Combat Drills

Article excerpt

Training center simulates Army's digital battle command technology.

FORT 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 realworld 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

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, Iraqbound Army brigades get realistic training at a sprawling forest range including 18 mock villages that were populated by about 1,000 roleplayers speaking Arabic and dressed in Iraqi-style garb. Soldiers from the 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment fill in for insurgents.

Lt. Col. Wayne Derwiler 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 most 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 realtime 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, landbased artillery and missiles, attack helicopters, attack aircraft and naval gunfire. …