Comms-on-the-move revolutionizes military tactics

The day when battalion commanders could remain relatively safely ensconced in tactical operations centers (TOC), away from the fight and only able to make decisions based on what’s displayed in front of them on monitors, is soon to be over. The revolution that is communications-on-the-move, where dismounted soldiers and those at the lowest echelons can take advantage of software-defined radios and satellite connectivity to keep in touch with fellow troops and leadership back in the TOC, is about to transition to mission command-on-the-move, where commanders can strap themselves into an armored vehicle and drive to the fight while still having access to all their battle applications.

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Army makes mission command-on-the-move key goal of NIE

I caught a glimpse of that this past spring at Fort Bliss, Texas, before the first Network Integration Evaluation exercise, when I was walking around the motor pool and came upon a Stryker that looked like the hundreds of others parked in the sun — except the rear of this one bristled with antennas. It was a one-off prototype system designed as a mini-TOC to bring a battalion commander and his myriad display screens and battle applications out to the edge. 

I doubt that vehicle barely collected any desert sand on its eight tires during the first NIE, but six months is a long time when it comes to technology evolution, and it looks like the military is about ready to begin demonstrating to a small degree what it calls mission command-on-the-move at this fall’s NIE, and to a greater extent at the next NIE scheduled for April 2012.  

Such command-and-control-vehicles, combined with the 13 production-type Warfighter Information Network-Tactical vehicles participating at press time in the NIE in the desert and mountains around White Sands Missile Range, N. M., are poised to bring unparalleled situational awareness to commanders that up until now have been bombarded with sensor inputs but still lacked the ability to use what is arguably their most important sensor — their eyes. 

Like most revolutions, though, this one will certainly be longer in the coming than expected or hoped for. The military is no stranger to seeing its revolutions in military affairs crash and burn. Just ask the folks at the Joint Tactical Radio System’s Ground Mobile Radio program, which failed at its last chance at the NIE earlier this year, resulting in a rare cancellation of a program of record.

And it may be that mission command-on-the-move will bake a little longer in the sun in the Fort Bliss motor pool before proving its mettle. But, then again, with the military’s recent mindset on deploying the 80-percent quick-reaction capability, it may not.

About the Author

Barry Rosenberg is editor-in-chief of Defense Systems. Follow him on Twitter: @BarryDefense.

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