Information Warfare: October 21, 2004


The U.S. Armys battlefield Internet is officially called the Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below (or FBCB2). But most troops call it by its most famous, and popular, component, Blue Force Tracker (BFT). This is a system showed users, on a laptop computer screen, where all friendly troops were (via a transmitter all small units had, that sent info to a satellite, and then down to other Blue Force Tracker equipped troops.) This gave troop commanders important information on where friendly troops were, and using instant messaging built into Blue Force Tracker, they could quickly exchange information on the enemy with nearby friendly units. In effect, BFT duplicated the Internet on the battlefield. The army has installed over 10,000 BFT systems. Most are in vehicles, but some can be carried by infantry or Special Forces. Currently, each vehicle mounted BFT weighs 28 pounds, costs $12,000, and includes a 6.5 inch computer display, GPS and satellite communications gear. To limit the workload on the communications satellites, BFT updates it position about once every five minutes. When it does an update, it also sends and receives email messages (up to about 20 words long) from BFT users. BFT has become a standard battlefield tool in Iraq and Afghanistan, and has decreased friendly fire casualties, and made using units much more effective. Since American units prefer to operate at night, BFT eliminates most of the confusion that can occur while operating in darkness. BFT doesnt get the credit it should, mostly because not many journalists are out there seeing BFT in action. The troops take BFT for granted, and use consider it another tool for knighting fighting, like their night vision gear, UAVs and radios. This technology is also being used to keep support troops and contractors safe. The less expensive MFT (Movement Tracking Systems) is mounted in trucks used to move supplies or support troops. Anyone carrying MFT can get in immediate touch with nearby combat troops if they need help. And the rescue party will know exactly where the MFT equipped trucks are at all times.

In Afghanistan, the U.S. has even equipped the 9,000 man NATO peacekeeper force with BFT. This has created a growing number of European officers who want BFT. They have seen it, they have used it and they want it. The armys success with BFT has energized the other services to develop similar equipment that will work with BFT.  The Department of Defense is strongly encouraging this trend, because otherwise the other services would muck about for years trying to develop their own BFT that would not be compatible with the armys. 


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