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INTRODUCTION

The Problem

The 2nd Infantry Division had an information management problem. Faced with one year tours, an extremely high operations tempo, and the 4th largest army in the world only 15 miles away, the young soldiers assigned to 2ID could not effectively use the Maneuver Control System (MCS). Despite the division running a one week formal training course constantly, operators could pass text messages between tactical operations center at best. The software was too complex for the average soldier to understand. The hardware was specialized and few soldiers could troubleshoot or correct even simple hardware problems. Finally, the hardware requirements of the software limited the number of workstations within the division. There was no redundancy available and if a critical site lost its MCS, that site would be down until the remaining MCS terminals could be reallocated within the division. What 2ID needed a simple, easy-to-use software package that enhanced operational awareness between the division TOCs and major subordinate commands and ran on a common and widely available hardware platform.

The Solution

As a result of these problems with MCS, 2ID G6 office and the 122nd Signal Battalion developed the 2ID Tactical World-Wide Web (TACWEB) (See Figure 1). TACWEB is a simple, easy-to-use classified, tactical information management system that tracks the battle status of units, battlefield operating systems (BOS) and other key information such as significant events, commander situation reports, weather, priority information reports, personnel status reports, and logistics status reports. TACWEB minimizes network bandwidth requirements to be highly effective over Mobile Subscriber Equipment (MSE). TACWEB provides an effective information management system that quickly focuses leaders on issues and provides a degree of synergy previously unseen. It is a combat multiplier.

2ID TACWEB

Design Principles

The G6, with the support and guidance of the Commanding General, Assistant Division Commander (Maneuver), Chief of Staff, and G3, developed TACWEB using the following design principles:

  • TACWEB must present information with increasing levels of detail.
  • TACWEB must be easy to use.
  • TACWEB must run on commercial, off-the-shelf, hardware and software that is relatively inexpensive.
  • TACWEB must run effectively over MSE.

Increasing Levels of Details

TACWEB is first and foremost an information management system. It displays the current status of units and BOS in an easy to understand format of automated, color-coded heads-up displays (HUDs). These HUDs are the gateway to additional information and consist of a series of color-coded "gumballs" (See Figure 1). Each gumball is green, amber, red, black or white depending on status. If the user moves the mouse over a gumball, a comment field automatically appears, superimposed over the HUD, with additional information on the gumball selected. By convention, all amber and red gumballs have comments. Those green gumballs that have comments have a "C" centered in the middle of the gumball. This indicates that while the system being reported is green, the commander or staff element has provided a comment that requires division command group attention. If the user desires more information, he or she need only click on the gumball to load an additional page that provides another level of detail (See Figure 2). Each gumball is linked to a different report depending on the topic. For example, the division commander reviews the Unit Status Report and notices the 1st Brigade is amber in weapons system. He moves the mouse over the amber gumball and automatically the commander’s assessment of weapons status becomes visible as a superimposed text box from the latest commander’s situation report. If the division commander requires additional information, he then clicks on the gumball to bring up a complete, color-coded display of the weapons status of the brigade with the number of operational weapons of each subordinate battalion as well as a total weapons summary of the brigade. Additional weapon status reports provide automatic totals of weapon systems across the entire division (See Figure 3). Thus, users can control the amount of detail visible, from division to battalion level, so as to have the right amount of information to make decisions.

Easy to Use

TACWEB is easy to use. Users submit information through a fill-in-the-blank Common Gateway Interface (CGI) form running on TACWEB. Users simply fill in the appropriate form for a report and click on a submit button (See Figure 3). The information is transmitted as ASCII text over the MSE network to the TACWEB server where it is automatically added to the Division’s database. When users submit an updated report, all of the information from a previous report is automatically loaded so that the user need only make the necessary changes to submit an updated report. Users can be trained to submit TACWEB reports in less than 15 minutes and to fully utilize the informational resources of TACWEB in less than four hours. Compared to MCS, it is a very easy system to use.

From the commander’s perspective, TACWEB is likewise very easy to use. The divisional database takes the data provided by users and automatically transforms it into a series of automated HUDs that track critical battlefield information. Commander’s can quickly and visually assess the status of units and BOS without reading mountains of reports. Critical information is automatically updated at set intervals so that commanders and the division staff always have the latest information to make decisions. As commander’s situation reports are received, the division staff can provide comments, linked to the situation report, with ongoing efforts to resolve issues. It quickly becomes clear what issues are being resolved and what issues have somehow been lost. With automated updates and color-coded displays, the division command group can quickly assess the status of the division and focus on those critical issues that make a difference.

The synergistic impact of this automated, real-time information fusion cannot be understated. Issues are immediately apparent. Disconnects between staff and units are likewise apparent. TACWEB users can easily assess the status of the entire division in but a single moment. TACWEB even synchronizes all of the computers accessing the server so that everyone is using the same current time. Everyone is working using the same, nearly real-time information.

Finally, TACWEB is easy to customize to fit rapidly changing conditions. The G3 can easily task organize the division and then change the task organization in the middle of an operation to meet operational requirements. The changes are immediately visible to all units. The TACWEB task organization tool also allows other units to easy use and exploit TACWEB. It is not coded so as to work only with 2ID but instead is written to work with any unit. The 82nd Airborne Division or 3rd Corps could easily install and operate the software without modifying the TACWEB software. Likewise, the G3 can easily change pacing items and weapon systems and those changes are immediately reflected on unit commander situation reports and logistics status reports. This provides the division command group the ability to track critical equipment and change what the critical equipment is as the battle progresses. For example, as the division fights defensive operations and then transitions into a counterattack and river crossing, the pacing items for subordinate units can change.

Hardware and Software Requirements

TACWEB requires a personal computer capable of running the Microsoft Windows 95 or NT operating system and Internet Explorer 3.02 or higher WWW browser. It performs best on Internet Explorer 4.0. There are an adequate number of computers within 2ID capable of meeting the hardware requirements and Internet Explorer 4.0 is a free software package. As such, the hardware and software requirements of TACWEB are minimal compared to MCS.

Effective Over MSE

To be useful, TACWEB must be effective over MSE. TACWEB reports are small ASCII text transfers and as such, require limited bandwidth. The largest TACWEB report, the unit LOGSAT which is only submitted twice per day, is less than 60 kilobytes in size and most TACWEB reports are much smaller in size.

The TACWEB interface is spartan yet functional in appearance. Graphics are strictly minimized to limit network load. With the exception of the four small gumballs (green, amber, red, and black) each of which is less than 5k in size and each of which only have to be loaded once, there are no graphics in 2ID TACWEB. Every other component is HTML code which is transmitted as ASCII text. There are no Microsoft Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, or PowerPoint slideshows. In fact, the bandwidth constraints are so low that users with STU-III telephones and the Windows NT operating system can dial in to the system and access TACWEB information. TACWEB is effective in low-bandwidth systems.

Once loaded, the information displayed is static and does require any network resources with two exceptions: the significant events frame and the marquee line update every two and five minutes respectively. Otherwise, the user must refresh the pages as needed. As a result, TACWEB places an extremely limited network load over the MSE network while providing a highly effective information system.

Lessons Learned

2ID implemented TACWEB prior to and during Ulchi Focus Lens, a major Korean simulations exercise. It was immediately successful and received command emphasis as the command group exploited the potential of TACWEB. It was also used during the next divisional exercise, WarPath II which is the division rehearsal for its WarFighter exercise. From the communicator/ automator perspective, sensitivity to network outages and especially outages of the tactical packet network increased as TACWEB gained increased importance within the division. The Division Command Group perceived TACWEB as a real-time reporting system. Outages were immediately noticed and resolution of outages received increased visibility. Techniques such as dual-homing of SENs and increasing bandwidth available through the application of software template S3T and hardware patches took on added significance. Switch operators had to adjust to this heightened sensitivity and aggressively monitor the tactical packet network. SYSCON likewise became very sensitive to the data network. Data, not voice trunks, became the benchmark of the MSE network. This was a fundamental shift for 2ID and the 122nd Signal Battalion.

While the first exercise, Ulchi Focus Lens demonstrated the potential of TACWEB, the WarPath II exercise validated this perceived potential. The division staff and subordinate units accessed TACWEB over 400,000 times in a five day exercise and downloaded over 2.6 gigabytes of information. The average access time was approximately 4.5 seconds. TACWEB was fast and useful and as a result, units used it extensively.

Numerous exercise examples illustrate the functionality of TACWEB. Twice during the commanding general’s morning update, the status of units changed rapidly during the brief and division command group had the necessary information to make immediate decisions based on accurate, real-time information of all major subordinate commands. Without TACWEB, this synergistic view of the battlefield would not have been possible and the division would not have been able to react to rapidly evolving situations. External evaluators confirmed what everyone on division staff already knew: TACWEB was a combat multiplier.

The synergistic view provided by TACWEB also facilitated rapid and accurate parallel planning process. Because everyone knew the real-time status of divisional units down to how many tanks and APCs were available in each unit, units and staff elements could anticipate future operations and begin parallel planning. This was especially apparent to the Aviation Brigade commander who was adept at using the TACWEB.

Finally, the linking of unit statuses with staff assessments and comments also proved to be invaluable in synchronizing staff actions to address statuses. Everyone had visibility of divisional efforts to address personnel and equipment shortcomings. The G1, G3, and G4 aggressively tracked unit statuses and responded to unit issues in a manner that had previously been impossible.

TACWEB Limitations

While TACWEB is an effective information management system, it does have certain limitations including:

  • TACWEB is only visible to units with MSE switch support.
  • TACWEB does not provide friendly and enemy situational awareness.
  • Information security of TACWEB.
  • Limitations of WWW technology.

TACWEB and MSE

TACWEB utilizes the MSE data network as its transport mechanism. As such, TACWEB is currently only visible to units with dedicated Small or Large Extension Node (SEN or LEN) support. Battalions internal to a brigade do not have access to TACWEB and as a result cannot submit reports over TACWEB or receive information. While this limits the effectiveness of TACWEB, it also limits the potential for compromise of the TACWEB system. Other units in the Army face the same problem. As solutions such as the Surrogate Digital Radio are tested and validated as part of the Advanced WarFighter Experiment, 2ID will adapt these technologies to expand TACWEB to battalion level.

Friendly and Enemy Situational Awareness

TACWEB does not provide a situation map that indicates the locations of friendly and enemy units. TACWEB does provide, in a consolidated task organization format, the grid coordinates of all friendly forces. 2ID currently uses WARLORD and the Army Deep Operations Command System (ADOCS) to provide an automated system for friendly and enemy situational awareness. WARLORD and ADOCS terminals are capable of accessing and displaying TACWEB information. In an ideal case, TACWEB would be capable of displaying a dynamic situation map.

Information Security

TACWEB provides excellent internal information security. An easy-to-use security interface allows web administrators the capability to set permissions by staff section and unit. These permissions address all possible actions on the TACWEB site except viewing. This lack of protection against viewing pages is a fundamental weakness of the system. If the enemy gains access to the system through the MSE network, the entire divisional status is available. While this is unlikely, future revisions to the TACWEB software will address these security concerns through initial and periodic authentication requests.

Limitations of WWW Technology

While WWW technology is constantly improving, there are significant limitations in the underlying technology. The WWW does not support the easy presentation of briefing material in a format similar to dedicated presentation software such as PowerPoint or Harvard Graphics. Overlaying graphics to form complex presentations is simple in presentation software and very difficult with the WWW’s language, the Hypertext Markup Language (HTML). As a result, users have false expectations on the ease of generating dynamic informational displays over the WWW. For example, forming a terrain map with unit locations overlaid is extremely difficult and requires the developed of a specialized and complex JAVA applet where it is a relatively simple task in PowerPoint. Moreover, the WWW was developed for the efficient presentation of relatively static information and not the presentation of real-time information over low-bandwidth networks in a tactical environment. These limitations hinder the potential of TACWEB to replace other tactical information management systems.

Further Development

Additional development of TACWEB is focused on:

  • Integrating the databases of TACWEB, the Army Deep Operations Control System (ADOCS), and WARLORD. Sharing information between these automated systems clearly will enhance information flow internal to a TOC.
  • Enhancing the operational security of TACWEB. TACWEB makes it too easy to compromise the status of all divisional units. Additional security measures are necessary.
  • Testing TACWEB under adverse conditions during WarPath II, Foal Eagle, and Warfighter. All three of these divisional exercises occur within a two-month period and will significantly test the capabilities of TACWEB under a variety of trying conditions.

Conclusions

TACWEB is a highly effective tactical information management system. It has fundamentally changed how the 2nd Infantry Division uses information and automation systems to form a coherent picture of the battlefield. It allows the commander the ability to make decisions faster based on more timely information and thus stay inside the enemy commander’s decision cycle. It is an easy-to-use combat multiplier that one day, will save the lives of soldiers on the battlefield.

MAJ Carver is the Deputy G6 of 2nd Infantry Division. He has served in a variety of staff and command positions including Assistant Professor, West Point, Battalion S3, Company Commander, Airborne Combat Team Signal Officer, and Platoon Leader. He has a bachelor’s degree from the United States Military Academy and a Master’s degree from Texas A&M University.

2LT Purcell is the System Integrations officer of 2nd Infantry Division and the primary developer of TACWEB. This is his first assignment. He has a bachelor’s degree from Southern Illinois University .

LTC Johnson is the 2nd Infantry Division G6 and battalion commander of the 122nd Signal Battalion. He has served in a variety of staff and command positions including Platoon Leader, Company Commander, Battalion S3, Deputy G6, Project Manager, and Deputy Operations Officer, White House Communications Agency. He has a bachelor’s degree from Howard University and a master’s degree from Naval War College.

MAJ John Lehman is 2nd Infantry Division Automation Officer. He has served in a variety of staff and command position including 7th CSG S3, 19th CMMC LASSO, and company commander. He has a bachelor’s degree from the Citadel.