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Consider it done

Those tests were followed in late July 2010 by "Platoon Lanes," a Situational Training Exercise (STX) series that Webb characterized as "the first time that an entire battalion of the Army Evaluation Task Force operated with the equipment."

During Defense: Land Forces Edition's mid-August visit to White Sands, the AETF was conducting the next iteration in its test build-up known as Company level STX.

New Operational Environment

Against the backdrop of hardware enhancements, the 2010 evolutionary test cycles are being conducted in what many see as a far more realistic contemporary operational environment that has been crafted across White Sands Missile Range.

September 2009's LUT '09, for example, had explored the capabilities of what planners called "an enhanced reinforced rifle company" equipped with a limited number of "Increment 1" elements. The company's operational area was restricted to a fairly small flat area surrounding a training complex known as "Adobe Village."

In acknowledgment of vast discrepancies between that setting and the current operational environment, 2010 saw the creation of entirely new settings, including the establishment of two new village complexes: "Yucca Village" on White Sands Missile Range's eastern side; and "Mountain Village" approximately 35 kilometers to the northwest. In between the two village complexes, Company STX blue force elements have also conducted clearing operations - both day and night - within the three-story former White Sands Range Control building complex.

In addition to expanding the operational space, the villages and supporting test scenarios are designed to provide an enhanced degree of operational realism.

Jerry Tyree, director of White Sands Missile Range operations and Future Force Integration Directorate deputy director of materiel, discussed the supporting planning process on a drive up the steep and rugged dirt track leading to the newly established "Mountain Village."

Tyree, who also led the successful effort to integrate NIK capabilities onto multiple MRAP platforms, explained, "This area was picked out by some of the AETF soldiers who are veterans of Afghanistan. We did some looking around to see what was sustainable in terms of the operation and they selected this area as best replicating the kind of terrain that they see in an Afghanistan setting."

Digressing slightly, he observed, "Every piece of equipment is a tool. A hammer, for example, is good for a lot of stuff but it's not the solution to everything. You need screwdrivers and wrenches and pliers to accomplish the complete job."

He continued, "So, we wanted to find an area where line of sight is intermittent and difficult to achieve; an area that would cause the AETF to employ all of their tools. And this is just such an area. As an example, there are only a couple of ways in and out of here, as you might find in some villages around Afghanistan. So they can really hide the T-UGS in some of the areas along these roads. And they get triggers and automatic alerts when somebody is coming in - they get an image of who it is or what it looks like. But they have also had scenarios where some 'high value targets,' opposing force members also played by other parts of the AETF, have disappeared down some of these wooded wadis. Well, when they launch the Class I UAS with visible and infrared imagery, you can see where the guy is going and cut him off. But they had one case where the company did not get the UAS into the air and the guy got away."

As the track continued to climb, it wound up and down myriad small- and medium-sized depressions that were more than enough to deny line of sight with support units scattered across the desert floor below.

"This is a great test for the mobile ad hoc networking protocols," Tyree observed. "Units are consistently dropping in and out of the network, with the network reestablishing network linkages as they come back in."

Moreover, the mountains that rise above the village are dotted with several old mines, with some of these sites available to provide cave-like scenarios.

Cresting a knoll, Tyree directed, "Look right over there at the village." After a short pause and a bit of confusion, he admitted, "That was a trick request. You can't see it from here but there is a village that includes two-story ISO container buildings located just a couple hundred feet past that rise."

Immediately outside "Mountain Village," the AETF elements participating in Company STX had established a "Company Outpost" as part of the operational scenario, with role players in both villages acting and reacting in response to the actions of blue force elements.

"The unit has to figure out the changing dynamics of its relationship with the villages and villagers - including the cultural interaction," Tyree observed. "So ideally they have to use these 'Increment 1' systems, together with other available tools and intelligence, to be able to discern the good guys from the bad guys in different situations.

"It's not just about, 'Can I fly a Class I UAS in this terrain?' This is about 'How do I apply that operationally and use these tools together?" he said.

The Way Ahead

"The next stop after Company STX will be a maintenance period for the equipment by the prime contractor and their suppliers," Webb said. "Then we will head into the 'pilot test' for the Force Development Test [FDT] and Limited User Test."

The "pilot test" reflects part of the Army's Operational Test Command (OTC) process of conducting an end-to-end test, where the "user community," normally TRADOC, provides a vignette or mission for the unit under test to perform. That is the operational testers' initial check that all of their instrumentation and processes are working properly and will allow them to gather all of the subsequent data that they will require.

"One difference this year over last year is that OTC will also be conducting the Force Development Test for TRADOC," Webb observed. "Now that is normally the case with most other programs, but here over the last two years TRADOC had opted to run their own Force Development Test. But this year Operational Test Command will be doing it for them. So they wanted to knock out that pilot test prior to the Force Development Test."

FDT in early September would immediately be followed by the critical LUT '10 during the last half of that month.

"Information coming out of the LUT will be used to develop an Operational Materiel Assessment Report," Webb explained. "And that report will be the information that goes to the DAB decision makers."

Providing successful results from the late September LUT, it is believed that the DAB, which will be held in late December, will authorize the acquisition of modernized equipment for two additional brigades, E-IBCT #2 and #3, to be fielded in the FY 12 and FY 13 timeframe.

Webb concluded, "Through significant effort by all members of the team, I think we are well suited to have the operators take the equipment through Limited User Test and garner the requisite information for our decision makers to make their decisions."

With the 3-1 AD expected to get its "Increment 1" equipment beginning in 2011, 5-1 AD AETF will shift its focus to explore additional technologies for possible inclusion in future capability packages.

While some specifics of those potential packages remain as unclear as the operational mandates of an uncertain future, one point is clear: The Army has established a powerful modernization pathway capable of addressing challenges tomorrow and beyond.

U.S. Army Sgt. Joshua Morris shoots a mortar round from a 120 mm mortar tube during a training and certification test at a combat outpost in Afghanistan on May 18, 2010. Two new mortar rounds in development will bring precision-guided weapons capability to mortar platoons.

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