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[infowar.de] WPO 03.03.03: Digitized Battlefield Puts Friend And Foe In Sight
Washington Post March 3, 2003 Pg. 15
Digitized Battlefield Puts Friend And Foe In Sight
High-Speed Data, Global Positioning for Armored Units Key to Rapid
Maneuver, Precision Attack
By Vernon Loeb, Washington Post Staff Writer
CAMP DOHA, Kuwait -- In the Iraqi desert 100 miles north of here is Medina
Ridge, site of a 1991 Gulf War battle in which a brigade of M1 Abrams tanks
destroyed more than 100 Iraqi tanks and armored personnel carriers in
minutes from a mile and a half away, well out of the Iraqis' range.
Now, on the eve of a possible rematch, the lopsided technological advantage
enjoyed by U.S. tank commanders 12 years ago has become even more
overwhelming as Army forces have digitized the battlefield and spent
billions of dollars making high-speed data the key to rapid maneuver and
The upgraded M1A2 Abrams tanks, equipped with powerful computers, laser
designators and improved infrared sights, can operate either as
reconnaissance sensors, passing target coordinates back to command
headquarters, attack helicopters or artillery units, or as killers,
destroying Iraqi armor with even greater precision and range than they did
The Army's computer revolution, still gathering momentum on the digital
battlefield, is even more advanced in the realm of materiel, with
computers, data networks and radio frequency tags enabling a FedEx-like
tracking system that commanders now describe as "precision-guided logistics."
Like an Abrams tank tracking an Iraqi target at the opposite end of the
battlefield, logistics officers commanded by Army Maj. Gen. Claude
Christianson at Camp Arifjan, a newly opened materiel hub 40 miles south of
here, can track a shipping container loaded with ammunition, food, spare
parts, and tools on the other side of the world in real time and tell
what's in the front half from what's in the back.
"War has changed dramatically since Desert Storm," said Col. John F. Antal,
director of operations for the U.S. Army's 3rd Corps, explaining that the
ability to see targets at great distances and hit them with extreme
accuracy "freezes the enemy, placing them on the horns of a dilemma."
"They can hide in small groups, with a tank here or there. Or they can mass
to fight us," Antal said. "If they hide, we'll dig them out. If they choose
to mass, we'll kill them with our precision-guided munitions."
The backbone of the digital Army is a network that enables commanders
across the battlefield -- and around the world -- to track the movement of
friendly forces as a battle unfolds and plot their relationship to enemy
targets as the hostile forces emerge.
In the 4th Infantry Division, now set to deploy to Turkey for a possible
invasion of Iraq from the north, every Abrams tank, Bradley Fighting
Vehicle or battlefield Humvee is equipped with a Global Positioning System
receiver, a data link and digital information screen, much like GPS systems
now available commercially in automobiles.
The difference, for commanders, is that each vehicle-mounted computer
screen plots not only their locations, but those of all other friendly
forces moving in concert with them -- and bounces that data off satellites
to command posts all over the world.
Instead of a road map, these tactical computer screens typically display
downloaded satellite imagery of the terrain being traversed. Across this
glowing, high-resolution photograph, "friendly" tanks, Bradleys and Humvees
move as blue dots. Enemy targets, identified miles in the distance by
digital sensors or scout troops, are entered into the network by
headquarters analysts and appear as red dots.
"As a commander in the old days, I spent most of my time on the radio
trying to figure out where my friendly force was," said Antal, whose Corps
command oversees both the 4th Infantry and the 1st Cavalry, the Army's two
leading digital divisions. "That may sound funny, but when you're spread
out over 15 kilometers," it is not easy to do.
With the new tactical intranet, Antal said, "I have a common operating
picture. I see all of the 'blue' forces -- and being able to see all of the
blue forces is a tremendous advantage."
If a tank commander wants to deploy his forces in a flanking maneuver,
Antal said, he used to have to verbally explain the move over the radio to
every tank in the unit. Now he can draw it on his computer screen with an
electronic pencil and have that diagram immediately transmitted to every
"A picture is worth 1,000 words," he said. "It's kind of the difference
between DOS and Windows."
Lt. Col. Gregory Julian, a public affairs officer at Camp Doha who
commanded a tank company during the battle of Medina Ridge, remembers the
makeshift tracking system improvised during the Gulf War: Soldiers heated
up tin cans with utility lights and put them on top of a tank's turret.
This enabled others in their formation to tell the difference between
friend and foe when they looked through their night vision devices.To show
reporters how the new system works, commanders here in Kuwait tracked the
real-time movement of friendly vehicles across a battlefield in southern
Afghanistan via satellite. With the touch of an electronic pencil, an
officer identified one of the blue dots on the screen on the computer
screen as an armored Humvee from the 82nd Airborne Division's 1st Battalion
and gave its 10-digit GPS coordinates near Kandahar.
The latest M1A2 Abrams System Enhancement Package (SEP) tanks in the 4th
Infantry Division come equipped with new infrared sighting systems that can
magnify images by 50 times. This means that those commanders can see, night
or day, with great clarity, whether a vehicle five or more miles in the
distance is a tank or a school bus full of children -- and rapidly transmit
that data across the battlefield. It can destroy targets up to 21/2 miles
away with its 120mm cannon, or use its laser designator to identify targets
five miles away for precision artillery or air attacks by helicopters or
"We've invested heavily in precision," said Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, the
Army's chief of staff, who met here last month with ground force
commanders. "I think what it will demonstrate is the tremendous amount of
work that went on in the '90s. We called it 'digitization' then. We
described it as the need for 'situational awareness,' a term that has
become generally accepted today, which defines our need to see ourselves,
see our friends and see our adversaries."
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