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JSTARS adds blue force tracking capability

by 1st Lt. Stephen Fox
Electronic Systems Center Public Affairs

1/19/2006 - HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. (AFPN) -- The ability to distinguish between friend and foe, a concept known as blue force tracking, is critical to conducting effective network-focused military operations.

The Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar Systems Group made its first steps toward that goal by installing a system called Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below, or FBCB2.

"Combat ID is a persistent problem we are endeavoring to improve," said Lt. Col. Andrew Beaudoin, chief of the Battle Management Command and Control Systems Division. "FBCB2 gets us one step closer to solving that problem on the E-8C Joint Stars."

The Army has used the system for years to stay updated on the location of friendly troops in near real time; the system continually transmits their actual locations over the FBCB2 network. It then monitors the location and progress of friendly forces and sends those specific coordinates to a central location called the Army tactical operations center. There the data is consolidated into a common picture and sent back out to units, the colonel said.

"This near real-time process gives warfighters an integrated picture of the location of friendly troops," Colonel Beaudoin said. "Now, Joint STARS can access that powerful information as well."

The Joint Stars Group completed a development effort and five initial installations of hardware and software to tap into that blue force information directly from the Army TOC and display it on work stations, the colonel said.

Each plane is equipped with a laptop which will receive regular updates from the FBCB2 system. Using specifically designed software, the Joint Stars sends the blue force data to each of the work stations, where the information is overlayed on existing displays. It gives operators the opportunity to associate FBCB2 data with real-time ground moving target indication, or GMTI, data, the colonel said.

"FBCB2 provides the operators examining the GMTI data with a tool to associate location of friendly forces with surveillance data," he said. "Once friendly forces are identified, operators will have the opportunity to narrow down potential targets with higher confidence."

Ultimately, FBCB2 gives decision-makers another crucial tool for combat identification, the colonel said.

For such a critical capability, the team added it with minimal investment in time -- less than 90 days -- and resources -- well under the $5.7-million ceiling for the development and first five installations. The team completed software development and integration and delivered the software to the 116th Air Control Wing at Robins Air Force Base, Ga, Jan. 15.

The Joint STARS team plans to begin retrofitting the remainder of the fleet beginning in the spring, subject to depot maintenance and deployment schedules. All FBCB2 installations are scheduled to be complete by September 2006.

"The safety of our forces and the potential for fratricide are ever-present concerns for the warfighter. FBCB2 is a first step toward a more robust capability to address those concerns," said Col. Michael Graham, commander of the Joint Stars Group. "The JSTARS program continues to bring new capabilities that will secure its place as a key player in the war fight for decades to come."

The addition of the blue force tracking capability is the first of two increments for the Joint Stars FBCB2 program. The team is working on Increment II, which will use additional capability from existing information on the FBCB2 network.

"There is a host of information on the FBCB2 system that we currently don't use, but we hope to in the near future," Colonel Beaudoin said.

Should funding come available in fiscal 2006 for the second increment, the colonel said the team is ready to implement those improvements for warfighters. (Courtesy of Air Force Materiel Command News Service) 

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