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Combat drills: training center simulates Army's digital battle command technology.

PORT POLK, La. -- A new high-tech facility scheduled to open in March 2007 will allow Army planners to concoct realistic training scenarios for units heading to Iraq. These advanced computer networks will connect real-world Army battle-command and control systems with digital simulations, officials tell National Defense.

During a recent live exercise here, soldiers from the Texas-based 1st Brigade of the 1st Cavalry Division got a flavor of the improved training technologies, unit commanders said.

Troops roared into the shambling village of Takira, acting on a tip that an insurgent leader is holed up there.

Soldiers in Bradley armored vehicles and up-armored Humvees blocked intersections while Apache helicopter gunships buzzed overhead. Bradleys' rear ramps dropped, and dismounted soldiers rushed out.

One dismounted squad from Bravo Company, 1-7 Cavalry stacked up outside a building then made for the door. An insurgent fired out a window, hitting two soldiers. The others shot back, then withdrew with their casualties. Bradleys and Apaches lobbed missiles into the building. Nearby a roadside bomb exploded, taking out a Humvee and its crew. Soon acrid smoke obscured the battlefield.

Though it looks a lot like Iraq, Takira is a tactical training lane at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La. At JRTC, Iraq-bound Army brigades get realistic training at a sprawling forest range including 18 mock villages that were populated by about 1,000 role-players speaking Arabic and dressed in Iraqi-style garb. Soldiers from the 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment fill in for insurgents.

Lt. Col. Wayne Detwiler says the training gives soldiers the "look, feel, smell" of Iraq. "It gives them the actual feeling that they're in country ... and gets them through the shock of combat so they can execute their missions."

But the noise and pyrotechnics are just the must visible slice of the pre-deployment training. Perhaps the most important aspect, according to Detwiler, are the "command and control" activities that take place quietly and behind the scenes.

"Arguably the most important technology leveraged by deploying units are the digital Army battle command systems (ABCS) that provide leaders at all levels real-time situational awareness on the location of their units to squad level," Brig. Gen. Michael Barbero, Fort Polk commander, said in an interview.

Accordingly, JRTC simulates the complex command-and-control setup that underpins operations in Iraq. Patrols sortie from simulated forward operating bases that boast tactical operations centers featuring all the same systems commanders might employ in Iraq.

The Army battle command systems are made up of several software packages, each designed for particular missions.

The maneuver control system collects real-time battlefield information and displays it graphically. It interfaces with the blue-force tracking system--which plots the locations of individual vehicles on a digital map.

The battle command and sustainment support system processes logistical, personnel and medical information, generates near real-time reports and updates a combat service support database every three hours. It fuses data from satellites, radio frequency identification tags, interrogators and transponders to track and display the locations of vehicles and cargo.

The all-source analysis system automates the processing and analysis of intelligence, including targeting data and imagery from assets such as aircraft.

The advanced field artillery tactical data system links up forward forces with available fire-support weapons, including mortars, land-based artillery and missiles, attack helicopters, attack aircraft and naval gunfire.

The air and missile defense workstation plots civilian and military aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles and missile tracks for the purpose of de-conflicting the airspace.

The ABCS facilitates real-time command and control of forces in the JRTC "box." The digital architecture enables Fort Polk training staff to pass down intelligence and orders from simulated division and joint task force headquarters. It also helps simulate operations that can't be conducted live because of range and airspace limitations, as well as shortages of available systems.

The "joint conflict and tactical model" in use at JRTC simulates the contributions of large unmanned aircraft, fighters and bombers--assets that normally aren't present at Fort Polk. Staff can even link up ABCS directly with bomber and fighter crews "flying" in simulators at their home bases--or with drone operators in their control stations --to give both air and ground forces a chance to interact, despite them being perhaps hundreds of miles apart.

These drills help commanders prepare for the integration of close air support and Predator and Global Hawk unmanned aircraft that typically occurs in operations in Iraq.

"We are one of the few places available to the Army that can truly conduct integrated live-virtual constructive training exercises, which incorporate digital command-and-control simulations to create a comprehensive three-dimensional environment," Barbero said.

Currently, the training staff relies on makeshift facilities to feed data from mock higher-echelon headquarters and simulated airborne assets to the tactical operations centers. The facility slated to open in March 2007 will gather all the ABCS and joint tactical simulations under one roof, and help the JRTC staff more fully integrate the live and simulated aspects of the training, said Lt. Col. Jerry Bradford, who oversees ABCS training at Fort Polk.

The battle command training center will feature 64 digital workstations installed by Alabama-based AEgis Technologies.

The center also will provide squad convoy training with DARWARS simulations, a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency project that takes a squad through the virtual streets of Baghdad, said Lt. Col. Thomas Willmuth, training analyst and simulations chief at JRTC.

The new training facility, however, will not be able to support one piece of the ABCS when it opens for business next year. That is the new command post of the future, which is based on video-conferencing technology and is being field-tested by units in Iraq, such as the 4th Infantry Division. The integration of the command post of the future at JRTC is expected at some time in the near future.

Back at Takira, another dismounted squad from Bravo Company follows a local informant to a two-story building where he says the insurgent leader is hiding. Following an intense gun battle on the first floor, the soldiers clear the building and capture the insurgent leader.

Despite some early confusion and many casualties, the unit came with a clear plan and demonstrated effective command-and-control capabilities, said 1st Sgt. James Stallworth, an observer-controller monitoring the lane. He says getting that right is the hardest part.
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Title Annotation:UPFRONT
Author:Axe, David
Publication:National Defense
Geographic Code:7IRAQ
Date:Aug 1, 2006
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