But there's a more fundamental reason for going with "The Command Post of the Future". The current generation of senior officers (Colonel and above) grew up with PCs, and had access to the Internet in college, before the Internet went commercial and evolved into a mass media as the World Wide Web. These officers understand what you can do with networked PCs, and have been using laptops in the field for years. "Groupware" and other "collaborative software" is all the rage right now both inside and outside the armed forces. Actually, the Internet is basically groupware, but the idea for groupware was around before the World Wide Web (which is little more than using the Internet via a browser) came along in the early 1990s. Most senior officers accept the fact that the future of warfare is going to be with networked command and control systems.
"The Command Post of the Future" is not that much of a jump from current systems. A century ago, officers were getting used to running a battle using telephone and radio while looking at a map. Before that, you ran a battle by standing on a hill (for a better view, often while on horseback) and issuing orders to aides, who dashed off to deliver your instructions. By World War II, the radios were everywhere and the concept of running things via a "network", while looking at a map, in a bunker or a jeep, was established.
Now it's going up to the next level, with the power of computers, and lots of data handling software, plugged into the network. This is an important difference. While the commander of an army or a division could look at a map and discuss the situation with subordinates over the radio, to actually move an army or division, not to mention sending it into combat, involved a lot more planning and detail work than most people realize. With over 15,000 people, over 5,000 vehicles, over 30,000 electronic devices (radios, night vision goggles, GPS receivers, PCs) and thousands of tons of supplies (mostly fuel and ammunition), a combat division requires that a lot of decisions be made and calculations be performed before anything happens. Computers, however, now make the decisions and calculations much easier.
The battlefield Internet is getting closer to being literally just that. The 1st Cavalry division, which heads for Iraq next month, is taking fifty special PC systems, each equipped with three flat screen displays and wired so that the fifty PCs can communicate with each other over an encrypted network powerful enough to handle VOIP (telephone calls via the Internet). The use of three displays enables each user to view what they are working on now, a battle map and a screen full of information from another member of the network. Half of these PC "work stations" will go to the division headquarters. The other 25 will go to eight brigade level command posts (combat brigades and support commands) in the area the division is operating in (the Baghdad vicinity.) Local networks like this are popular in corporations, enabling people who work together a lot, but are dispersed in many different locations, to constantly stay in touch. The software they use has come to be called "groupware" and has special features that makes it easier to share data and collaborate on projects. The army "groupware" project (officially, "The Command Post of the Future") has been in limbo for several years, as no one wanted to pay to have it installed in their combat division for a real life workout. But now there's a war on, and the commander of the 1st Cavalry division heard about it, saw a demo and liked it enough to take it on. One thing the 1st Cav officers quickly realized was that with this groupware setup, they could eliminate a lot of face-to-face meetings, and the need to travel through dangerous areas of Baghdad to get to the meetings.
It wasn't always this way. Combat divisions first got computers in the 1970s. These were not mobile and were used for stuff like payroll and general records keeping. The army keeps lots of records. Personal Computers started sneaking in during the 1980s, as troops used their own PCs to make life easier for themselves on the job. By the late 1980s, combat divisions had PCs officially, and during the 1990s, PCs replaced typewriters and a lot of filing cabinets. "The Command Post of the Future" can work because the divisions already have most of their records on PCs, and few dozen officers sitting in front of networked PCs, can do the work of hundreds of staff troops to gather, organize and analyze the information needed to make a division move or put it into combat. The three displays of the "The Command Post of the Future" also allow using a 3-D battlefield display for officers to plan future operations.
Exactly how "The Command Post of the Future" will work out in actual combat conditions will be discovered later this year in Iraq.