Magazine article National Defense

Battle Lab Shrinks Army Tactical Ops Center

Magazine article National Defense

Battle Lab Shrinks Army Tactical Ops Center

Article excerpt

Missile-defense command post manages to 'condense' hardware and software

The Army's missile-defense research branch developed a tactical operations center prototype that is much smaller and more easily transportable than conventional TOCs.

A TOC is an assemblage of vehicles and tents that house the computer networks and multitude of radios used by commanders and staffs to plan the battle and to communicate both with soldiers in the field and with national authorities.

A mechanized brigade TOC typically is made up of three or four armored command-post tracked vehicles, which back into a given area and lower their rear ramps. That area--covered with camouflage netting--shelters the workstations, servers and radios. Several dozen operators run the equipment.

The Army Space and Missile Defense Battle Lab, in Huntsville, Ala., is spending $5 million over two years to develop a so-called "advanced warfare environment" that makes it possible to set up a TOG with only two Humvee trucks (the shelter carrier model) and one Drash (deployable rapid assembly shelter). About 12-14 people would be needed to operate it.

Battle lab officials said the Army needs a "force projection" TOG for air-defense operations--one that can be up and ready before other units arrive in the theater. It would be an "early-entry asset" to plan, for example, defensive strategies against ballistic-missile attacks, said Army Lt. Gal. Gregory G. Hoscheit, chief of training and exercises at the battle lab.

He explained in an interview that TOCs can be downsized simply by consolidating tasks that require several bulky computers into a smaller number of commercial PCs, running Microsoft or Windows.

"Our goal is to merge capabilities into one box," he said.

An effort to develop a mobile TOG began about two years ago, at the urging of the former chief of the Space and Missile Defense Command, Lt. Gen. John Gostello. "He asked us to reduce the logistics footprint," said Hoscheit.

The battle lab's prototype TOC would be transportable by G-130 medium-lift aircraft, he said. It also could move on a truck.

The secret to making a TOC smaller is to have software that provides a single, consolidated picture of the battlefield in a 3-D environment, he said. That eliminates the use of the separate servers typically needed for different combat applications.

The computers in this TOC host the "advanced warfare environment" software, called Aware. The Aware boxes operate autonomously, without servers. They can connect to the Army Battle Command System--a collection of 11 computer systems created for various combat applications--and to the Defense Department's classified network, the Siprnet.

During a summer visit to the Pentagon, battle lab officials briefed Thomas White, the secretary of the Army. "We demonstrated worldwide connectivity via the Siprnet," said Hoscheit. "We were able to show a common operational picture through the Siprnet, without any radios."

Other services appear to be interested in the force-projection TOC. Hoscheit said the TOC was used in an Air Force cruise-missile defense exercise and has been adapted as a command-and-control center for the Navy Seal special warfare units.

The Army's new interim brigade combat teams also are considering the use of these mobile TOCs. The prototype that the battle lab made for air-defense missions, "has the same applicability to armor units," said John W Buckley, a battle lab engineer. There are plans to incorporate the IBCT combat platform, the LAV (light armored vehicle) in the mobile TOC, Buckley told National Defense.

The tests done so fir have been informal, said Hoscheit. Full-fledged operational testing could begin in about 18 months.

He is confident that the technology will work, even in a harsh combat setting. Not every commercial technology is suitable for the battlefield, often requiring modifications, Hoscheit said. …

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