The evolution of fires: improving the systems that shape the battlefield
June 18, 2013
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (June 19, 2013) -- Software systems enabling commanders to make split decisions on fires are continuously evolving and improving with every updated version.
Product Director Fire Support Command and Control (FSC2), part of the Program Executive Office for Command, Control and Communications-Tactical, is the organization responsible for providing the Warfighter with the mission command systems that combine the right weapon firing the right munitions at the right time for a given target.
"At FSC2, it's critical for us to remain the Army's premier team providing proven innovative network mission command solutions for the Soldiers of today and tomorrow," said Lt. Col. Larry Glidewell, product director for FSC2.
Glidewell's team develops the Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data System (AFATDS), an automated system that analyzes and exchanges combat information among the U.S. Army, Marine Corps and Navy architectures. AFATDS facilitates the planning and execution of fires and effects, and controls weapon systems such as mortars, field artillery cannons, rockets and missiles, close air support, attack aviation and naval surface fire support systems.
FSC2 is working on the newest version of AFATDS, Version 6.8, which will use the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) Increment 2 communications network to move critical fires information among Forward Observers (FO), battalion Fire Support Elements (FSE) and Fire Direction Centers (FDC).
"We are working with PM WIN-T to make certain that fires traffic gets to the correct unit at the right time," said Jeffrey Weiss, deputy product director for FSC2. "The prioritization of messages is critical. When you want to stop fires due to its proximity to friendly units, you want that message to be first."
Prior to Version 6.8, the network AFATDS used processed traffic on a first come, first served basis. Clearly, this method is not optimal as routine messages have the same importance as high-priority messages. WIN-T assigns different levels of service to network traffic by marking each packet on the network with a special code that gives AFATDS Version 6.8 the ability to categorize and prioritize fires messages as they flow through the network.
Related Fires Assets
The FSC2 product office also oversees a family of systems that work in conjunction with AFATDS. These products include the Pocket-Sized Forward Entry Device (PFED) and the Lightweight Forward Entry Device (LFED) used by FOs; the Centaur, a handheld tactical fire direction system used as a back-up to AFATDS and capable of calculating technical fire direction; and the firing platforms, which digitally receive and display firing commands from AFATDS.
FSC2 also supports the Joint Automated Deep Operations Coordination System (JADOCS), a joint and coalition mission management tool that provides a detailed operational environment for planning. It is used to focus target processing and synchronize execution across different spectrums from division level to joint forces headquarters to combatant commanders. JADOCS integrates mission management with a common operational picture and military intelligence to give commanders a layered command and control picture. AFATDS "pushes" information to JADOCS so commanders can assess the current fire support picture and keep abreast of changes and movements in relation to air and ground resources. Using JADOCS, commanders can coordinate the joint execution of fires across the battlefield.
New Capabilities for the Forward Observer
On the front line, the FO's job is to locate the target, identify the target and as required, request indirect fires.
The PFED is tailored for the FO. It doesn't give FOs all the capabilities found in AFATDS or LFED, only what they need to accomplish their missions. PFEDs have a simple user interface that enables FOs to capture target data and pass it to the Fire Support Officer where it is then sent to AFATDS workstations located at FSEs and FDCs.
The PFED is integrated with the Precision Fires Imagery (PFI) application to enable it to generate precision grid coordinates sufficient to engage targets with precision munitions. FSC2 has joined efforts with the Naval Air Warfare Center's Weapons Engagement Office to overlay recent images from unmanned aerial systems and satellites onto military maps used on PFEDs to enable more precise targeting.
Keeping Skills Sharp
It is very important for fire team members to keep proficient in their tracking, targeting and close air support abilities. AFATDS Version 6.8 will feature new computer-based training that will help Soldiers sustain these skills. Interactive, user-based scenarios provide Soldiers with situations that are contrary to what they are trying to do so they can react to it and learn to adapt to changing situations. Users will be able to log in to the new training from their laptops (i.e., distance learning) and remote support will be available if users have questions.
Improvements to today's digital call-for-fire systems are being incorporated with one goal in mind -- providing a more user-friendly, intuitive tool for Soldiers to improve the speed of decision-making so that the right munitions fired by the right weapon get to the right target at the right time. Weiss summed up the importance of the systems FSC2 develops and evolves.
"You're going to influence what the enemy is going to be doing with fires," he said. "Fires shapes the battlefield in order for the commander to take the advantage."