Information Warfare: September 26, 2003

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The army, air force and navy can finally talk to each other easily in combat, but it took a decade of effort on a computer system and carefully thought out software, to make it work. For centuries, communication between the army and navy, when both were fighting in support of each other in the same area, has been difficult. Both services had their own form of long distance communication (using flags or other signals). And even when naval and army officers talked to each other, they had different words for the same thing. When air forces came along a century ago, the communications problems just became worse. The solution comes in the form of a fire control system; AFATDS (advanced field artillery tactical data system). Since the 1970s, the U.S. Army has been trying to develop an easy to use and reliable computerized system for keeping track of who needs artillery fire, who can provide it, where everyone is, and also do the calculations necessary to get the right number of the right kind of shells in the right place at the right time. The U.S. Army spent over a billion dollars developing the system, and approached the Navy and Air Force early on to see if AFATDS could incorporate the other services way of doing business. Agreement was reached, and now the other two services (and the Marines) are installing AFATDS systems. This is a major advance in fire control, especially in getting artillery (both land based and on ships), warplanes and attack helicopters operating together. But the major advantage of AFATDS is speed. While the army introduced the system in 1996, it didn't get its first combat workout until 2003 in Iraq. There, fire requests were being filled within minutes, something troops in combat had never seen before. That speed make a big difference, and allowed the army and marines to fight a much faster battle. Foreign military professionals (especially those in China and North Korea) who have studied the impact of AFATDS in Iraq were appalled. Fighting battles that quickly made their older, slower, forces much less effective. AFATDS is one of the major reasons so many other major nations are coming up with the money to add this kind of computerized efficiency to their armed forces. For decades, systems like AFATDS were seen as theoretical, and unlikely to work. Now it's been show that such systems can work, and everyone knows that without a system like AFATDS, their troops are at great risk.

 


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