ATEx’02 REPORT : A WARFIGHTER’S VIEWS ON DIGITIZATION
by Scott R. Gourley
One of the unique aspects of the Army Transformation Exercise (ATEx’02) (29 July – 9 August) is the battlefield integration of “interim” forces like the Stryker Brigade Combat Teams with “legacy” forces like the 82nd Airborne Division. Complicating matters is the fact that the tactical integration is taking place under the umbrella of the digitized Army Battle Command System (ABCS). Major General John R. Vines, Commanding General, 82nd Airborne Division, shared his observations and views on digitization during the “Early Entry / Forced Entry” phase of the milestone experiment.
“We are the so-called legacy guys – ready to fight tonight – 18 hours wheels up,” explained Major General John R. Vines, Commander, 82nd Airborne Division.
Vines knows well about those “ready to fight” paratroopers, having previously commanded a battalion within the division during both Operation Just Cause and Operations Desert Shield/Desert Storm.
“Part of the challenge is making the legacy force connect with the interim force, so-called analog to digital,” he continued. “We had to put together a strategy for doing that because this exercise would not have happened if we hadn’t decided that we were going to do a ‘joint’ Millennium Challenge. The assumption was that they would [digitally] connect the 82nd further down the road. But we had to come up with a strategy that allowed us to connect today so we could execute this experiment. And I’m glad we did.”
The strategy included a very accelerated introduction and Army Battle Command System digital training program.
“In terms of the ABCS, there is a training strategy that basically gives the Stryker brigade guys that will be coming in here in about a day and a half a three week training program,” Vines said. “There’s a whole host of patches and softwares and servers that allowed the Maneuver Control System – Heavy and the Maneuver Control System – Light we’re using, which are the two different systems. It took us, in terms of just the operators working to make these boxes work, probably a week of pretty intense training. And that doesn’t mean that when there’s some major problem that they know how to develop the software, the patch or to write the code. But to do the basic stuff I’d say it took about a week,” he added.
One week may not seem like much time to devote to digital connectivity but Vines indicated that it comes from a very tight training time budget.
“The danger is that there’s a fixed amount of time available for training and there are some basic skills that are required to conduct operations: you’ve still got to be able to shoot; you’ve got to be able to move; you’ve got to be able to communicate. And if you have to spend a heck of a lot of time in the command and control part of it there’s less time to do the other things. There’s a fixed amount of time. So if you become overcome by the time required to exercise all of the command and control pieces and you lose the basics, we’re in trouble,” he noted.
Training time commitments aside, MG Vines seemed impressed by his initial exposure to the digital components within the ABCS command environment.
“It’s a very powerful tool,” he said. “Ultimately, with all of this digital technology, when the commanders are talking they are also looking at displays with a common relevant picture. You’re seeing the same stuff and you can talk about what you’re seeing. It’s very powerful stuff.”
“Now there’s a risk,” he cautioned. “And the risk is that it requires a lot of hardware to do that. What you don’t want to do is tie your commanders to their command posts so they can’t get out and see what’s going on. So if you think that truth is represented on a computer screen – it’s not always. So the short answer is that [digitization] is a powerful tool as long as we don’t begin to worship at some digital alter. Ultimately it still requires some