Engineer reconnaissance system in full use for Kosovo forces

by 1LT Martin Jung

As the Army moves toward the 21st century, it also becomes more and more digitized. Information flow has always been a key to combat success. The speed and accuracy of information today can be a great combat multiplier; digitization seems to be the medium that works best.

This article explains a new device being used in the Army. It combines newer forms of communication, electronic mail and file transfers with more conventional means of moving information such as single-channel ground and airborne radio system or tactical satellite.

Scenario

Imagine the force multiplier if all command levels of a combat team or task force could see what an obstacle, target or breach lane looks like before they even get there. Here’s the scenario: engineer reconnaissance scouts are out spying obstacles or demolition targets. They may be crawling through the bush or be on a hilltop observation point. They snap a picture with a digital camera or take a few seconds of digital video. Then they cautiously move back to their vehicle or rally point. Now they download the picture to their mini-laptop computer and send it via SINCGARS or TACSAT to the engineer tactical-operations center, which disseminates the picture to the task force.

Within a few minutes of the scouts taking the picture, commanders at all levels can visually analyze a target or obstacle up to 40 kilometers away. Mission planning could start immediately with accurate intelligence seen firsthand.

The use of such a system virtually has no limits. It can be used for tasks ranging from bridge recons to sending pictures of unexploded ordinance to sending a picture of an open breach lane.

Current use

The 16th Engineer Battalion out of Giessen, Germany, is doing just what’s described previously for engineer operations in Kosovo. The battalion uses one part of the system set up as a base station in the engineer TOC, while the other portion of the system is deployable with the priority mission each day. The system can be used for many things like distribution of operations orders or for taking pictures of suspicious boundary activity, civilians passing through checkpoints or near-real-time pictures of obstacles or boundary closures.

1LT Martin Jung using engineer recon system 1LT Martin Jung sends information through the engineer recon system configured with a MANPAC.
SPC Carlos Ratliff sending info via tactical satellite SPC Carlos Ratliff sends engineer data via tactical satellite across the mountains of Kosovo.

The operations’ nature is classified and can’t be put in this article, but 16th Engineers are sending near-real-time pictures across the airwaves through the "engineer recon system." This system is an experimental fielding of compatible automation equipment.

Equipment

The main components for sending data are the VDC-400 Personal Computer Memory Card International Association card and the appropriate cable that interfaces with a SINCGARS radio or Spitfire TACSAT. The equipment is made by ViaSat Incorporated and includes the personal data controller model VDC-400 with data-terminal software.

The 16th Engineer Battalion uses a Panasonic mini-laptop with external compact disc read-only memory and 3 -inch floppy drives, plus the Kodak DC120 zoom digital camera. We’ve sent pictures through the single-channel secure frequency hop and Spitfire TACSAT with some minor variations in the DTS configuration.

The 16th Engineer commo shop (myself and SPC Carlos Ratliff), along with 1st Armored Division’s frequency manager (SFC Stefan Suratt), have extensively tested the system. More testing is in the works to effectively use the system with VIPERS, precision lightweight Global Positioning System receiver and Pen Map program.

Maintenance

System maintenance involves basic cleaning of the hardware and good file management on the computers. Operators must take care to keep the system clean; it’s very sensitive since it’s automation equipment. Most operations involving the computers can be done within a vehicle’s confines, helping keep the equipment free of debris. It’s very important to keep the computers, cards and cables in a hard-plastic, padded and watertight case for transportation; this will prolong the equipment’s use.

Possible uses

As I said earlier, the engineer recon system can be used in many situations. It can be used for obstacle intelligence, target plans, breach points, issuing orders, assembly-area information, potential security plans, etc. Recon teams can get to a site and send information on the move to commanders. Commanders can start to build offensive or defensive plans based on this information well before they’d have received it by normal channels. Furthermore, the system can be used to chart progress of remote construction sites for combat heavy units and can be used with manpower-portable configurations for light engineer reconnaissance.

Contacts

ViaSat – located in Carlsbad, Calif. – can be contacted at (760) 438-7210 or online at http://www.viasat.com. Their VDC-400 cards are $3,200 each; you would need two to run a system. They come with one cable each; TACSAT cables are $200 in addition to the cards’ price.

For more details on the system, contact ViaSat. For information on testing results, configuration settings or current uses, contact me at jungm@1adgsn.1ad.army.mil, Ratliff at ratliffc@1adgsn.1ad.army.mil or Suratt at suratts@bondsteel2.areur.army.mil.

In summary, the engineer recon system combines new information technology with conventional means of transferring it. The system adds a whole new advantage for accuracy and timeliness of information flow. It can be used in just about any application for light and mechanized engineers, as it gets accurate, near-real-time information quickly to soldiers at command levels. The engineer recon system can be a great combat multiplier when used on the battlefield and can provide exact information when used in garrison or peace-support operations.

1LT Jung is 16th Engineer Battalion’s Signal officer at Camp BondSteel, Kosovo. Previous assignments include assault and obstacle platoon leader at Camp McGovern, Bosnia. He holds bachelor of science degrees in architectural engineering and management information systems. He is an engineer officer filling a Signal officer’s position. He has developed and worked with new equipment around Kosovo, including the OmniTracs satellite position/messaging system.

Acronym QuickScan
DTS – data-terminal software
SINCGARS – single-channel ground and airborne radio system
TACSAT – tactical satellite
TOC – tactical-operations center

dividing rule

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04/04/12

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