Information Dominance for Army XXI: Battlefield Visualization

by Captain Harry E. Jones, II

I want to fight the enemy deep. We need to leverage our technologies to see, target and destroy the enemy when he is far from the FLOT and when the remaining elements close, it should be a foregone conclusion we will win the close fight, with minimal casualities. Focused intelligence, precision strike, and dominant maneuver are keys to success.
Lieutenant General John M. Keane, Commanding General, XVIII Airborne Corps

America's Army is in the midst of a remarkable change change driven by information age technologies that will forever alter the way we fight. Let's take a look at a future battle vignette.

Southwest Asia, December 2005: ARFOR "Movement to Strike"

While the U.S. Army Force (ARFOR) moves quickly across the sands, the commander stares at a large, flat panel display depicting his area of operations. Two armor-heavy mobile strike forces are moving abreast, 30 kilometers ahead, their combat vehicle positions depicted on the display. Windowed in a corner of the display is a logistics screen from the Combat Service Support Control System, showing the force's status by critical classes of supply. Windowed in below that is a live video feed from an Outrider unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) orbiting 50 km ahead. A red icon blinks on the flat panel display an intelligence sensor has detected an enemy force ahead. "Two, zoom in on that l want to see what they're up to."
The S2 clicks on the zoom button and the enemy element is quickly portrayed in a high-fidelity, three-dimensional (3D) virtual rendition of the battlespace 50 km ahead. The high-resolution view of the terrain indicates a small valley through which the enemy will have to move perfect killing ground. Simultaneously, the Analysis and Control Team dynamically retasks the UAV to orient its sensor on the threat. An automatic target recognition (ATR) algorithm in the acquiring sensor's preprocessor indicates T-90 tanks and BMP-3 infantry fighting vehicles. "S2 assessment?" barks the commander. "Sir, lead element of an advanced guard battalion remainder of the battalion is probably 30 minutes behind this force, and the parent regiment 45 minutes to an hour behind them."
"S3, net call, bring the strike force commanders up on video. I want to do a white-board driIl and use that valley to establish an engagement area." With the strike commanders up on a video teleconference, the commander, S3, S2, and Fire Support Officer (FSO) quickly outline a hasty attack fragmentary order (FRAGO) using a John Madden-style "white-board" application on the Maneuver Control System (MCS). The commander outlines his plan, and adjusts boundaries and attack axes to fit the terrain. The S2 quickly refines the probable enemy course of action (COA) based on the raw intelligence while the S3 completes and issues the warning order digitally to the task force (TF). The FSO and Air Liaison Officer request long-range fires and close air support to attack the regimental main body and second echelon forces. Using the S2's refined template, the TF staff quickly wargames the plan. Satisfied with the plan, the commander directs a TF rehearsal of the execution engagement area using the 3D view of the terrain. An artificial intelligence application indicates a proposed support-by-fire position should be moved to optimize the terrain advantage; the S3 modifies the FRAGO accordingly and issues it digitally across the force.
Realizing he has a situational awareness advantage over the oncoming enemy, the commander requests the general support MI unit to degrade the enemy's communications. At the same time, two Comanche helicopters engage and destroy the enemy's reconnaissance elements. Minutes later, the mobile strike forces attack the enemy battalion from the flanks while Army tactical missile fire begins to attrit the follow-on regiment. In his burning command vehicle, the enemy battalion commander is completely dumbfounded he is under attack from a force he could not see, could not track, and could not engage beyond direct-fire range.

Battlefield Visualization

Far-fetched? Perhaps not. Many of these capabilities addressed in the vignette are in development under the auspices of the Army's Battlefield Visualization Initiative, now under way at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and Fort Hood, Texas. Though still in its infancy, the development of battlefield visualization (BV) applications, and their subsequent migration to the Army Battle Command System (ABCS), will forever change the way America's Army trains, plans, wargames, and executes missions across the operational continuum. Despite much recent attention on the subject of BV, it is not a new concept. On the contrary, the ability to visualize the battlefield has existed since humankind first engaged in conflict. The U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command's TRADOC PAM 525-70, Battlefield Visualization, defines BV as
the process whereby the commander develops a clear under- standing of his current state with relation to the enemy and the environment, envisions a desired end state, and then subsequently visualizes the sequence of activity that will move his force from its current state to the end state.1 Implicit in this is an understanding of the terrain, the current location of friendly and enemy forces, the effects of weather, and the enemy commander's available COAs. BV, therefore, is both an art and a science the art of battle command, enabled by science and technology to gain and maintain the advantage over an opponent. BV is far more than intelligence it applies to and must integrate data from every battlefield operating system. While the BV system cannot completely clear the fog of battle, it can empower commanders and their staffs to operate consistently inside the enemy's decision cycle, keeping the opposing commander off balance.
Throughout history, the very best commanders have been able to mentally visualize their battlefields. Based on training, experience, and warfighting intuition, they understand the terrain, how the weather will impact their fight, and how the enemy commander will present his force. Brigadier General John Buford clearly had the ability to visualize his battlefield in the opening hours at Gettysburg. General of the Army Douglas MacArthur at Inchon had the same clarity of vision again, in his mind's eye.
These were exceptional commanders. As we approach the 21st century, however, technology will allow us to empower all commanders with the ability to visualize their battlefields, and to see battles in areas not yet occupied. Coupled with the degradation of the enemy commander's ability to visualize his battlefield through lethal and non-lethal attack and deception operations, we can truly gain information dominance at critical times and places on the battlefield. This dominance will enable a smaller force to rapidly overwhelm a larger foe, and allow a single brigade to enforce an extended zone of separation or to conduct humanitarian relief operations across a distributed, compartmentalized "battlefield."

Key Technologies

We require the integration of seven key technology areas (see Figure 1) to refine and mature our BV capability: displays, both large flat panels to replace the wooden map boards in our tactical operations centers, and private "heads-up" or retinal displays for individual fighting vehicles, aircraft, and soldiers. BV requires accurate sensors to collect enemy force activity and friendly force locations. We need broad bandwidth networks to rapidly move data across the battlespace. BV also requires extensive databases, including high- resolution digital terrain elevation and features data, entity level simulations, and 3D environments. Computer hardware and software provide the technological engine for most BV applications. Finally, BV requires an ATR automatic target recognition capability to speed the analysis and identification of objects in the battlespace, to speed sensor-to-shooter links, and to decrease the risk of fratricide. TRADOC's Program Integration Offices for Army Battle Command (TPIO-ABCS) and terrain are central to the synchronization of activities across these technology areas.
We are making great progress in each of these areas. Due to the superb efforts of the soldiers of the XVIll Airborne Corps, 4th Infantry Division (Mechanized), and the Experimental Force (EXFOR), Communications and Electronics Command (CECOM), National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), Joint Precision Strike Demonstration, Topographic Engineering Center, TRADOC, and many others, the Army is rapidly prototyping a BV capability.
The Army's BV initiative began in Panama in September 1995 in an exercise called Fuertas Defensas. The NRO provided imagery from national systems to produce high-resolution digital terrain data of a portion of the XVIII Airborne Corps' "exercise box." The Corps intelligence team then overlaid the enemy situation data on the 3D terrain data so the commander could see the fight in a high-resolution, 3D view of the battlespace.
During Exercise Joint Task Force (JTF) 96-1 at Fort Bragg in November 1995, the NRO again provided national systems support to produce digital terrain data of a larger exercise area. Based on feedback from Exercise Fuertas Defensas after-action reviews, the Corps intelligence team added the capability to overlay red and blue data as well as mission planning and rehearsal capabilities. The wooden map boards and paper maps were replaced by two six-foot by eight-foot displays, which provided the commander's "window to the world."
During the 82d Airborne Division's Battle Command Training Program (BCTP) Warfighter exercise at Fort Bragg in February 1996, the prototype BV system linked with the All-Source Analysis System and the MCS was fully integrated into the Corps Deep Operations Coordination Cell (DOCC). The BV system portrayed enemy and friendly data in real or near-real time in a 3D, high-fidelity, virtual battlespace replication in support of corps deep operations planning and execution. Using modular semiautomated forces (ModSAF) software which moved enemy units independently, the Corps' planners wargamed against multiple enemy COAs to drive development of branches and sequels.
In XVIll Airborne Corps JTF Exercise Royal Dragon in May 1996, the Corps intelligence team incorporated live sensor feeds for the first time. Air Force U2-R and Army Guardrail Common Sensor and OV-1D Mohawk aerial sensors down-linked through their preprocessors to the BV system. The long-range surveillance unit teams passed spot reports via satellite communications into the ABCS architecture which fed the BV system. Additionally, Grenadier beyond line-of-sight reporting (BRAT) emitters provided real-time updates of friendly force locations. The real-time overlay of red and blue data in a 3D view of the battlespace provided Royal Dragon warfighters with a high-fidelity, virtual view of their fight. Finally, during the Joint Warrior Interoperability Demonstration (JWID) in August 1996, the BV capability was demonstrated to Army senior leadership. In October, Joint Precision Strike Demonstration's Rapid Battlefield Visualization Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration (RBV ACTD) began. This is a $56 million dollar ACTD that will provide high-resolution digital terrain and features data which are the cornerstone of the BV initiative. The RBV ACTD will also leverage the efforts of CECOM's Battlespace Command and Control Advanced Technology Demonstration (BC2 ATD). This ACTD has produced a BV workstation that is interoperable with existing ABCS, the Army Global Command and Control System (AGCCS), that uses high-resolution terrain and features data to provide a 3D view of the battlespace.


Battlefield visualization shows great potential for the future. XVIll Airborne Corps' aggressive prototyping effort has enabled a running start for the fiscal year 1997 RBV ACTD and rapid integration of two BV prototypes within the EXFOR. The BV system will provide commanders the ability to see their physical battlefield and the disposition of friendly and enemy forces arrayed on it in a high-fidelity, virtual environment, and to plan, wargame, and rehearse an operation before ever making contact with an adversary. This capability will give the Force XXl commander a significant advantage over any opponent, and provide the critical enabling technology to gain information dominance at critical times on the battlefield.
Captain Jones is currently the Operations Officer in the Office of the U.S. Army Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence (DCSINT) Initiatives Group. He has a bachelor of arts degree in Public Relations from the University of Georgia and a master of science degree in Personnel Management from Chapman College. Readers who wish more information may contact the DCSINT Initiatives Group via E-mail and at (703) 695-2968 or DSN 225-2968.