Transforming the way units communicate and navigate, the Army’s next generation situational awareness and friendly force tracking system received an unprecedented workout.
Marines and Soldiers fought side-by-side to test the capability known as Joint Battle Command-Platform, known as JBC-P, during the Army’s Network Integration Evaluation 14.2, which concluded on May 22.
“Over the past 10-plus years of working together in Afghanistan and Iraq, the interoperability of the services has increased,” said Lt. Col. Jeff Stevenson, battalion commander for the 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment. “Any time there’s an opportunity to bring everyone together and work through those things in a peacetime type exercise such as an NIE (network integration evaluation), it helps us so we’re not learning those lessons as we go forward into a combat zone.”
Primarily used in vehicles, JBC-P helps reduce the “fog of war” by showing a complete picture of the battlefield so units can synchronize operations. Similar to a Global Positioning System used commercially, the capability provides users with the whereabouts of friendly platforms as they travel across the battlefield. Users can also plot the locations of enemy forces and hazards, such as bridges, minefields and explosives. Today, that information is also being delivered down to the dismounted Soldier through the Army’s handheld mission command system, known as Nett Warrior.
One of four systems under formal test at NIE 14.2, JBC-P was built on user feedback and designed with today’s tech-savvy Soldier in mind, featuring touch-to-zoom maps, drag-and-drop icons and a Google Earth-like interface.
“This interface is far more user-friendly,” said 1st Lt. Jeffrey Weinmeister, assistant operations officer with the 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment. “It makes it very easy for the first-time user to effectively perform command and control operations. The reliability of the system has allowed us to use it over very difficult terrain here, as well as communicate from significant distances and maintain our situational awareness of the battlefield.”
Described as having ‘eyes on the battlefield,’ JBC-P brings a faster satellite network, secure data encryption and improved chat messaging. It is the latest incarnation of the widely fielded friendly force tracking system known as Force XXI Battle Command Brigade-and-Below/Blue Force Tracking, which is integrated on more than 120,000 platforms, resides in each Tactical Operations Center and is fielded or authorized to every brigade combat team in the Army.
The 900 Marines fought alongside the Army’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, at Fort Bliss, Texas, as part of NIE 14.2, the seventh in the Army’s series of semi-annual field exercises designed to accelerate and improve the way communications technologies are delivered to Soldiers. The Marine battalion was part of increased joint and multinational participation in NIE 14.2 in conjunction with the Joint Staff-led BoldQuest exercise.
The main focus of NIE 14.2 was the follow-on tests for the HMS Manpack radio, JBC-P and the Unmanned Aerial System-Tactical Common Data Link/Universal Ground Station, as well as an operational test for the smartphone-like Nett Warrior system. During the event, which also included 12 systems under evaluation and 15 demonstration systems, the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, and its joint and multinational partners conducted the full range of military operations across harsh terrain.
“This allows us to know where the enemies are, so I can make sure our guys aren’t going too far into a danger zone,” said Lance Cpl. John Allen Sargent with the 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment. “Everyone should have this. The chat function allows you to get with everyone all at once, and speak back and forth as fast as can be so information gets to you a lot faster.”
First Lt. Adam E. Martin, a platoon leader with the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, agreed, saying the system supported faster and more effective operations.
“When I’m in the middle of a fight, and I’m trying to move my platoon and talk to my platoon, instead of calling them up, right away I can pop the icon up and type a quick message and it’s already on there and my TOC (tactical operations center) is tracking,” Martin said. “The maps are a lot more detailed and it’s more intuitive. You can color code your platoons or your trucks, so when you have 100 dots on a map, you can easily pick out who’s who.”
Developed by Product Manager JBC-P, assigned to the Army’s Program Executive Office Command, Control and Communications-Tactical, JBC-P has undergone several successful risk reduction events leading up to its test at the NIE. Results are expected this summer with fielding to begin later this year.
Since their launch in 2011, the NIEs have evaluated more than 170 systems and helped integrate, refine and validate Capability Set 13, the Army’s first integrated network package providing mobile communications down to the dismounted Soldier. JBC-P will be part of Capability Set 14 and follow-on capability sets.