Modern battle command system developers relate to command in the Revolutionary War
Retired Col. James Johnson, executive director of the Hudson River Valley Institute of Marist College, Poughkeepsie, N.Y., prepared the leaders of the Program Executive Office for Command, Control, and Communications Tactical for their staff ride to the site of the battle of Saratoga.

SARATOGA, N.Y. -- During a recent "staff ride," the managers and systems engineers that develop the Army\'s high-tech digital battle command tools discussed the affects of commander's physical presence here where the Army fought one if it earliest, and least high tech, battles.

"What can we do to help, understand or allow for the art, where the commander just has to get out and see the troops, feel the morale, sense the wind and all of those things that are parts in the final art of battle'" asked Robert Wilson, deputy project manager for Tactical Radio Communications Systems, part of the Army's Program Executive Office for Command, Control and Communications-Tactical, which conducted the staff ride.

"You really can't digitize that. No matter what we do with electronics or supporting things, ultimately, the human role does come into play and how do we gracefully marry the different parts with the human role'" Wilson said.

The discussion was one of many that arose when the organization's leadership toured the site of the Battle of Saratoga, N.Y. They were asked to talk about the battle's plans, orders, events and decisions. That Saratoga battle concluded with the surrender of British Gen. John Burgoyne Oct. 17, 1777.

Participants assumed the persona of the battle's primary participants. During the staff ride retired Col. James Johnson, who led the staff ride, opened up a discussion on how a commander issued orders during the battle. At Saratoga, command and control meant standing each Soldier side-by-side with their muskets, so they could pass orders along. Soldiers on horses relayed information back to the commander.

Today's commanders use digital systems to capture information and disseminate it to lower echelons, said Col. Ray Montford, project manager, for Force XXI Battle Command, Brigade-and-Below & Blue Force Tracking. Today's warfighters use the Global Positioning System technology integrated into FBCB2-BFT to track one another's whereabouts.

Systems like FBCB2 track and displays friendly vehicles and aircraft that appear on a computer screen as blue icons over a topographical map or satellite image of the ground. FBCB2-BFT uses satellite technology, while the balance of FBCB2 uses terrestrial-based tactical radios.

Users can manually add red icons that show up as enemy positions on the screen and are simultaneously broadcast to FBCB2 users on the battlefield. Other capabilities include creating, sending and displaying graphics such as bridges, minefields, obstacles, supply points and other battlefield hazards.

Users can also send messages to each other similar to e-mail on the Internet. Warfighter Information Network-Tactical Increment One gives battalion-level and above warfighters, the ability to connect to the Army's digitized systems, voice, data and video via satellite Internet connection.

Today, the Single-Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System family of radios provides field commanders with the communication capability to see, hear and conduct the battle. The FBCB2 system is assigned to Project Manager FBCB2. WIN-T Increment One is assigned to PM WIN-T and SINCGARS is assigned to PM TRCS. Each are PEO C3T organizations.

Since the "vast minority" of the PEO C3T's leaders are military personnel, the staff ride differed from a normal one, which generally includes only Soldiers, said Brig. Gen. Nick Justice, the PEO for C3T.

The staff ride let the senior leaders learn about their PEO counterparts and the warfighters they support, he said.

Johnson identified the staff ride's main focal points as terrain, leadership and interpersonal relations, along with the outcome that occurs when competing leaders have differing opinions about the same organization.

The latter was exemplified at Saratoga in the relationship between Americans Horatio Gates and Benedict Arnold, two major generals who started as friends, but became bitter rivals. Gates commanded the American forces at Saratoga.

Against heavy musket fire and without Gates' permission, Arnold charged Saratoga's Breymann Redoubt, eventually reaching its unprotected left flank, where dozens of mercenaries dropped their weapons and ran for their lives.

Johnson pointed to this relationship as one that illustrates the outcomes when separate leaders have differing opinions.

The Prussian Army held the first staff rides in the mid-1800s and the U.S. Army followed and used the process to further develop its officers in the early 1900s. The Army and Marine Corps continue to use staff rides which began to gain popularity in the 1960s and 1970s.

Aside from organizational issues, Johnson told the PEO C3T leaders to think about tactical aspects of the staff ride, since they support warfighters in battlefield campaigns.

He hoped to provide them with insight into terrain, tactical formations and the orchestration of three simultaneous attacks coordinated by cannon fire.

The American victory at Saratoga proved significant as it convinced King Louis XVI of France to support the American Revolution, said Johnson.

Page last updated Tue January 29th, 2008 at 12:13