By Ann Roosevelt

Just completed tests on Army Future Combat Systems (FCS) Spin Out 1 equipment such as the Non-Line-of-Sight Launch System (NLOS LS) and Tactical and Urban unattended ground sensors (T- and U-UGS) show an operational advantage and the equipment should undergo further testing, say soldiers at Ft. Bliss, Texas.

"Our recommendation at this point, having gone through the preliminary [Limited User Test] LUT is we need to move forward," Brig. Gen. James Terry, director of the Future Force Integration Directorate (FFID), part of the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command, at Ft. Bliss, Texas. "These capabilities will save soldiers’ lives.:

That’s a very early observation since much more analysis will be done on preliminary LUT (P-LUT) data to back recommendations to Army leaders.

While the FCS program has its critics in Congress, members of House Appropriations defense panel recently approved a $33 million increase to the $3.5 billion administration request to accelerate FCS unmanned-aerial vehicle and unmanned-ground vehicle programs. The full committee must still take up the fiscal year 2009 defense appropriations measure. Senate counterparts have yet to act.

Soldiers and representatives from the Army Evaluation Task Force (AETF), Army Test and Evaluation Command, Army Training and Doctrine Command and the Future Force Integration Directorate examined equipment that could be fielded to Infantry Brigade Combat Teams (IBCT) during the July 27-31 P-LUT.

The essence of the work is not the equipment per se, but how the capability to improve situational awareness and reconnaissance could add to soldier effectiveness or lethality.

Put through their paces at the "Adobe Village," an urban site, some of which was specifically constructed for AETF training and test requirements in northern Ft. Bliss, were FCS Spin Out 1 equipment: Textron‘s [TXT] T-and U-UGS, and the NLOS LS, developed by Netfires LLC, a Lockheed Martin [LMT]-Raytheon [RTN] joint venture. Additionally, a B-Kit, integrating a computer system and the gateways associated with sensors that allow data to flow from sensors into the gateways and on into the Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below (FBCB2) providing situational awareness to various echelons of command.

An additional two systems were examined–accelerated by the Army earlier this year because they were technologically ready: iRobot‘s [IRBT] SUGV, and Honeywell‘s [HON] Micro Air Vehicle (MAV), the Class 1 Block 0 Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (Defense Daily, Jan. 18).

The P-LUT focused on the IBCT uses of Spin Out 1 equipment, conducted in place of the previously scheduled Heavy BCT LUT, which will still take place further down the road (Defense Daily, June 26). The first LUT for the Future BCT is currently scheduled for FY ’12.

"The Army’s made a decision for the spin outs to align with the Infantry Brigade Combat Teams…especially in today’s operational environment where demand for IBCTs is pretty large," said Terry, who commanded a light brigade, as well as stood up and transformed to modular IBCTs with the 10th Mountain Div.

Operational needs statements from Iraq and Afghanistan are asking for increased situational awareness that feeds into battle command supporting commander’s decisions, and through the network supporting precision effects, he said.

"When you start to put all this together in the environment that we’re in today and we see in the foreseeable future and the demand on the Infantry Brigade Combat Teams we made that shift–and really what you’re talking about here is putting capability in the hands of soldiers at the platoon level, company level," Terry said. Such capabilities have not before been available that far down the chain of command.

"In this environment we’re in of warfare in and among the population it becomes very important that you do things with more precision so you can shape the perception of the population that’s out there," he said.

The P-LUT will provide insights that will inform the Army on how to proceed with next summer’s LUT that will support a milestone C decision for limited rate production.

P-LUT activities were set in a live, virtual, constructive environment that allowed the common operational picture to reflect a greater force than was on the ground in reality, showing up on the FBCB2 screens. The operational environment in Iraq and Afghanistan was replicated as far as possible.

"The specific missions dealt with a cordon and search of this village and then an occupation, and a combat outpost–similar to what you’ll see in Iraq and Afghanistan–all at the platoon and company level, complete with dozens of civilians on the battlefield, so we could actually get at the proper environmental context in relationship to the capabilities," Terry said.

Lt. Col. Ed House, comander of 2 Combined Arms Battalion, said, "We ran multiple events in support of the test command and the PM both using the new capabilities and then going back and doing it without the capabilities and evaluating everything from casualties to time on target to whether or not we could carry it with out current backpacks…you name it," he said.

About 60 percent of the soldiers have been in Iraq or Afghanistan or both, so it was a good training event and a great opportunity to provide feedback, he said.

Terry said: "We now have the Micro Air Vehicle and Small Unattended Ground Vehicle passing pictures through a gateway into the network so those pictures will populate the FBCB2 screens. That’s pretty powerful because before you couldn’t do that at the platoon level, or company level and you certainly couldn’t do it through the FBCB2 screen itself, so it’s significant progress there."

Terry said he thinks the new capabilities will save soldier’s lives, specifically mentioning Cpl. Angelo Vaccaro, a 10th Mountain Div. medic killed in 2006 in Afghanistan, who won his second silver star posthumously. Vaccaro Hall at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., was named for him, as is the Bridgewater-Vaccaro Medical Simulation Center at Ft. Drum, N.Y.