Sunday, 2 January 2005

NDM Article - Army Badly Equipped To Fight in Low-Intensity Wars

NDM Article - Army Badly Equipped To Fight in Low-Intensity Wars
Nothing new here, but its still important to reiterate the problems of big acquisition programmes. Communications, protection and sensor-shooter problems were all cited, as usual. But hopefully this type of frank admittal "...the Icom radio we bought them is hideously useless" will spur on change.


Army Badly Equipped To Fight in Low-Intensity Wars

by Roxana Tiron

The Army's most ambitious procurement program, the Future Combat Systems, may be directed at the wrong threat and the service needs to adjust its investments accordingly, asserted a senior official.

Much of the FCS program's network of combat vehicles and unmanned systems predicated upon fighting an enemy who employs conventional weapons and tactics, but the outlook has changed, said Brig. Gen. Philip Coker, director of capabilities development at the Training and Doctrine Command's Futures Center in Fort Monroe, Va. The focus should be on prolonged low-intensity conflict and on systems tailored for small combat units, he said. Army intelligence predicts low-intensity conflicts will be the dominant form of warfare through 2025, Coker said.

Opponents will possess mostly low-tech weapons, and U.S. forces can expect to see a continuation of urban combat on par with missions in Iraq and the pursuit of roving insurgents in the mountains of Afghanistan.

When FCS was conceived in the late 1990s, the Army was anticipating potential enemies making comparable investments in traditional hardware, Coker said at a recent expeditionary warfare conference in Panama City, Fla., sponsored by the National Defense Industrial Association. "Nobody is making those investments," he pointed out, adding that traditional large-scale warfare does not appear imminent. In this changed environment, the Army must concentrate on meeting technology gaps that affect soldiers at the lowest levels, said Coker.

The Futures Center has identified what Coker terms residual gaps that the Army needs to fill by acquiring the appropriate technology. The research is based on "lessons learned," he said. The number one problem for soldiers is network-enabled battle command, Coker said. Small units lack situational awareness technologies, such as Blue Force Tracking, a common operational picture and the ability to fuse disparate data.

The flow of information in real time is a problem, explained Coker. The Army has limited battle command on the move, both for its vehicles and for dismounted troops. Non-line-of-sight communications in non-contiguous battle spaces also are poor, he said. There is insufficient joint data access, limited encryption of satellite communications networks and wideband communications and not enough tactical satellite channels.

Another critical problem is soldier and combat support unit protection in counter-insurgency environments, such as Iraq. Soldiers need capabilities to defeat rockets, artillery, mortars and snipers, said Coker. The light-vehicle defense against rocket-propelled grenades also is inadequate. Current equipment gives soldiers limited blast debris protection, poor hearing protection and inferior shielding from small arms fire.

On another front, he observed, "We are bad at logistics, and we have not invested well. We should have automated it, at least up to this point." The current system cannot support fast-paced operations, and the distribution system is not responsive to war-fighter requirements, Coker said. The visibility of assets in transit also is restricted.

He said training also must be improved, both in garrison and in the battle zone. Coker said troops are taught poorly how to use their equipment. Soldiers also receive minimal training for operating autonomous platforms, such as unmanned aerial vehicles and robots.

Responsive and networked precision fires were high on Coker's list of priorities. Troops have insufficient extended-range, precision-lethality against moving targets, and forward-observers lack equipment that can interoperate with other services, he suggested.

"We have wonderful precision weapons, but we can't put them on the battlefield accurately because we do not know where we are and we do not know where they are, and we can'tÑwithin a reasonable accuracyÑ place a point on the ground to tell somebody where it is," he said.

The Army needs reliable communications systems for urban operations, said Coker. Troops were sent to war with a squad radio, produced by Icom America Inc. But that radio proved so ineffective that the soldiers resorted to a $60 Sony walkabout, which works at ranges of 3 kilometers and is compatible with Army frequencies, said Coker.

"Here we have the only way for these kids to talk because the Icom radio we bought them is hideously useless," he said.

In order to use the radio, soldiers had to turn off the jammers in the vehicles, because otherwise the radio could not function. "That is criminal. We have failed our soldiers." The Army, however, proceeded to buy another Icom radio, this time produced by the Japanese Icom company. Now, the Icom 43 is "wonderful," Coker said. The Army plans to buy 43,000 during the next three months.

Coker said a solution must be found to better coordinate special operations forces and conventional troops on the battlefield. "The integration of SOF and conventional forces was a strength for the joint guys, but not for us," he said. "We do not see, at the tactical level, a good ability to talk across and operate across formation. There are a number of holes in the process." Specifically, "our radios do not communicate, and we do not train together," the general said.

Moreover, joint and interagency cooperation remains a problem, despite extensive efforts. "There are a number of challenges, not the least of which is that our responsibilities are unclear," he said. Closing the list of the most serious gaps in Army capabilities is the timeliness of analysis and information sharing. Current intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance technologies provide an unprecedented ability to observe the enemy, but the analysis of data and its dissemination lags behind, Coker said. "Our ability to know is grandly hampered by our inability to pass what we know to the person who needs it," he said. The Army needs to have the ability to rapidly analyze information and "put it in the hands of people who have to make use of it," he added. The Army faces a "difficult responsibility" in addressing the technological gaps at the tactical level, said Coker. "We have a process governed by the federal acquisition" regulations, he said. "It is not designed to answer these problems." Furthermore, existing buying rules are aimed at purchases spanning years or decades.

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