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Soldiers, Marines test Blue Force tracking system

Jun. 14, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
A Marine with the 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, operates Joint Battle Command-Platform inside a vehicle during Network Integration Evaluation 14.2 at Fort Bliss, Texas. About 900 Marines joined the Soldiers of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division at the evaluation, which serves as an operational laboratory to incrementally enhance the Army's tactical network. JBC-P, a new situational awareness capability for the Army and Marine Corps, is built with today's force in mind featuring touch-to-zoom maps, drag-and-drop icons and a Google Earth-like interface. (Photo by Nancy Jones-Bonbrest, U.S. Marine Corps )
A Marine with the 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, operates Joint Battle Command-Platform inside a vehicle during Network Integration Evaluation 14.2 at Fort Bliss, Texas. About 900 Marines joined the Soldiers of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division at the evaluation, which serves as an operational laboratory to incrementally enhance the Army's tactical network. JBC-P, a new situational awareness capability for the Army and Marine Corps, is built with today's force in mind featuring touch-to-zoom maps, drag-and-drop icons and a Google Earth-like interface. (Photo by Nancy Jones-Bonbrest, U.S. Marine Corps ) ()
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It’s the battlefield equivalent of Google Earth, smart phones and GPS rolled into one: Joint Battle Command-Platform, or JBC-P, may be the military’s next-generation go-to system for situational awareness and friendly force tracking. The system recently underwent rigorous, side-by-side testing by soldiers and Marines at the Network Integration Evaluation 14.2, laying the groundwork for future “eyes on the battlefield.”

More than 900 Marines, a British mechanized brigade headquarters, and 3,800 soldiers from the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division, fought side-by-side in a combination of live, virtual and constructive battles during the evaluation at Fort Bliss, Texas, according to an Army release. It is the latest milestone in the Army-led joint program which will field an improved and common blue force tracker for both services.

“Marines will have a better understanding of the operational picture on the battlefield,” said Maj. Steve Musick, the Marine Corps Systems Command JBC-P program project officer in a Marine news release. “They can use that understanding to concentrate the effects of all of our various combat weapons systems.”

The primarily vehicle-mounted system offers a comprehensive picture of the battlefield that allows different units – whether Army or otherwise – to sync operations and locations, while also enabling users to input known enemy locations and hazards, according to an Army release. At NIE, troops test-driving the system praised its user interface, comparing features to those commonly seen in everyday civilian-world systems – the same systems designers had in mind when planning for the modern soldier.

Information in JBC-P also gets routed to the Army’s smart phone-like Nett Warrior, used by dismounted soldiers. The Marine Corps is currently working to develope its own secure hand-held device to put better battlefield intelligence in the hands of dismounted Marines. JBC-P and Nett Warrior, along with the HMS Manpack radio and the Unmanned Aerial System-Tactical Common Data Link/Universal Ground Station, all underwent formal follow-on testing at the latest round of NIE, which concluded in late May.

“Over the past 10-plus years of working together in Afghanistan and Iraq, the interoperability of the services has increased,” said Lt. Col. Jeff Stevenson, battalion commander for the 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines, according to the Army release. “Any time there's an opportunity to bring everyone together and work through those things in a peacetime type exercise such as an NIE, it helps us so we’re not learning those lessons as we go forward into a combat zone.”

Beyond its user-friendly features, JBC-P also runs on a faster satellite network and has secure data encryption and improved chat messaging, the Army noted.

To determine what happens next for JBC-P, the Army is drafting a report based on the NIE testing that will detail how the testing went and what the follow-on steps will include. According to an Army source, the report currently is in draft and is expected to be approved in the coming weeks. Once approved the report will be released and outline the groundwork for the system’s future.

JBC-P is the next iteration of the Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below/Blue Force Tracking system, currently fielded in more than 120,000 platforms as well as at every Tactical Operations Center and to every Army brigade combat team, according to the release.

Corrin writes for C4ISR & Networks, a sister publication.

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