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By Scott R. Gourley, Reporting from AFCEA West

Given a conference theme of “Born Joint?” it is hardly surprising that joint service C3I commonality was a ubiquitous undertone throughout this week’s “West 2004” gathering in San Diego, California. Co-sponsored by the Armed Forces Communications Electronics Association (AFCEA) International and the U.S. Naval Institute, “West 2004” drew a broad range of C3I exhibitors to the San Diego Convention Center.

One of the issues widely addressed by exhibitors at this week’s “West 2004” gathering involved the joint service C3I compatibility challenges that surfaced during combat operations in Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) as well as in several recent exercises.

For example, one of the critical joint service compatibility problems that surfaced immediately prior to OIF centered around the sharing of friendly force position location information between the Army’s Blur Force Tracking and the Marine Corps’ Command and Control Personal Computer.

Blue Force Tracking (BFT) is a non-developmental system that merges the Army’s Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below (FBCB2) with a commercial satellite network. The platform level system is comprised of a GPS receiver, ruggedized
computer (with embedded FBCB2 functionality) and L-band MT-2011 Mobile Satellite Transceiver from Comtech Mobile Datacom Corporation.

Command and Control Personal Computer (C2PC) is the Marine Corps command and control system that communicates friendly force (“Blue”) position location information across the battlefield. Rather than a satellite transceiver, C2PC passes its data via ground based EPLRS radio.

Both systems – BFT and C2PC – eventually feed data up into the Global Command and Control Ssystem (GCCS) where the two “Blue Templates” are merged. However, while C2PC receives the Army’s template, the Army BFT did NOT receive C2PC data – the result of the use of a non-secure commercial satellite relay that could not accept data from the classified GCCS.

BATTLESPACE used the “West 2004” gathering to discuss current compatibility activities with Joe Gentile, Director at Government Business Development at Comtech Mobile Datacom.

As a result of those positions and the resulting compatibility conflicts, 13 – 14 January 2004 saw the demonstration of a new C3I battlefield technical capability: the integration of the Marine Corps C2PC with the L-band satellite transceiver.

“We’ve done a demonstration at MCTSSA [Marine Corps Tactical Systems Support Activity – Camp Pendleton, California] with two MDACT vehicles communicating with two FBCB2 vehicles – integrated Blue Force pictures. And that was done two weeks ago quite successfully,” Gentile told BATTLESPACE.

The next step in the process will involve Marine Corps representatives moving forward with an Urgent Need Statement (UNS) in an effort to obtain funding to equip their MDACTs with Blue Force Tracker capabilities.

“They’re calling it MDACT-2011, for MT-2011; Comtech’s Mobile Satellite Transceiver,” Gentile added. “They’re just waiting to get funding from the Urgent Need Statement to go forward with possibly hundreds of those for I MEF [First Marine Expeditionary Force].”

He continued, “C2PC will still ride on their current MDACT but, in place of the line of sight radio, they will use the over-the-horizon, on-the-move satellite transceiver, just the way that FBCB2 rides on Blue Force Tracker.”

In addition to the 3rd Infantry Division, the Marine Corps received an emergency supply of 158 BFT systems that were placed on vehicles scattered throughout the I MEF to provide at least a small number of Marine Corps “blue icons” on Army screens – thereby minimizing the chances for fratricide.

In addition to C2PC/BFT via satellite transceiver on the combat arms side, other Marine Corps elements are examining the L-band logistics communications capabilities found in Comtech’s Movement T

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