In Dr. Evil Cornered, Robin Burke and Tom Roberts were talking about communications and U.S. forces, and how that affected our NATO allies in Afghanistan. That's something I've covered before in U.S. Military -- Back to the Future! Here's Robin...
"US troops are begining to deploy some rather advanced technologies on the battlefield, plus fighting doctrines to leverage these technologies. The other NATO countries can't begin to match these capabilities and integrating those troops with our forces that do use them is a recipe for real problems.... How on earth would you integrate large numbers of NATO forces into those scenarios, even if there weren't the ego / geopolitical games about targetting and risk taking???"
...and Tom Roberts:
"Non US forces don't even have digital communications for the most part. In many cases the Coalition forces have to be lent commo gear so that their HQs can talk with US forces. This creates a dichotomous pace of operations in any NATO command as well. Without heavy US liaison elements, the NATO forces don't know what is going on. To a certain extent the Canadian friendly fire deaths by Kandahar two years ago were due to such issues (along with two US pilot's very poor judgments), but you might notice that when US forces swing into an offensive situation either allies get totally integrated into the US force structure (like the Canadian snipers were at Tora Bora or the Aussie SAS is with us Spec Forces) or they get totally out of the way."
Which brings up two things I talked about in my article clips:
"First, the digital data link is the key to air-ground cooperation. That is why it is the first thing the USAF cuts, and also why 95% of Marine AV-8B Harriers have digital data link.
Unlike the fighter pilot mafia, the Marines are serious about this.
"Second, the key variable in future American military operations aren't platforms or precision guided munitions, but network bandwidth connecting intelligent people. The bigger and faster the sensor/shooter/C3I network, the nastier and deadlier it becomes. The really interesting thing to see is what happens when the 4th Mechanized (Mech.) Infantry Division's land combat data system comes into use and we then add "Land Warrior" infantry to it. We are talking a half an order of magnitude increase in combat network size compared to the heavily touted theater air power networks of the Iraq war from the 4th Mech's combat vehicles alone. Combat infantry added to that bumps it up to a full order of magnitude larger.
The American Army's love affair with vehicle-mounted .50 Caliber M2-HB machine guns has made for very unfair close combat firefights between Americans and everyone else since 1944. Ask the Wehrmacht what the fifties mounted on 3rd Army M-8 Greyhound armored cars did during the pursuit after Falaise. The "Ma-Deuce" has been the U.S. Cavalry's version of the mounted lance for several generations now. Yet that was nothing compared to the kill ratios the 3rd Mech had in Iraq. The 3rd Mech went through the Iraqis like the Martians went though the British Army in H.G. Wells "The War of the Worlds."
There are some good organizational reasons for this. Yet those reasons can be applied to every combat division. This begs the question just what is the fully networked 4th Mech going to be like in combat?
In aerial combat, "situational awareness" is a great combat multiplier until you have to close the range to engage. AMRAAM missiles kill lots of bad guys at range but closing with Sidewinders is the only way to be decisive, especially in a politically/tactically constrained rules of engagement fight. Then it gets down to who has the initial advantage, with the best trained and experienced pilots, and with adequate equipment. Back to my earlier article:
"What will these networked land combat units be like before they "go into the merge" of close combat firefights? Robotic micro-UAV "point men" 300 yards ahead and 50 yards above human point men are going to make for very "situationally aware" line platoons and extremely "unfair" close combat firefights. Add this to GPS-based fire support, loitering drones, airborne sensors, JDAMS, and modern body armor and our infantry is "...going to make Caesar's legions look like combat-ineffective girly-men," to use a quote from a friend of mine.
He also said, "We will literally be able to fight at ludicrous odds - not just outrageous odds - and triumph nearly bloodlessly," to which I have to agree.
I am of the opinion that this phenomenon is a logarithmic progression that the American military is only just beginning to climb. The reason we are light-years ahead the rest of the world in conventional military power is that we have invested enough in people and technology that we have gotten past an inflection point on the military effectiveness curve for the use of modern information systems. It is going to take very little more marginal investment on our part to obtain vastly increased and selective killing power."
As can be seen in the success of vehicles like the M7 Bradley FIre Support Team vehicle and Hunter UAV teams during Operation Iraqi Freedom, and the latest US Military operations in the Afghan/Pakistan border areas, some of that additional investment has been made. There's more to come.
The Next Phase
Combat data networks plugged into outside fire support are a major combat multiplier, if they are on a high firepower, survivable, armored vehicle that cannot be readily identified as different from other combat vehicles (like the M7 Bradley BFIST). 3rd Infantry post-war reviews said things like "truly revolutionary... 1st Round Fire for Effect Was the Norm."
I have also said elsewhere that the Army's data networks, because they are bigger and have people closer to both the targets and friendly supplies, are starting to absorb those of all the other services. Now US Army leaders are learning that when it comes to using digital communications systems in war, the "Best is the enemy of the good enough" and they are going to make the current Army Battle Command Systems a force wide standard. Even if they don't want to say so for P.R. reasons (Inside the Army, Jan. 12, 2004):
"ABCS is a suite of 11 battle command systems, each designed to provide a particular battlefield functionality that, together, provides commanders with a common operational picture of the battlefield. The system starts with the Global Command and Control System-Army -- which links the soldiers to the joint world -- and includes such tactical systems as Force XXI Battle Command, Brigade and Below, used on ground and aerial platforms to improve situational awareness.
Initially, the Army planned to focus on digitizing a select number of units within the Army with ABCS, namely III Corps, which includes 4th ID and the 1st Cavalry Division, and later the Stryker Brigade Combat Teams. Other Army units would only receive some ABCS systems, but not a full suite.
“But then we had a war,” Greene said.
Post-war analyses showed digital systems were “all over the place.”
“If we didn’t give them one, they went out and found one,” he said.
Commanders who rotated back to the United States last spring brought with them feedback on battle command operations that highlighted the need to give access to everyone in the service because of integration problems that hampered operations between the Army’s heavily digitized units and more conventional units. According to a report by V Corps Commander Gen. William Wallace, the Corps had trouble connecting with 4th ID because of the disparities in communication assets (ITA, Aug. 4, 2003, p1).
Rather than gold-plating one unit in the force, service leaders decided it made more sense to field a more vast, albeit thinner, baseline battle command capability throughout the service to provide what some leaders have referred to recently as a “good enough” capability. (Greene said he discourages the term “good enough,” as it implies “we’re not giving troops the best we could.”)
"Accordingly, the latest rotation of soldiers to engage in Operation Iraqi Freedom -- known as “OIF 2” -- are now being equipped with a baseline, though still unstandardized, capability. In the meantime, the program office plans to begin fielding ABCS in late spring through fiscal year 2005. FY-06 and FY-07 will be spent standardizing those capabilities throughout the Army, filling in holes and adding in missing pieces, Greene said.
Deciding what operational requirements to standardize has also been an effort in and of itself, he said. Since August, Army leaders have met repeatedly to siphon the most critical requirements from lessons learned in both Iraqi and Enduring Freedom.... “We were lucky that Gen. [William] Wallace rotated from V Corps commander to CAC,” Greene said. “He’s been the leader of the effort to define what capabilities we needed to standardize and give everyone a capability that would be interoperable.”
These standardized systems are about to become the base platform for all U.S. services, thanks to the relentless emphasis on "jointness" in the DoD. Which means the "swarm lethality" we're beginning to see is about to become the norm for every American unit.
The next decade will be a very bad time to be an enemy of America.
UPDATE: The Networked Force II adds more stories from Operation Iraqi Freedom and Bosnia, plus a whole MOAB full of links from from my debates with Stryker.
JK: If you thought the post was something (and it was), wait until you see the discussion in the Comments section. F-16 test pilots, ex-navy amd army sharing stories, Australian Forces, current USAF, Israeli perspectives, and Trent right in the middle of the debates. Wow.