The most important information military commanders can have is the location of friendly forces. With this knowledge maneuvers can be accomplished more deftly, fires planned more accurately and the risk of friendly fire casualties reduced. Add to that the ability for friendly units to communicate with one another and some awareness of the position of hostile forces and you have a true command and control system.
Such a capability exists and has been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. It goes by the jaw-breaking name of the Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below (FBCB2) or Blue Force Tracker (BFT) for short. The system uses a computer and GPS system to display the user’s position as well as that of other platforms and BFT devices. Originally designed to function on line-of-sight communications networks, BFT was reengineered to function over satellite communications so it would be effective over the vast distances in Iraq and in the compartmented terrain of Afghanistan. A hand-held version is available for use by dismounted forces. Currently more than 25,000 systems are deployed with at least another 30,000 on the way.
The Army is developing a potentially more robust follow-on system called SOSCOE, as part of its Future Combat System (FCS) program. However, FCS will only be introduced slowly: only 15 combat brigades out of a current total of 70 will be converted to the FCS structure by 2030. Some elements of the FCS system such as unmanned vehicles, sensors and long-range fire systems may be “spun out” from FCS to the rest of the force. However, according to current plans, in 2030 the majority of combat brigades and all 200 support brigades will not be equipped with SOSCOE.
For the foreseeable future BFT will dominate the situational awareness environment. It is important to continue to expand the deployment of BFT, even as work continues on FCS and SOSCOE. In addition, BFT can still be improved, providing enhanced knowledge to leaders from brigade down to platoon. Enhancements to BFT will allow it to serve as a true battle command engine. Integrating capabilities as diverse as unmanned vehicle management and intelligence networks, opening the door to real Red Force tracking, BFT also serves as a hedge against any glitches and delays in the deployment of the FCS/SOSCOE.
Even more important, the Army needs to ensure that BFT and SOSCOE are compatible. There must be some assurance that the FCS units, the remaining combat brigades, the support brigades and reserve components can operate as a single force on the battlefield. This requires opening up the inner workings of SOSCOE and BFT to ensure interoperability.
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