Next-Generation Blue Force Tracking System to be Featured in Army Exercise

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[author type=”author”]Claire Heininger[/author]

The latest version of the Army’s friendly force tracking and messaging software will get a key tryout with Soldiers as part of the unprecedented combined test and evaluation at Fort Bliss, TX, and White Sands Missile Range, NM, this month.

Among the six programs of record undergoing limited user testing (LUT) is the new version of Force XXI Battle Command Brigade-and-Below/Blue Force Tracking (FBCB2/BFT), called Joint Capabilities Release (JCR). The new version is faster, more versatile, and better connected to the Marine Corps.

“It is not only easier to navigate, but it is a lot faster,” said SSG Tony B. Sosa, a Military Intelligence System Maintainer/Integrator with A Company, Special Troops Battalion, 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division. “I think it will be an excellent tool to help save lives.”

[raw][image align=”left” caption=”A Soldier types a message into the FBCB2/BFT system. The latest version of FBCB2, Joint Capabilities Release, will undergo limited user testing during the Network Integration Evaluation, which marks a new approach to testing and delivering networked capabilities. (U.S. Army photo.)” linkto=”/web/wp-content/uploads/FBCB2-rvs330-armysoldier_compressed.jpg” linktype=”image”]”/web/wp-content/uploads/FBCB2-rvs330-armysoldier_compressed.jpg” height=”167″width=”246″[/image][/raw]

The LUT will support a decision on wider fielding of the capability, which thus far has been fielded to several brigades inside the United States. The LUT also marks a step in a broader plan to move to the next-generation FBCB2/BFT technology for tactical aircraft, vehicles, and dismounted forces, called Joint Battle Command-Platform (JBC-P).

“JBC-P is a foundation for achieving information interoperability between joint warfighting elements on current and future battlefields,” said GEN Peter W. Chiarelli, Vice Chief of Staff of the Army, in recent testimony to the House Armed Services Tactical and Land Forces Subcommittee. “It will be the principal command and control system for the Army and Marine Corps at the brigade-and-below level, providing users access to the tactical information necessary to achieve information dominance on the battlefield.”

JCR acts as a “bridge” to JBC-P, providing today’s deployed units with Army-Marine Corps interoperability, a faster satellite network, advanced mapping kits, secure data encryption, and integration with historical information key to counterinsurgency operations. At White Sands, which has mountainous terrain resembling that of Afghanistan, Soldiers will run missions to test JCR’s effectiveness and reliability for exchanging messages, providing situational awareness of fellow “blue” forces to guard against fratricide, navigating the battlefield, and other capabilities.

“With these digital capabilities, you’re able to see where all the friendly forces are, regardless of service or unit, and you’re able to communicate with all of them via free text and graphics,” said MAJ Shane Robb, Assistant Product Manager for JBC-P.

The system’s new satellite infrastructure is known as BFT 2, a communications network that can handle significantly more data than the existing BFT system.

[quote align=”right”]JBC-P will be the principal command and control system for the Army and Marine Corps at the brigade-and-below level, providing users access to the tactical information necessary to achieve information dominance on the battlefield.[/quote]

“The new network increases the size of the pipe, which has a direct correlation to the system’s ability to update and refresh information,” said LTC Bryan Stephens, Product Manager for BFT. “In the end, this capacity increase allows for more frequent and larger message traffic and a change in many cases of refresh rates from minutes to seconds.”

Also being integrated into the Army’s network is Tactical Ground Reporting (TIGR), a collaborative software tool that uses a “Google Earth”-like interface, pictures, and text to provide a searchable database of unit activities. Along with routes and places, TIGR is valuable for tracking people such as local police chiefs, religious leaders, or other key figures for counterinsurgency and stability operations. Such information is known as area, structures, capabilities, organizations, people, and events (ASCOPE) data. TIGR, developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is scheduled to formally transition to Project Manager FBCB2 on Oct. 1.

In JCR, users can toggle between TIGR and FBCB2 windows. In JBC-P, ASCOPE functionality similar to TIGR will display on a single user-friendly screen inside the tactical vehicle.

“Where we are going with JBC-P on the platform is to develop a user interface that is similar to things that are normally done in gaming, in Facebook and Twitter,” said COL Buddy Carman, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command Capability Manager for Brigade Combat Team Mission Command. “The more we can make [functions] translatable, Soldiers are going to use it more often, and we’re going to eliminate a huge training burden on them.”

Feedback from the JCR LUT will influence JBC-P design and capabilities, as well as inform a JCR fielding decision for the fiscal year starting in October 2011.

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  • CLAIRE HEININGER is a staff writer for Symbolic Systems Inc., supporting the Army’s Program Executive Office Command, Control, and Communications-Tactical MilTech Solutions Office. She holds a B.A. in American studies and a minor in journalism, ethics, and democracy from the University of Notre Dame.