Iraq, there are still too many Rube Goldberg routines that commanders like him had to go through each day to process the data he received and too many hours lost reworking that information into the daily planning updates he needed to communicate to his company and superiors.

The good news is commanders like him are benefiting from an increasingly rich array of situational intelligence. But interoperability constraints in equipment and software — some intentional, some not — still make gathering and sharing information more difficult than it needs to be.

Those problems certainly aren’t lost on the Army Network Enterprise Technology Command (Netcom) and 9th Signal Command and its commander, Maj. Gen. Susan Lawrence, who is approaching these and other issues at the enterprise level.

Nor is it lost on people like Lt. Col. Roland Gaddy, product manager for the Army’s Ground Soldier Ensemble program, which is trying to enhance the situational awareness of dismounted soldiers on the battlefield.

The Army’s recent Austere Challenge operational evaluation exercise demonstrated that Netcom’s Network Service Center model is capable of hosting battle command applications out of Area Processing Centers — and replicating those applications from one theater to another. That’s a critical step toward standardizing and synchronizing the data warfighters depend on.

As Lawrence says in our interview with her, a number of operational, technical and training shortcomings remain unaddressed. But the lessons learned from that exercise are helping to lay much-needed groundwork for improving collaboration among higher, adjacent and subordinate units across theaters through all phases of military operations.

Meanwhile, as we report elsewhere in this issue, a number of new prototype efforts are now under way to improve — and lighten — the monitoring and display equipment used by Infantry Brigade Combat Teams to improve situational awareness in complex terrain.

The ability of systems that let soldiers download and display up-to-date maps of an area, including buildings that have been damaged or destroyed, has already proven invaluable.

But this much is equally clear: More must be done to enable warfighters to manipulate the information they receive quickly and spool the results into the fabric of intelligence surrounding them.

About the Author

Wyatt Kash served as chief editor of Defense Systems from January 2009 to August 2010. He currently serves as Content Director and Editor at Large of 1105 Media.

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