Originally created 03/03/00

Military goes high tech in Georgia coast training mission



SAVANNAH -- Forget about battlefield command posts where colonels found shelter in a canvas tent and studied crinkled paper maps on splintered wood tables.

The military's modern command post looks like Microsoft went camping. Smooth metal tubes provide the framework for a rainproof plastic shelter. Video projectors hang from metal tubes supporting the tent's roof. They project images onto four large video screens angled around the front. Sleek laptop computers sit on top of office desks shaped like trapezoids so they'll fit inside the tent's close quarters. The camouflaged chairs are cushioned and have movable back rests.

"These chairs are high speed," said U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Tim McLean, who worked on a laptop inside the tent. "In here, people can talk to each other and manage the battle better."

The high-tech command post is on display at Fort Stewart as the country's military gathers for a two-week exercise in coastal Georgia. The exercise aims to prevent U.S. and allied forces from shooting each other during combat.

The Marine Corps is testing the new command post designed by Solipsys, a defense contractor from Maryland. The Marines want to "fight smarter," Capt. McLean said, and Solipsys created the command post as a solution. Now, the company is trying to convince the Marine Corps to buy the system.

When Marines or other forces go to war, they often order troops to maneuver on the ground while tasking fighter jets to attack from the skies. A battlefield commander must know where both pieces of the attack are moving at all times, said Marine Lt. Col. Ronn Johnson.

"The problem we have is the amount of information being passed back and forth between our forces," Lt. Col. Johnson said. "It's difficult in fast moving warfare to do that."

As Lt. Col. Johnson spoke about the computers, the four screens around the tent displayed maps of Fort Stewart and the Atlantic Ocean off Georgia's coast. Yellow and red squares inched across the screens to indicate which direction troops moved.

"In the past everybody had their own computer but they couldn't see what's on the next screen," Lt. Col. Johnson said. "What I can do now is see all of this at once."

What is ASCIET?

ASCIET is the All Service Combat Identification Evaluation Team. U.S. Army soldiers from Fort Bliss, Texas, man a Patriot missile system just 100 yards away from a Marine Corps command post at Wright Army Airfield on Fort Stewart.

The Patriot is designed to blast enemy airplanes and missiles from the skies, and U.S. soldiers don't want that power to strike allied forces. They hope this week's exercise will prevent that from happening, said Lt. Col. Deborah Hollis, commander of 1st Battalion, 7th Air Defense Artillery.

The Fort Bliss soldiers are part of ASCIET's fifth annual exercise. The event brings more than 6,000 U.S. and British military forces and defense contractors to coastal Georgia. The exercise tests combat communications, and the goal is to prevent allied forces from killing each other during warfare.

Military maneuvers will take place during the day until Friday. Night exercises will run March 6-10; they will end at 10 p.m. each night.