JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- Soldiers work tirelessly in their tactical operations center (TOC) - giving the needed oversight to their subordinate units. Maps are hanging from partitions with computers and radios manned by Soldiers who monitor the situation on the battlefield. They are part of a task force deployed to provide support to an allied nation at war.
Unbeknownst to them, an enemy unmanned aerial system (UAS) flies overhead - recording their position. A Soldier on the ground spots the UAS and rushes to alert members of his unit. Command makes a snap decision to tear down and move the TOC.
Soldiers scramble to unplug equipment and pull up tent stakes while noncommissioned officers yell instructions to load up the trucks. It is too late; enemy artillery shells rain down on them before they are able to successfully begin their convoy away from their site.
It is a catastrophic kill.
The problem that befell the Soldiers in this hypothetical scenario was the lack of speed and mobility against a near-peer enemy. Near-peer enemy threats can detect and target mission command nodes using modern assets such as UAS. These command posts are especially vulnerable due to their physical and electromagnetic signature, in addition to the lack of speed and mobility.
The environment those Soldiers will operate in will be "highly lethal," and "unlike anything our Army has experienced, at least since World War II," said Gen. Mark Milley, the Chief of Staff of the Army. With sensors everywhere, Soldiers in the future will have to operate with the understanding that, "the probability of being seen is very high. In a future battlefield, if you stay in one place for longer than two or three hours, you'll be dead. That obviously places demands on human endurance ... [and] on equipment."
To counter this problem, the Army is currently experimenting with mobile mission command platforms, such as the M1087 Expandable Van Shelter, under the Command Post Directed Requirement Pilot Program and is integrating it into units such as the 1-2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team to assess different configurations. The units will then provide feedback on operational suitability and functionality.
"The general purpose of the command post directive requirement was to provide units with expandable vehicles and shelters in an effort to allow them to transition command post capabilities from the currently tent-based command post into vehicles and shelters," said Jim Bell, who works with U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM).
"This would give us a rapidly moveable and potentially more survivable option for our command posts," said Col. Leo Wyszynski, commander of 1-2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team. "It takes us about 30 minutes to tear down the new command posts, which is significantly less than what it takes us to tear down a tent. Our hope is to be able to jump and move in under 30 minutes as we practice and train with it."
The purpose of the program is to develop equipment that will be more survivable, more mobile in order to protect the unit in the future battlefield and enable them to fight more effectively, Wyszynski said.
"We have two expando vans with us as our tactical command post in the Philippines and we had them in Thailand as part of Pacific Pathways," he added. "We had several significant storms in Thailand and the expando vans provided a notable advantage over the other command posts that were setup next to us. We were able to continue our mission command functions flawlessly while their operations were degraded."
The 1-2 SBCT recently held a design workshop with DEVCOM March 12-15, 2019, immediately followed by a command post exercise to assist in the platform's implementation and provide feedback on optimal configurations.
"Forces Command gave broad latitude in determining what the specific requirements would be for inside the vehicles and how they would meet those requirements," Bell said. "The vans are empty shells when they arrive to a unit; there is nothing really inside them except lighting and power distribution. The idea is to have the units work through a Soldier-led integration process of mission command capabilities into these vehicles and shelters."
Each shop has specific details of what they want their command truck to do, said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Carlos Enciso, the officer in charge of the vehicle modifications for 1-2 SBCT. His team takes those plans and tries to incorporate them the best they can into the vehicles. The DEVCOM team is there to look over those modifications.
The subject matter experts from DEVCOM are specialists in mechanical and electrical engineering, as well as integration, Bell said. They are there to show the units best practices and help troubleshoot their designs to make them more effective.
"There are challenges," according to Bell. "Such as figuring out how to maximize workspace in order to have multiple items such as maps and monitors located in the same area."
They have been manufacturing tables that fit in the center of the expando van and are incorporating side tables that fold down when the van is collapsed to maximize space, said Enciso. They are also mounting brackets so they can install monitors on the walls of different stations. This allows the expando van to collapse at a moment's notice.
"Part of what I think the Army is trying to do with this program is to speed up the current acquisition process," said Bell. "It may take us three or more years to engineer something that was close to perfect if we try to design the vehicles and shelters from a set of requirements in a lab. We may not have any idea if it truly met Soldier requirements until we got it in the field."
This approach of involving Soldiers early and often in the development process really holds the potential of decreasing the amount of development time and improving the quality of the product Soldiers get, Bell added.
As this the development process continues, developers are collecting surveys from the units testing the equipment to ensure the platform can accomplish its intended task of making command posts more mobile.
"Our ability to quickly setup, move and to transfer control functions from one command post to the next is going to be vital for mission success," said Wyszynski. "These vehicles will not only allow higher echelons to continue to help our units in contact but also allow us to continue to employ multiple assets against the enemy."