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Future combat systems: a guide for the brigade intelligence practitioner.



"Always Out Front." The Military Intelligence (MI) Corps is known for this motto, which reminds us that intelligence Soldiers will always be among the first forces engaged in an operation. The MI Corps will soon find itself "out front" once again--as its Soldiers test and field components of the Future Combat System (FCS). MI Soldiers will lead the Army as the FCS is deployed, as nearly all of the early components are intelligence related.

FCS Overview

The FCS is the cornerstone of the Army's modernization strategy. It is the most ambitious development program managed by the Army in the last 40 years. The $162 billion program will field fourteen new combat systems plus an advanced network called the System of Systems Common Operating Environment (SOSCOE) that enables each of them to share information more quickly, efficiently, and securely than any previous systems. (1) FCS components are grouped into four main categories: unattended ground sensors (UGS), unmanned ground vehicles (UGV), unmanned aerial systems (UAS), and manned systems. From the names of the categories themselves, one can see that intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) systems make up a large portion of the overall FCS program. ISR systems are not limited to the unmanned categories, as a manned reconnaissance and surveillance vehicle is planned. (2)

Compared to the Army's legacy systems, the FCS places a greater emphasis upon ISR and rapid dissemination of intelligence. Manned vehicles that will eventually replace systems such as the Abrams and Bradley are a part of the FCS, but these systems will be the last to be fielded. The Army's priority is on unmanned and communications systems that increase situational awareness and provide actionable intelligence. (3) Combat power will increase by the improved synchronization of reconnaissance and surveillance with kinetic firepower, not by simply increasing the number of combat assets within a formation. Systems will make use of sensor-based active protection systems that will improve deploy-ability by reducing weight while simultaneously improving Soldier survivability. (4)

Recent Army transformation has focused on unit structure, with increased resources given to brigade combat teams (BCTs). Along with the structural changes, the Army fielded new systems such as the Stryker that can more rapidly deploy forces using current technologies. Other systems, such as Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles improved force protection by increasing the amount of traditional armor. These modernizations are necessary to defeat the threat in the War on Terror. According to Army leaders, however, recent transformation activities and equipment purchases represent incremental modernizations. The most substantial changes to the Army's equipment and structure will come when the FCS systems are fielded. (5)

The Army wants to get parts of the FCS to the Warfighter in the field as soon as possible. In order to speed up the acquisition process, components of the system will be fielded in a series of four "spin-outs." These "spin-outs" will occur in two year cycles, in fiscal years (FY) 2009, 2011, 2013, and 2015. The spin-outs are designed so that they interface with and enhance current Army systems. Existing Bradley and Abrams will receive upgrade kits that allow them to communicate with all new systems until these vehicles are replaced by the FCS manned vehicles. When a unit receives all four spin-outs, it will complete the transformation to an FCS brigade, as it will own all of the new systems. Each year that a spin out is introduced, six brigades will field the new technologies. Each successive FY, six additional brigades will receive a given spinout. New spin-outs will continue to be introduced to the first brigades as older spinouts are fielded to other units. The first brigade to field all fourteen new systems will achieve initial operating capability in 2015. (6)

Before each system is released to the field, it will be tested by the Army's Experimental BCT (EBCT), the 5th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, Fort Bliss, Texas. The brigade consists of a combined arms test battalion, a simulation battalion, and a field artillery test battalion, as well as an OPFOR. The brigade conducts two types of tests: operational tests of spin-out systems to confirm they are ready for release to field and experiments and tests to aid the development of systems that will be fielded in later spin-outs. The EBCT falls under the command of the Future Force Integration Directorate (FFID), a U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command general officer level headquarters at Fort Bliss. (7)

The first spin-out systems will reach the first field units in the fall of 2008. This spinout will include the Urban UGS (U-UGS) and Tactical UGS (T-UGS), Non-Line of Sight Launch System (NLOS-LS), and the Network Capabilities Integration Kit. The NLOS-LS is an indirect fire system composed of a Container Launch Unit (CLU) with 15 Precision Attack Missiles, while the Network Capabilities Integration Kit allows HMMWV, Bradley, and Abrams vehicles to interface with FCS components. (8)

The second spin-out will introduce the Active Protection System (APS) and Manned Ground Vehicle Mast Mounted Sensor. If development is completed in time for an early release, the Small UGV (SUGV) and the Micro Air Vehicle (MAV) will also be fielded. Decisions are still being made as to which systems will be released during the third and fourth spin-outs.

ISR Focus

Similar to the way that the Distributed Common Ground Station-Army (DCGS-A) allows intelligence professionals to collaborate directly with one another across unit boundaries, FCS systems will eliminate the barrier between Soldiers and the sensor systems supporting them. Infantry squads will have access to information from a whole new class of small, tactical ISR platforms. In addition to company and battalion level Raven UAS, Soldiers will receive data from platoon MAVs, T-UGS and U-UGS, and UGVs. Each of these new systems will be controlled directly by forces in contact. (9) The data gathered will automatically populate the common operating picture (COP) at unit command posts. Soldiers will be able to view the same COP from small hand-held radios and data terminals in every combat vehicle; they need not be in the unit tactical operation center (TOC). (10) Rather than the traditional architecture of intelligence data pushed down to the small unit from higher headquarters, FCS systems will distribute information from the bottom-up, as well as laterally to adjacent forces.

The COP produced by FCS systems will provide more than reported friendly and enemy positions, the type of information already available from the Blue Force Tracker or Enhanced Position Location Reporting System (EPLRS) radio. Soldiers viewing the FCS COP will be able to access feeds from sensor systems distributed across the battlefield. If a squad is assigned a MAV, or one is operating in its area, the Soldiers will be able to view its video feed. Unlike legacy systems, the new generation of sensors will not require an operator to continually monitor incoming data. The sensors will automatically generate alerts when certain conditions are met. U-UGS sensors placed in cleared buildings will automatically alert Soldiers of an intrusion, while T-UGS sensors can be used to detect any movement along a unit's flank. UGVs will enter buildings ahead of Soldiers, providing video feeds and other data that reduce the risks to Soldiers in building clearing operations. (11)

Systems Breakdown

The T-UGS system uses networks of modular sensors capable of detecting, locating, and classifying targets. Certain sensor groups can take imagery and provide early warning for Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear (CBRN) threats. Each sensor field links to a node that fuses and transmits the data to the operator and COP feed. The T-UGS can be emplaced to observe a given named area of interest and are well-suited to observing dead space in the defense or a unit's flank during an offensive operation. The U-UGS consists of sensors designed to be emplaced in locations such as stairways, hallways, tunnels, culverts, and sewers. They may be emplaced by hand by Soldiers or the robotic SUGV that is also an FCS component. U-UGS are designed for use in force protection and observing activity in buildings that have been cleared by U.S. forces. (12)

The MAV is a small UAS capable of being transported in a Soldier's rucksack, weighing less than twenty pounds. The MAV is capable of autonomous flight and navigation--the role of the Soldier is to provide routes and targets to observe. It can take off and land vertically for use in wooded or urban environments. The MAV can also be used to relay communications to and from the ground Soldier while airborne. (13)

In one of the last two spin-outs, the Class IV UAS will be fielded. Compared to the Shadow, this system will have increased capabilities in communications relay, persistent stare over a target, and CBRN detection. The UAS will take off and land without a dedicated airfield and will be able to cue other sensors in the FCS network. (14)

The FCS contains two classes of UGVs: the SUGV and Mulifunctional Utility/Logistics and Equipment (MULE) Vehicle. The SUGV is designed for use in confined spaces such as tunnels, caves, and buildings. It can mount a variety of modular payloads and can be used to enter high risk areas before Soldiers, such as rooms not yet cleared in a building or areas of potential CBRN contamination. It is small in size and weighs less than thirty pounds. While its name suggests a logistics only function, the MULE is actually a family of three vehicles. The transport variant does perform the logistics role and is capable of following behind an infantry squad with up to 2,400 pounds of equipment. The other two variants are the Countermine MULE (MULE-CM) and Armed Robotic Vehicle Assault Light (ARV-A-L). Both of these vehicles serve an ISR function. The MULE-CM is capable of mapping, marking, and neutralizing minefields. The ARV-A-L has a weapons and ISR sensor package. Each vehicle in the system has a sophisticated propulsion and suspension system that allows it to traverse complex terrain and obstacles. (15)

The Manned Ground Vehicle Mast Mounted Sensor will be part of the FCS Reconnaissance and Surveillance Vehicle, but will be fielded early in spin-out two for retrofit on other vehicles. The mast will contain a long-range infrared sensor and radio frequency (RF) sensor designed to locate, track, and classify targets from long standoff distances in all weather conditions. The mast will also include standoff CBRN sensors and most revolutionary, an RF intercept and direction finding system capable of RF mapping. The RSV will carry a suite of UGS, a MAV, and SUGV in its payload to give the onboard scouts greater capabilities. (16)

One of the major goals of the FCS is to improve the sensor to shooter linkage. The NLOS-LS will provide sensor-fused indirect fire capability at the platoon level. The NLOS-LS is designed to launch its 15 Precision Attack Missiles at High Payoff Target (HPT) within its range. Flight data changes can be transmitted in flight and laser designation can be used if desired. The missiles can operate in either direct or boost-glide trajectory mode. Prior to impact, the missile transmits in-flight imagery that can be recorded and used for Battle Damage Assessment or intelligence purposes. (17)

Operational Recommendations

Intelligence professionals at brigade and lower levels will need to rethink their methods of ISR planning as the FCS systems are fielded. New systems such as the UGV, MAV, and UGS will provide capabilities never before seen at the small unit level. Echelons as small as the squad and team will be able use raw feeds from each of these unmanned systems. Battalion Sts will be expected to be the subject matter expert on these systems and how they can best be employed.

As sensors become ubiquitous on the battlefield and the amount of combat data increases, intelligence products will increase in importance as ways to sort through all of the noise to the golden nuggets of information. The increased amount of data from all of these systems increases the importance of well-focused SIR derived from the commander's priority intelligence requirements. Though the new systems contain software to aid in target identification and rudimentary analysis, it will be easy to be overwhelmed by the massive amounts of data provided. Battalion S2 sections will experience growing pains in developing a way to analyze the imagery and other raw data feeds at the battalion TOC without increasing the manpower in the S2 section.

Systems such as the NLOS-LS will enable Soldiers to engage stand-off HPTs with greater accuracy and speed. As each CLU contains only a given number of missiles, target prioritization will take on a greater importance. The S2 will continue to play a key role in developing the list of high value targets to aid in this prioritization.

The Manned Ground Vehicle Mast Mounted Sensor will give the battalion scouts an organic Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) capability. As this capability has previously been confined to MI companies, the battalion scouts operating the systems will likely need training from the MI community and augmentation of SIGINT analysts for certain missions. In addition to the SIGINT capability, the sensor mast also contains next generation electro optical and RF sensors that will have improvements over current systems such as the LRAS-3. Sts should be aware of the capabilities of these new sensors when they are fielded.

One weakness of all the unattended sensor systems is that they rely on battery power that will eventually run down. Sensors that are transmitting or relaying data will have a shorter battery life than sensors in stand-by mode. Sts will have to keep this mind when tasking sensors that may already be in place. Commanders will need to keep this in mind if they plan on using established sensor networks in support of future combat missions.


The FCS will be a great asset for intelligence professionals in tactical formations. Combat Soldiers will have direct control of types of ISR systems that used to be controlled at higher echelons or that never existed before. Though MI Soldiers will not directly control each of these systems, the role of MI Soldiers will increase in importance in these echelons. Intelligence professionals will be relied upon to develop plans for the most effective ways of employing these assets on the battlefield. They will have a role in teaching combat Soldiers what to look for when operating the systems and will be expected to analyze the vast amounts of data coming from the new sensor fields. MI Soldiers will be among the first to employ components of the system, as the ISR components of the first spin-out are fielded beginning in the fall. MI Soldiers will be "out front" when these systems are first used in battle.

by Captain James Thomas


(1.) Darrell Brimberry, Resourcing Army Transformation: Solid plan or a House of Ccards. (Carlisle Barracks: U.S. Army War College, 2007), 7-11.

(2.) Institute of Land Warfare, Association of the U.S. Army, (2007). A Transformed and Modernized U.S. Army: A National Imperative, 2007,11.

(3.) Ibid., 14.

(4.) Alec Klein, "Future Combat: The Wireless War," The Washington Post, December 7, 2007 accessed January 7, 2008 at http://www. DI2007120602663.htm1.

(5.) Institute of Land Warfare, AUSA, 3.

(6.) Program Manager Future Combat Systems (Brigade Combat Team), Spin Out 1 Media Brochure, 26 September 2007, accessed September 13, 2007 at, 3-4.

(7.) Interview with 2CAB/5BCT/1AD Plans Officer, January 13, 2008, J. Thomas, Interviewer.

(8.) PM FCS (BCT), 2007.

(9.) Interview with 2CAB/5BCT/1AD Plans Officer, January 13, 2008, J. Thomas, Interviewer.

(10.) Future Combat Systems Experiment 1.1, 2007, accessed September 13, 2007 at

(11.) Ibid.

(12.) PM FCS (BCT), 2007, 9-10.

(13.) Ibid., 10.

(14.) Ibid., 10-11.

(15.) Ibid., 11.

(16.) Ibid., 14.

(17.) Ibid., 10.
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Author:Thomas, James
Publication:Military Intelligence Professional Bulletin
Date:Apr 1, 2008
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