Preparing for Digitization:
Surviving the Army Before the
"Army After Next"
by Captain Kris Muench
Sir, I wouldn't get up out of the electric chair to do this over again.
--Anonymous Private First Class to a Battle Command Training Program Observer/Controller during the DAWE, November 1997
Our Army is changing. The Army's senior leadership has committed to changing every aspect of the way we shoot, move, and communicate. The successes of the Task Force XXI (TF XXI) Advanced Warfighting Experiment (AWE) in March 1997 and the Division XXI AWE (DAWE) in November 1997 have encouraged those that control the Army's purse strings to accelerate the largest and most ambitious force modernization in a peacetime Army.
Like it or not, digitization is coming faster than we expected. Within the next eight years, three of the Army's six heavy divisions, a corps, and an armored cavalry regiment will digitize. The careers of our junior soldiers, sergeants, warrants, and commissioned officers will fall within the "Army After Next" process.
It will not be easy. Every facet of the intelligence cycle in every discipline at every echelon is changing. For those in the tactical echelons, our job has always been difficult. New collectors, processors, communications, and media that few people understand entirely add more complexity to the fast pace of the close battle, at least for now.
For those who want to stick around for a few more years, this article is a guide to help you anticipate some of the many challenges of digitization. While I am directing these comments to those who may serve as G2s, S2s, or analysis and control element (ACE) battle captains and operations officers, the lessons learned from the TF XXI AWE and DAWE apply to all members of the intelligence community.
Many would echo the words of the unnamed private first class to the observer/controller during the DAWE. However, those words highlight the long and frustrating days and nights that many people spent making developmental technologies work while fighting on a complex battlefield. In reality, both TF XXI and the 4th Infantry Division (Mechanized)s ((4ID(M)), the experimental force (EXFOR), scored impressive tactical victories in their respective AWEs, something the participating soldiers and leaders point to with great pride. Unfortunately for some, the reward for participating in either AWE is not an immediate one--there is no quick end-state or victory on the road to digitization. The intrinsic benefit is having some part in shaping a future Army that will be more lethal while minimizing our own casualties.
Once you step into the digitization vortex, do not look back--at least not in anguish. The Army did great things during the Cold War and the Gulf War with analog (pre-digitized) tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP). Our comfort level with the analog TTP was a result of doing our best with what we had. We now have the opportunity to do a whole lot better.
For example, who has not experienced the frustration of simultaneously trying to receive critical spot reports from TF Scouts, answer requests for information, and send analysis of the enemy situation and intent on a clogged FM (frequency modulated) operations and intelligence (O&I) communications net? FM radios are hardly antiquated, but the ability to send and receive combat information and intelligence over a relatively unclogged digital net should excite most Intelligence professionals.
This does not mean that the Force XXI digital systems will always make your work easier in the short run. The All-Source Analysis System-Remote Workstation (ASAS-RWS) 3.1, for example, is a complex system that is still developing. The Army Tactical Command and Control Systems (ATCCS), which includes the ASAS-RWS 3.1, can exchange friendly and enemy unit information, but not overlays and most graphics in a doctrinal format. You can now collect, process, and disseminate a great deal more intelligence than ever before.
Know Your Enemy
The crew-served weapon of the MI Corps is analysis. (Sorry, it is not ASAS.) Regardless of the digital systems available, the essential task for all analysts is to train on enemy order of battle and doctrine before a major exercise or deployment. Our job has not changed; it is still to get timely and relevant intelligence to the commander.
This is a greater challenge than it appears. Every version of the ASAS (ASAS-Single Source, -All Source, -RWS 2.1, -RWS 3.1, etc.) requires extensive training just to learn to operate the system. The time spent on systems training is often time taken from tactical intelligence training. This has led some to wonder what the role of a 96B is: "analyst" or "operator." Using a 96B as only an operator is equivalent to using him or her as just a radiotelephone operator. (However, this has frequently happened.) Developing analysts using new systems as a tool takes a great deal of time, a scarce commodity for all.
Another challenge that you will face is a system crash during a battle (a frequent occurrence in the early stages of both the TF XXI and the DAWE). In many command posts (CPs), there is still an analog "backup" map. This is a good interim solution--both TF XXI and some elements in the DAWE found it helpful--but it cannot last. The analog backup often becomes a crutch rather than an aid; it often diverts commanders and staffs from learning how to visualize the battlefield using a digital display. For the G2 or S2 battle captain, the prospect of updating two (or more) enemy situation displays is harrowing, given already strained personnel resources.
In light of all this, I offer three recommendations. First, all analysts, especially battle captains, must develop a "mental picture" of the battlefield. You must be able to recite the current enemy situation for your commander and battle staff with or without a visual aid. A hand-held sketch is especially useful as a backup. Some helpful devices that many used during the last two AWEs were map-boards and laminated ASAS-RWS printouts or Microsoft PowerPoint1 slides portraying the battlespace. Captain Tom Doughty, a 4ID(M) G2 battle captain during the DAWE, printed a copy of his current situation overlay every thirty minutes or whenever the situation changed. This allowed him to quickly jump to his map-board and brief the Assistant Division Commander (Maneuver) and the battle staff. Whatever you use should be portable, easy to update, and legible.
MG Wallace, Cdr of the 4ID(M), working the TAC1 during DAWE.
Next, get directly involved in the program of instruction (POI) for your system's training. Any instructor or contractor should be willing to adapt systems training to meet your tactical training needs. Before the DAWE, the 4ID(M) G2, 104th MI Battalion, and the Battle Command Battle Lab-Huachuca (BCBL-H) all orchestrated collective training for their analysts using the ASAS-RWS 3.1 as a tool. This proved instrumental in giving analysts and leaders a chance to develop TTP on digital battle tracking and creating digital analytical products. The difference in the next ramp-up exercise from the one before was phenomenal.
Finally, develop "competence in depth." Nothing makes a battle captain's job easier than knowing that one of your soldiers can answer hard questions when you are away from the CP for a moment. The precious time invested teaching your subordinates how to maintain situational awareness and analysis using the systems available will pay multiple dividends when really needed.
Know Your System
Leaders must train with their systems. Being able to use digital systems to communicate is not a skill level 1 or 2 task. One would question a battle captain that did not know how to operate a FM radio, so it is no great leap to question one that has not learned to operate his new primary communications system.
Activity inside the Aviation Brigade TOC during the Dawe.
You will also find that commanders, chiefs of staff, and executive officers will have a keen interest in the capabilities and limitations of these systems taking up space in the CP. They will turn to the battle captain before any one else. You need to have an intimate knowledge of your system that you can gain only through working on it.
One realization that came out of the DAWE was that an analyst with one system could only do one thing at a time. As you learn more about your systems, think about which functions are most important to you at any particular time. If you have only one system and you use it as a briefing tool, realize that the analyst on that one system cannot simultaneously receive or send messages during the time you prepare and present the briefing. If you use that analyst and system to do messaging and database management, do not expect that same analyst to build products or overlays. Get involved with your systems training POI and let the trainers and your analysts know which functions are most important to their part of the unit's mission.
If you cannot afford time to sit through the entire POI for your system, schedule leaders' training. The leaders' training for the DAWE, which took place during the evening due to the lack of classroom space during the day, went through the same tasks as the analyst training. The BCBL-H highlighted those tasks that the leaders would only supervise and went into depth into those tasks that leaders would on occasion perform.
Once your unit has been through initial training, you are on your own for sustainment training. The skills learned on any complex system are perishable. As trained personnel rotate out, the unit must plan to train new soldiers. (This will be an ongoing challenge until the entire Army digitizes.)
The 4ID(M) and the BCBL-H trained some essential noncommissioned officers as ASAS "Master Analysts." These master analysts-trainers' charter is to conduct unit-driven training (e.g., Sergeants' Time) to sustain ASAS-RWS skills and to integrate new personnel into the unit's digital TTP.
Know Your Customers
Send does not equal receive.
--Colonel Thomas Goedkoop, Commander,
1st Brigade, 4ID(M), 1995-1997
In "Intelligence Operations on the Digitized Battlefield" in the July-September 1997 issue of the MIPB, Captain Mike Brady wrote about how he used ASAS-RWS 3.1 and Appliqué to disseminate intelligence products within TF 1-22 Infantry (Mechanized) during the TF XXI AWE. While Captain Brady could produce detailed overlays on the ASAS-RWS, he could not get all of them to the Appliqué, which was the only system available to the company/team commanders. The Maneuver Control Station-Phoenix (MCS-P), the system of the TF commander and S3, could not receive any overlays from the ASAS. Consequently, Captain Brady developed his own TTP to work around some of the technical shortfalls of the systems.
The reality is that the seamless integration of intelligence into the "Relevant Common Picture" has not yet happened. During the TF and Division AWEs, most of the systems we used were still developing and not fully interoperable. For example, the ASAS-RWS and the MCS-P can exchange friendly and enemy unit information but not overlays and doctrinally correct graphics. However, the mission of getting combat information and intelligence to the decisionmakers, killers, and our other intelligence "brethren" is unchanged.
What has changed is the media by which our customers receive information. Some may operate on ASAS-RWS, some on MCS-P, some on Appliqué, etc. It is more important than ever to identify and prioritize the target audience (commander, subordinate unit G2 or S2, higher headquarters, and so forth) for each intelligence product.
In addition, some commanders will view raw unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and the Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (Joint STARS) feeds in their CPs. Right or wrong, the commander or operations battle captain will ask the Intelligence battle captain to interpret and give relevance to raw combat information. Thus, it is more vital now to know where you can get the best intelligence fastest for each part of the battlefield. Digital systems are supposed to make this easier, but only if you learn their capabilities and limitations.
There are several important tips I recommend that you consider in sharing or disseminating information. They include the following five suggestions.
Prioritize who needs information most. In general, this will be your subordinate element closest to the enemy's direct-fire range. Realize also that the people closest to the enemy's gun tubes will probably be the people who give you the most timely intelligence.
Know what system your priority customers are using and tailor your product to them. Have a plan for analyst-to-analyst communications before each exercise. This can include video teleconferences and Mobile Subscriber Equipment (MSE) conference calls. The media you use is less important than getting the right information to the right person at the right time.
Know what communications pipeline is transmitting your information. This subtlety often eludes the best of us. You can build great graphics with imagery, put on the unit logo and MI crest for visual effect, and post the product to a homepage but you trade speed of retrieval for the fancy effects. If your customers do not have a wire local area network or satellite link to you, they will be cursing by the time they download your product. For example, if a distant station is using the MSE to connect with you, keep your product simple so the customer can quickly see it and use it.
Get a return receipt or verbal acknowledgment that your intended audience read and understood your information. This is no small issue. Corps and division ACEs and the EXFOR brigades use homepages to disseminate intelligence products, such as intelligence summaries and situation templates. These are powerful tools, but there is frequently no mechanism or device in place to ensure that your important customers received the information on a timely basis.
Place content over form. Do not confuse better capabilities to build great-looking products with better intelligence. If your product just looks good but is not good in content, commanders will give you immediate feedback. Decisionmakers still want solid analysis so they can win and spare lives on the battlefield.
Know Your Contractor
The introduction of new technology to the Army does not mean that there is a concurrent introduction of technical expertise. Complex systems, especially the prototype systems used for Force XXI, require specialized technical support. The people that fill this requirement are civilian contractors.
The image of a contractor that appears in many military minds is that of a used car dealer trying to sell a '63 Edsel as a 21st century marvel. However, the people providing direct technical support, many of them Army veterans and retirees, are essential members of the intelligence and battle command teams. During the TF XXI AWE, hundreds of contractors deployed to Fort Irwin, California, with the 1st Brigade, 4ID(M). Many of them spent three and a half weeks "in the box" to provide the required "-20 and -30 level" maintenance on the Force XXI prototype systems.
Building a good working relationship with the civilian support personnel is a new challenge. To help make this relationship work, consider the following:
Add contractor support to your pre-deployment or pre-exercise checklist. The requirement to plan for timely and synchronized support has become more important in the operations planning process. Before any training event, outline who will support you and how you will find them when you need them. This is not any thing new, other than that the people providing direct support maintenance wear jeans rather than battlefield dress uniforms.
Realize that contractors manage their time differently. Contractors are not subject to a six-week lock-in of major training events. This can create some tense moments--a contractor who needs to work on equipment or software will often need access to military vehicles and to have soldiers present. Some will call the day before to notify you of what they need. A battle captain and, more often, a commander must lay down a firm rule about "no notice" and "short notice" contractor requests. Another important rule is to avoid work during off-duty hours and training holidays: allow this only by exception. Fortunately, most contractors will understand and will attempt to work into your training and maintenance schedule.
Realize that contractors have many of the same goals as you do. All technical support contractors want to see your mission succeed--their economic well being is tied to your success. If you find a common ground, you can avoid considerable tension. Most important, provide recognition. Civilian personnel that do good work for the Army deserve compliments sent to their bosses. (The same is true for complaints.) Doing this costs you or a commander little more than the time spent sending an E-mail message or making a phone call; the return on that cost is many times greater.
The pace of change in the world and in the Army is unpredictable at best. The Army's senior leaders have provided some direction, but that guidance is based on what we know today. Our missions are evolving as fast as the technology we are developing to support those missions. Between now and 2010, we can count on the world and the Army growing more complex. How we choose to adapt to the reality of change will determine our success on the next battlefield.
1. Microsoft PowerPoint is a software program trademarked by the Microsoft Corporation.
Captain Kris Muench serves as Assistant G2, Operations, for the Assistant Chief of Staff, G2, III (U.S.) Mobile Armored Corps, Fort Hood, Texas. He previously served as Assistant Brigade S2 for 1st "RAIDER" Brigade, 4ID(M). He was a Battle Captain for both the TF XXI and the Division XXI AWEs. He has a bachelor of arts degree in Public Policy from the University of Pennsylvania. Readers can contact him at (254) 287-8884, DSN 737-8884, or via E-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.