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Q2 2015: Enhancing Mission Command

New state-of-the-art ground combat networking technology, available to U.S. and Allied ground forces through the U.S. Army's Mounted Family of Computer Systems (MFoCS) IDIQ contract, has the potential to vastly increase mobility and situational awareness in future conflicts.

The MFoCS computing and display hardware, which operate the next-generation blue force tracking software called Joint Battle Command Platform (JBC-P), has achieved strong performance results in field testing and now is being incorporated into U.S. ground force training operations through the Army's Key Leader program. The Key Leaders are forward-looking Army units whose demanding mission requirements call for the most up-to-date technology. The MFoCS technology is not only available to the U.S. Army, but also the Marine Corps and certain Allied ground forces.

"Simplicity is our No. 1 priority going forward," said Col. Michael Thurston, Army project manager for Mission Command, in an interview on the C4ISR&Networks website. "We're making our systems easier to use, easier to operate and deploy, so soldiers worry less about fighting the systems than actually fighting their missions."

MFoCS Can Do So Much More

The MFoCS predecessor, called Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below (FBCB2) or Blue Force Tracker (BFT), has been providing digital situational awareness to U.S. forces since initial deployment in 2000. Today's MFoCS hardware has evolved to leverage more than 15 years of mission command and battle management combat experience and is a direct response to U.S. Army-directed requirements for a more networked, mobile, flexible, agile and integrated ground combat computing hardware system, with an enhanced capability for expeditionary missions across the full range of military operations. While MFoCS provides greatly improved battlefield situational awareness, an equally important attribute of the latest technology is that it paves the way for a more nimble and aggressive expeditionary force. This ability to remain in expeditionary mode, keeping a brigade combat team on the move in an unrelenting march forward toward a battlefield adversary, is the latest technology sword in the hands of U.S. and Allied ground commanders.

MFoCS enables the next generation of computing and display technology with faster processing speeds, multi-function and applications capabilities. Sensor and platform network integration, from the convergence of multiple computers and displays into a common computing environment, provides a data-rich architecture that can even include the collection and analysis of onboard vehicle diagnostics.

MFoCS improves battlefield capabilities across a wide set of ground combat networking needs by leveraging onboard and off-board sensor-fusion capabilities to connect subsystems. This enables computers to transfer data back-and-forth smoothly without interference. Information can be distributed across a network in near-real-time to other platform work stations, adjacent units and higher headquarters. This pervasive tactical battlefield advantage, enabled by a more complete battlefield picture and situational awareness in a simple-to-operate format, is designed to add yet another technology edge by improving distribution of intelligence, voice and video communications. This in turn can increase both the quality and tempo of operations. "Simplicity is what we're trying to give to our soldiers in terms of being able to have a common picture," Lt. Col. Michael Olmstead, Army product manager, Joint Battle Command-Platform, said in a C4ISR&Networks discussion. "We're focused on intuitiveness in the user interface. They turn on the system, it's easy to use, it's intuitive. They can operate it without a lot of detailed instruction. They can get the basic information and move forward. It works well with the concept of trying to simplify things for the user."

Reduced Space and Power Needs In More Soldier-Friendly Environment

MFoCS hardware requires less space and volume inside the tightly cramped environments of Army, Marine Corps and Allied ground combat vehicles. A 75 percent reduction in space, weight and power requirements is a hallmark of the MFoCS solution set.

One example of technical simplicity is the MFoCS Processor Unit, a single device connected to platform electronic systems that acts as a computer, router, server and distribution system all wrapped up in one, thereby reducing the number of functional "boxes" on the platform.

"You have less hardware so it's actually easier to manipulate inside the vehicle," says U.S. Army Sgt. James Minnear, a Battle Systems Operator, on the C4ISR + Networks web site. "GPS boots up a lot faster with it integrated into the hardware. And you have your computer system right here (next to the soldier) so if you need input or keyboard functionality, it's all in a small platform right here and its user friendly."

The modular MFoCS design eliminates stove pipes and can be reconfigured to meet the special needs of individual customers and missions. The IDIQ provides for fluid and easily accessible technology upgrades and insertion across the entire life of the program. This ensures that ground combat units use gear that is upwardly scalable to address future combat needs with upgrades easily integrated along the way as mission requirements change.

"By offering basic through advanced computing and display capabilities, we can satisfy the needs of several mission command applications while eliminating the burden of operating different computers in the same vehicle," said Dominic Satili, deputy product manager for Blue Force Tracking, assigned to Project Manager Joint Battle Command-Platform and part of the Army's Program Executive Office for Command, Control and Communications-Tactical. "The soldier only has to learn how to operate one computer," Satili asserted in an article on the Army's home page.

MFoCS brings a number of soldier-friendly attributes:

  • Dismountable computing capability
  • Low security risk via multi-domain security operations
  • Ability to view Command and Control/Situational Awareness data simultaneously to facilitate rapid decision making
  • Seamless collaboration between multiple common displays to enable workload distribution
  • Capability of vehicle occupants to view all on-board data sources, including a rear camera, to aid dismount mission planning

There is a simple bottom line for MFoCS users to consider: it gives leaders the enhanced situational awareness to make decisions earlier. As such, time, space, and distance become advantages that ground force combatants have not previously experienced on today's asymmetrical battlefield.

3rd ID An MFoCS "Key Leader"

It should come as no surprise that the U.S. Third Infantry Division, one of the most active and storied division in U.S. history, remains a global leader in terms of mission readiness, with a force increasingly equipped with the most cutting-edge mission command and ground force networking capabilities. Nicknamed the "Rock of the Marne" during World War I for its valor in holding the line leading to Paris, this storied division always seems to capture the headlines. The 3rd ID was among the first U.S. fighting units to engage in offensive ground combat operations in World War II. It was the first Army division to serve three tours of duty in Iraq. After the 1st Brigade captured the Baghdad International Airport, 2nd Brigade sprinted directly into the heart of downtown Baghdad on the much-publicized "Thunder Run." And today, some 3,000 soldiers from the 1st Armored Brigade, along with 750 ground combat fighting vehicles, have been deployed to the far eastern edge of NATO for Operation Atlantic Resolve involving Allied troops from Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania.

The 4th Brigade Combat Team, also known as the Vanguard Brigade home-based at the sprawling Fort Stewart in Georgia, has been designated an MFoCS "Key Leader." The brigade will be the first Army unit to receive JBC-P, the most advanced state-of-the-art ground combat networking technology. As the brigade gears up, MFoCS computing and display hardware has been experiencing positive results in field exercises covering the entire C4ISR combat environment.

When elements of the 3rd ID conclude their deployment in the Balkans, U.S. defense officials say its heavy rolling stock, including tanks and armored personnel carriers, will remain behind in the European theater as yet another source of reassurance to U.S. Allies. Which underscores the fact that the pointiest end of America's spear will always need the nation's sharpest tools, including the very best in ground combat network technology.

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