Thursday, December 24, 2009

Integrated Battlefield Communications and Information Systems

The secret of successful military operations has always been communications, commanders at all levels need to know what their troops are up to in order to effectively direct them- the more information, the better the decisions that can be made. In the twenty fourth century every soldier, vehicle and aircraft is networked together, from the electronic sights on an infantryman’s weapon to the sensors from remote drones, all this information can be accessed by a battle field commander at any time. A few key items of equipment have changed the way soldiers operate in the field-


The Live Map

Flexible display technology has changed the humble paper map to a foldable screen capable of streaming live data from all battle field sources, friendly units are displayed using the standard IFF system in real time with the traditional map data overlaid by satellite imagery and at any time the user can zoom out to a world view or in for a grunts eye look at the terrain, think Google maps on steroids. All operation are done via touch screen and a commander with the relevant permissions can do everything from request artillery to ask an individual soldier to scope a target using his battle sight. The map itself can be folded down to pocket size and out to about 1m by 1m.

Helmet Targeting Systems

Hitting a target with an infantry weapon of any type has always been difficult, optical sights have helped but in the end it comes down to practice and training that determines the amount of damage a soldier can do with his personal weapon. Technology has tried to improve this accuracy by bringing similar heads up technology found in aircraft to the individual grunt. All weapons’ in the modern arsenal have electronic sights that have their targeting slaved to a moving cross hair that is displayed on the visor of the helmet. Additional information is also available on the helmet visor; direction, objectives, threat queues, waypoints, ammo supply and IFF designations. Night fighting capability has also been enhanced by the improved low light vision capabilities which further increase the soldier’s ability to fight in all kinds of light. Unit commanders can designate targets and hand them off to selected units/soldiers for them to engage. If you think of a current day fighter pilot and their heads up technology being integrated into an infantryman’s helmet.

Identification Friend or Foe

Getting smoked by your own team was always an issue, as the weapons got more powerful and the battlefield more chaotic the chance of mistaking your guys for their guys became more and more likely. Modern weapons are integrated into the overall command network and their electronic targeting systems can identify if the target is friendly or not and then disable the ability to fire. Commanders can also set weapon states centrally, a cease fire order can be implemented immediately by locking all weapons’ on a battlefield, civilian casualties can be avoided by proper designation of targets using multiple sensors and assaulting across friendly fields of fire is less dangerous (although should still be avoided). IFF has proved invaluable in urban and close combat situations where sorting out the enemy from the civilians and the friendlies is always difficult.

Integrated Command and Control

To bring this all together and sort through the massive amounts of data generated requires a command team that has access to some very advanced technology. To illustrate a battalion task force command team will have dedicated data analysts for each platoon, their job is to manage the flow to and from the platoons and ensure they are on track and on mission. The data team report into the battalion comms officer (SO6) and ensure the battalion command team are receiving relevant and timely data. The intelligence officer (SO2) is also feeding information into the network by tasking assets such as recon and battlefield RPV. Logistics is using the supply usage data to plan and execute resupply while the operations officer and his planning team are ensuring the battle plan is running smoothly. In the middle of all this, the Battalion Commander is directing the course of the operation and making decision based on the information being delivered to him by the team. The whole command team can number up to forty people, some cases these can be located in orbit or split amongst several command posts or vehicles depending on the unit or operation. HMAS Kapyong, one of Australia’s orbital landing craft, has a battalion command centre capable of running a complete command team from orbit.

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