Army fields next-generation blue force tracking system

By Claire Heininger Schwerin, PEO C3TJuly 15, 2011

Army fields next-generation blue force tracking system for enhanced speed, security
(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (Army News Service, July 15, 2011) The Army has fielded its next-generation friendly force tracking system to five operational brigade combat teams, equipping Soldiers with a faster satellite network, secure data encryption and advanced mapping kits for improved tactical communications while on the move.

The software-enhanced version of Force XXI Battle Command Brigade-and-Below/Blue Force Tracking, or FBCB2/BFT, is known as Joint Capabilities Release, in reference to its interoperability with the Marine Corps. The Army’s Project Manager FBCB2, assigned to the Program Executive Office Command, Control and Communications-Tactical began fielding JCR to operational units in January, with more than 1,000 systems deployed through June.

Among the units receiving the technology is the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, which is evaluating a host of capabilities during the Army’s largest network field exercise to date, the six-week Network Integration Evaluation, or NIE, in the challenging terrain of White Sands Missile Range, N.M.

“With the new FBCB2 we’re using, it’s a lot more instantaneous,” said Sgt. David Johnson, a Soldier with 2/1AD who had used the previous version of the capability while deployed to Iraq. “You’re able to send and receive messages no matter where (units) are -- no line of sight is required, and that’s what they’re running into with the mountain ranges around here.”

Soldiers in combat rely on FBCB2 for situational awareness, viewing blue icons on a computer screen inside their vehicle to locate their teammates, whether when staging an attack or rescuing an injured Soldier. They can plot improvised explosive devices and enemy locations with red icons on the same computerized topographical map, alerting other friendly units nearby.

When Soldiers travel beyond a radio signal’s reach, they can keep in touch by sending text messages through FBCB2’s BFT satellite network. Both the speed and accuracy of that network have improved with JCR due to BFT 2, a new satellite infrastructure that can handle significantly more data than the first BFT. This capacity increase allows for more frequent and larger message traffic, and in many cases cuts the system’s refresh rate from minutes to seconds -- a welcome change for users from the 2/1 AD.

“I used FBCB2 in 2006-07 in Iraq, and it worked well… (but) sometimes the messages would come in late,” Spc. Daniel MacInnis said. “This is a lot faster. It’s a great communications source.”

JCR also enables access to the type one secret network through the KGV-72 encryption device. This allows users on-the-move to send secret data and interoperate completely with the command post.

“Obviously, that helps with the mission,” MacInnis said.

Soldiers conducting operations at White Sands also praised changes to the user interface, saying JCR is easier to learn and operate than its predecessor. One communications officer who was unfamiliar with the technology quickly got up to speed, Johnson said.

“I gave him an approximately half-hour class on sending and receiving FIPR (flash, immediate, priority, routine) messages, putting in SPOT reports, and putting icons on the table,” Johnson said. “As long as it’s day-to-day utilities you need to use, he’s got no problem with it.”

The JCR upgrades are part of the Army’s network capability set 11/12, and PM FBCB2’s Joint Battle Command-Platform, or JBC-P, will replace JCR in capability set 13/14. There are more than 100,000 FBCB2/BFT units already in the field, so the JCR software upgrade will leverage pre-existing hardware and other system components to save taxpayer dollars.

“With JCR and JBC-P, we are building upon the Army’s investment in FBCB2 to enhance a battle-tested system our Soldiers want and need,” said Col. Thomas Olson, Project Manager for FBCB2. “This initial fielding of JCR represents a key step toward creating a more connected and knowledgeable force and mitigating fratricide on tomorrow’s battlefields.”

Soldier feedback from the JCR Limited User Test, or LUT, at the Network Integration Exercise will influence JBC-P design and capabilities, as well as inform a JCR fielding decision for the fiscal year starting in October. The JCR software fielded to date uses a transceiver for the existing BFT network, while the LUT involves a later version of the software and the new BFT2 network transceiver.

Thus far, JCR has been fielded to units at Fort Bliss, Texas, Fort Bragg, N.C., and Fort Riley, Kan. Along with installing and troubleshooting the software and KGV-72s, personnel from PM FBCB2 also trained more than 700 Soldiers during the fielding process. The first brigades to be fielded with JCR were targeted during their reset windows, said Mary O’Leary Kasales, future operations integrator for PM FBCB2-Readiness Management Division.

In partnership with the Army Communications-Electronics Command, PM FBCB2 “has streamlined the JCR fielding efforts by converging resources in a one-touch approach to minimize impact to unit training events,” O’Leary Kasales said.

At the Network Integration Evaluation, Soldiers are also evaluating JCR-Logistics, which integrates FBCB2 capability with the Movement Tracking System. MTS JCR-Log provides the technology necessary to communicate with and track tactical wheeled vehicles and other select assets and cargo in near real time, enabling safe and timely completion of distribution missions in support of full-spectrum operations.

Staff Sgt. Jamel Cobbs, who used JCR at the NIE, described the new system as faster, easier to use and “a lot more accurate” than the version he used during deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.

“By having this in the vehicle when we’re moving out, all I’ve got to do is just bend down, look at the map, see where we’re at, see if we’ve got any messages” from the gunnery sergeant up ahead, Cobbs said. “When we come in, all we’ve got to do is look (and see), ‘OK, we’re getting closer to that grid, we’re in the right spot.’”

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