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Cohen, Reimer Visit Force XXI Battlefield

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

FORT IRWIN, Calif., March 26, 1997 – Information, rather than military muscle, will dominate battlefields of the 21st century, William S. Cohen said after glimpsing the future at the Army's National Training Center here.

The defense secretary, accompanied by Army Chief of Staff Gen. Dennis Reimer, traveled to the 643,000-acre site in the Mojave Desert March 18 to watch and learn from the Army's Force XXI Advanced Warfighting Experiment.

"George Patton trained in this area before World War II," Cohen said. "Now the Army is combining the tactics of Gen. Patton with the technology of [DoD acquisition reformer] David Packard and [computer software mogul] Bill Gates to give commanders the tools for victory. They're going to be able to locate the enemy, day or night, and strike with swift and decisive force."

For more than two years, the Army's 1st Brigade, 4th Infantry Division (Mechanized), at Fort Hood, Texas, has been on the cutting edge of the digital battlefield. The experimental unit known as Force XXI has worked with contractors, acquisition experts, trainers and strategists to develop warfighting skills and equipment for the 21st century.

Once officials designed and fielded new equipment, the next phase involved pitting the experimental unit and its high-tech gear against an opposing force during a rotation at the training center. In March, military officials began testing Force XXI's more than 70 new weapons and communications systems under battlefield conditions.

About 7,000 soldiers and 2,000 vehicles, including Abrams tanks, Bradley infantry fighting vehicles, and Kiowa Warrior and Apache Longbow helicopters, deployed to California to fight mock battles during a four-week exercise among the Mojave sand and scrub brush.

The brigade was augmented by fire support, aviation and service support units from the division to form a task force. A light infantry battalion from Ft. Lewis, Wash., 1st Bn., 5th Infantry Division was added to test Force XXI concepts and equipment in light units, Army officials said.

"Historically, the force that occupied the high ground had the greatest advantage," Cohen said after viewing the training. The "high ground" now consists of information from satellites and aerial surveillance systems. "All of it [is] keyed into on-the-ground receptors that tell the warfighters what the battlefield looks like at every given moment."

Force XXI warfighters have satellite-to-laptop views of the battlefield. Enemy troops and vehicles appear as digital icons moving across computer screens. Satellites, unmanned aerial vehicles and other long-range reconnaissance systems relay information through command centers to on-board computers in helicopters, tanks, tracks and trucks.

Vehicle identification devices signal friend or foe, helping eliminate the friendly fire incidents that occurred in Desert Storm and Vietnam. Night vision equipment, thermal weapons sights, helmet-mounted laser detectors, voice/data radios and backpack computers with Global Positioning Satellite links combine to give Force XXI soldiers and commanders more information than ever before.

This new technology equates to future security for the United States, Cohen said at a press conference after his field visit. The military's ability to use information to dominate future battles will give the United States the key to victory for generations to come, he said.

"Today, we have all seen the future of warfare," he said. "The lessons we learn from this type of experiment can be broadened to all services across the spectrum. What we're seeing here is a revolution. The actual domination of the information world will put us in a position to maintain superiority over any other force for the foreseeable future."

As the military's use of information technology grows, however, Cohen said, defense officials must prepare for enemy countermeasures. Enemies will try to find an Achilles heel, he said.

"Technology holds the potential for us to have this great leap of superiority, but it also is a two-edge sword in the sense that you're also more vulnerable; it's a more fragile system," he said. "As we become more dependent on this technology, we will need to know what are the weak spots, what are the fragilities, what are the redundancies that are built into these systems."

The Army is studying ways to guard against vulnerabilities, said Reimer. "Part of it has to be overcome by technology, part by training," he said. "That's one of the things we hope to get a better feel for as we go through this rotation."

He said Force XXI is transforming the Army from the industrial age to the information age. "This is about changing an Army in terms of systems, technology, training, doctrine, but most of all, changing a culture."

Developing equipment for Force XXI has already yielded benefits for the military, Reimer said. "As we've gone along, we've made improvements in the equipment. The contractors would give us equipment. Soldiers would train with it and determine things that needed to be fixed or could be made better. The contractor would take it in, and sometimes overnight, the contractor would fix it. That's an acquisition reform that will save us money in the long run."

Troops adapt quickly to the digital equipment, Reimer said. "We have quality young men and women in the force today, and they can handle this technology. This is a generation of young people who have grown up in the computer age. I read a book the other day that said there are more computer-literate first graders than computer-literate first-grade teachers."

While young troops may readily accept digital screens, keyboards and roving mice as battlefield tools, older soldiers have more of a problem, Reimer said. "Those of us in the older category want to go back and check what that icon really means. Whereas, the younger people who've grown up with this, have almost a sixth sense that it's there and you can trust that system."

Older soldiers see the benefits from the information technology and are working hard to keep up with the young people, Reimer said. Time and training will improve their trust and confidence in the new-age systems, he said.

The Army's 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, Air Force and Air National Guard F-16 Falcons and A-10 Thunderbolts and Marines Corps AV-8B Harrier jets and an air naval gun liaison company opposed the experimental unit.

Opposing commanders tried to reformulate their tactics and strategy against the Force XXI soldiers whose information-gathering technology gave them a competitive edge, an Army operations official said. The goal was not to win or lose, but to push prototype equipment to the limit, Army officials said.

"Success or failure is not necessarily who wins or loses on the desert floor," said Army Gen. William H. Hartzog, commander of the Army's Training and Doctrine Command. "Success is being able to answer questions in a very precise, rational and strong way about the utility of this force we've put together for the 21st century."

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageArmy Chief of Staff Gen. Dennis Reimer talks with Black Hawk pilot Chief Warrant Officer 2 Michael A. Polk during Force XXI testing at the Army's National Training Center in California's Mojave Desert in March. Linda D. Kozaryn  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageDefense Secretary William Cohen listens to a briefing aboard an Army Airborne Command and Control Blackhawk helicopter during Force XXI testing at the Army's National Training Center in California's Mojave Desert in March. Linda D. Kozaryn  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageUH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and humvees carry visitors throughout the Army's National Training Center's 643,000 acres in the Mojave Desert during Force XXI's warfighting exercise. Linda D. Kozaryn  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageSecretary of the Army Togo West (left) and Defense Secretary William Cohen meet at the Army's National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., to view Force XXI training in March. Linda D. Kozaryn  
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