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Evolutionary Technology in the Current Revolution in Military Affairs: The Army Tactical Command and Control System

Authored by Elizabeth A. Stanley

March 25, 1998

73 Pages

Brief Synopsis

Ts. Elizabeth A. Stanley analyzes developments in the Army Tactical Command and Control System as a vehicle for assessing the U.S. Army's strategy for exploiting information age technologies. Her analysis will be of great value to those interested in several dimensions of military modernization, in particular whether we are amid a revolution in military affairs (RMA) or something less profound. If it is an RMA, then how well are we in the Army seizing the opportunities it presents?

Ms. Stanley sees Force XXI more as the latest phase in a decades-long process than a new beginning. She points out, for instance, that despite the Force XXI initiatives inspired by former Army Chief of Staff Gordon R. Sullivan, which seem to be coming to fruition, the Army has not altered its core tasks nor displaced any of its combat platforms. Changes largely have been marginal, revolving around the leveraging of technologies into existing systems.

The deeper message here is that technological change, evolutionary and revolutionary, does not just happen. It requires the vision of leadership, corporate acceptance, and managerial genius to guide it to effective implementation. The strength of the Army is that it has become the world's finest land force by openly discussing not only its vision for the future, but also the processes by which it has gotten to where it is today and where it intends to be tomorrow.


I see . . . an integrated area control system that exploits the advanced technology of communications, sensors, fire direction and automatic data processing. . . . Enemy forces will be located, tracked, and targeted almost instantaneously through use of data links, computer assisted intelligence evaluation and automated fire control. . . . With cooperative effort, no more than ten years should separate us from the automated battlefield.

It's a grand blueprint for a revolutionary concept of land warfare. Visionary. Dynamic. And it's almost here—only 20 years late. In 1969 then Chief of Staff of the Army General William C. Westmoreland described this vision of an automated battlefield at a meeting of the Association of the United States Army. Thirty years and billions of dollars later, the U.S. Army is still waiting for his dream to become reality. The saga of the Army's efforts to automate tactical command and control spans decades and serves as a fascinating case study for a theoretical inquiry about innovation in military organizations. Moreover, the Army Tactical Command and Control System—or ATCCS, as this automated system became known—can provide some useful insights into the contemporary Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA), whose status continues to be debated by scholars and soldiers alike. I argue that although ATCCS had the potential to be a revolutionary innovation, various aspects of its development process and the Army's procurement process have caused it to miss its mark.

ATCCS was designed to become the principal command and control focus within a theater of military operations. The plan envisioned respective control systems for the five battlefield functional areas (BFAs)—maneuver, fire support, air defense artillery, intelligence/electronic warfare, and combat service support—and three primary communications systems. Through the use of common hardware and software, each BFA was to manage, coordinate and process information internally. Force Level Control was to provide the mechanism for the commander and staff to coordinate horizontally among the BFAs at each level, as well as for the BFAs to coordinate vertically among echelons.

This paper is divided into seven sections. The first section outlines the theoretical considerations for innovation in military organizations, while the second section explains the concept of the current RMA in greater detail. The third section recounts the first three generations in the family of automated command and control (C 2) systems which eventually became known as ATCCS. In the fourth section, I argue that the development of this intellectual vision culminated with the fourth generation, a system called Sigma Star. The fifth section outlines the development of ATCCS until the Gulf War. Some of the ATCCS systems were deployed in DESERT STORM with mixed results, as the sixth section will show. After the performance in DESERT STORM, a heightened interest in battlefield situational awareness catalyzed a top-down Army reorganization effort, led by then-Chief of Staff of the Army General Gordon Sullivan. The first half of the sixth section describes Sullivan's vision of Force XXI and its implications for ATCCS. Although Force XXI involved a serious image overhaul of the Army's battlefield digitization, the successor to ATCCS—called the Army Battle Command System (ABCS)—added little value to the previous Sigma Star paradigm. The Army tested ABCS in March 1997 in a brigade-level Advanced Warfighting Experiment at the National Training Center; the second half of the sixth section describes some preliminary results—from the perspective of several participants—of this experiment. The final section analyzes ATCCS in light of innovation theory and draws some implications for the current RMA.

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