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Force XXI: Training for War on a Digital Battlefield

By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service

FORT HOOD, Texas, Dec. 4, 1996 – It takes hundreds of combat vehicles and thousands of soldiers to conduct a brigade exercise. Or you can use computers.

Nearing the culmination of two years' training, the Army's Force XXI advanced warfighting experiment tested the commands and staffs of the 1st Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, to fight a digitized war. In November, some 500 soldiers set up brigade and subordinate command posts and installed a digital network. For the next two weeks, they prepared for and conducted operations against a fictitious enemy, but neither tank nor infantryman fired a shot. Instead, the action unfolded at keyboards and computer terminals.


The Army's Training and Doctrine Command developed the brigade training support package. Maj. Jim Shufelt, a TRADOC systems manager at Fort Knox, Ky., delivered the package and helped the 1st Brigade deploy it during this crucial test of its command and control systems.


The package contained everything needed to field a combat-ready brigade -- unit orders, map overlays and graphics, instructions for exercise participants and evaluators and other materials. Everything, that is, except most of the brigade.


About 100 players comprised the 1st Brigade command and staff command post, while subordinate battalion staffs filled their individual command posts. The Army's Applique computer -- a combination of digital maps and electronic mail capabilities -- pinpointed troops and vehicles and linked front lines to command posts. Janus war game software simulated M-1 tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles and infantry -- every 10-15 people replaced 500. Simulated close air support by Air Force A-10s added to the realism.


Going digital represents a huge savings in dollars and manpower, Shufelt said. "By using simulation, we save operations tempo dollars, because we're not maneuvering a battalion of tanks. Doing it this way, the only vehicles we're moving are those needed to set up the command posts," he said.


The Air Force, Navy and Marines also are using or building simulation packages, Shufelt said. "The beauty of digital war gaming," he said, "is that you can develop any scenario and incorporate any weapon systems you want, without the cost of employing live troops and weapons. As a result, we're able to exercise more often, and that's a big plus for military readiness."


Every task soldiers would perform in a real contingency they did here by simulation. "If they do it right," Shufelt said, "it's totally transparent to the command post.


"The brigade and subordinate forces learned a lot during the exercise. The war game gave them a driver to use all their command and control systems."


Setting up took about a week. Most of the time was used establishing and testing networks to simulate FM radio communications. Then, exercise leaders launched two iterations of a deliberate attack by a fictitious enemy. Using the Janus war game overlaid with Applique software, the brigade tested its ability to command and control offensive and defensive forces.


Inside the subordinate command posts, computer screens portrayed only those portions of the exercise battlefield command staffs would see in a real world environment. "Nobody gets an unfair -- or unrealistic -- advantage," Shufelt said. "They see on the computers what they would reasonably see, based on the characteristics of their weapon systems or what they could eyeball in the field."


Role players observed exercise progress on the Applique digital map and periodically sent updates to the command posts, where the simulated battle was fought. "Move my force from here to here. Engage here. Disengage over there," they commanded.


The exercise battles took place in a digitized 100-square-kilometer box. Using the Applique map, players could look at the entire box or zoom in for closer looks -- as close as an individual tank.


Blue icons of different sizes depicted tanks, Bradleys and troops defending territory against enemy forces represented by red icons. Zooming in on icons revealed their identity. As the information aged -- the forces moved or were eliminated -- the icons faded to a dull gray.


In reality, brigade battle vehicles are equipped with Applique computers used to send periodic location and situation reports to command posts, Shufelt said.


The Applique computer presents more than situational awareness, however. Applique's electronic mail capacity equals that of a 30-story office building. The systems can send more than 2,200 types of messages. Operators also can pre-configure addressee lists, and create and send a full menu of reports. During this exercise, reports flowed constantly between the brigade and its subordinate units.


When the exercise ends, participants can replay the entire package as often as they want. "When we're going over our after action review, we can replay everything that happened, stop the action and get great discussion points," Shufelt said.


Senior Army leaders ultimately will decide on broader use of the Applique computer, but 1st Brigade Commander Col. Thomas Goedkoop said results so far are positive.


"We've based the experiment on a 'test, fix, test' methodology, so that the system we tested this time incorporates the lessons we learned in past exercises," Goedkoop said. "I'm pleased with the progress we've made."


The purpose of this exercise was not to test for tactical competence, but to work on technical competence, decision making and using command and control systems. The brigade will face more complex tactical challenges when it exercises against the formidable operations forces at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, Calif., in March.

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageA soldier "goes to war" on a digital battlefield during a command and control exercise in November at Fort Hood, Texas. The Army's 1st Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, continues testing and refining Applique computer software that maps terrain, pinpoints and follows troop and vehicle movements and provides a conduit for electronic mail between command posts and front-line troops. Wedded to the Janus war game, the software allows the brigade to exercise without the actual presence of troops and vehicles. Douglas J. Gillert   
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