ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. — The Army’s next-generation friendly force tracking system that equips Soldiers with a faster satellite network, secure data encryption and advanced logistics for improved tactical communications and situational awareness has deployed to installations in Korea.
This marks the first time Soldiers outside of evaluation and training exercises will be equipped with the software-enhanced Force XXI Battle Command Brigade-and-Below/Blue Force Tracking, or FBCB2/BFT, known as Joint Capabilities Release, or JCR.
The Army’s Project Manager FBCB2, assigned to the Program Executive Office Command, Control and Communications-Tactical, began fielding JCR in April to the 2nd Infantry Division, and various formations of the 8th Army. Fielding to Korea will continue through September and includes fitting more than 1,000 platforms with the upgraded capability.
Delivering JCR to the peninsula was accomplished one year ahead of schedule and fully synchronized with unit training requirements, said Brig. Gen. Chuck Taylor, 2nd Infantry Division, deputy commanding general-maneuver.
“This JCR-BFT improves our readiness to support our mission in the Republic of Korea‑U.S. Alliance especially mission command on the move,” said Taylor, who pushed for the early fielding. “Our mission readiness will be significantly increased with JCR-BFT. Since BFT is our common tactical mission command fighting system, JCR-BFT mapping, encryption and user defined open architecture is an exponential leap for our Soldiers.”
FBCB2/BFT is a critical part of the Army’s tactical communications network that Soldiers rely on for situational awareness. The system includes computers, global positioning equipment and communication systems that work in tandem to provide near real-time information to combat leaders at the tactical level. Soldiers inside vehicles can plot the location of enemy, friendly and neutral objects and exchange command and control messages.
Because 8th Army units must maintain “Fight Tonight” readiness, the JCR fielding was tailored to each Major Support Command using the “crawl, walk, run” strategy,” said Jeff Forgach, readiness management chief for Project Manager FBCB2/BFT. The “crawl” phase came during testing at the Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) 12.1 last fall, while the current fielding to forces in Korea serves as the “walk” phase. The “run” phase will come this October when JCR fielding to 13,000 combat platforms in Afghanistan begins.
“We’re confident in the network, we’re confident in the software, but one of strategies was small steps,” said Forgach. “Kick the tires and let’s see how it performs. Korea is a diverse environment of scope and scale and 2ID does have day-to-day missions in support of the host nation. We know they’ll embrace the capabilities, they’ll utilize it and they’ll give us valuable lessons learned that we can adjust if necessary in preparation for Afghanistan.”
The 2nd Infantry Division is the first unit to receive JCR for maneuver platforms, said Forgach.
“There was a thirst for these capabilities. This leadership very aggressively pursued the best capabilities available from the entire ASA(ALT) (Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology) marketplace,” said Forgach. “They made this happen.”
Among the many upgrades JCR brings is the premiere of JCR-Logistics, which integrates FBCB2/BFT capability with Movement Tracking System. MTS is a vehicle-based system that tracks combat support and combat service support vehicles, as well as other assets. It offers a Radio Frequency Identification capability to provide in-transit, real-time visibility of critical cargo.
The MTS JCR-Log provides the technology necessary to communicate with and track tactical wheeled vehicles and cargo in near real times, , enabling the safe and timely completion of distribution missions in support of full spectrum operations. The upgraded capabilities result in a seamless, two way situational awareness and message exchange between convoys and the maneuver formations to which they are delivering goods.
“JCR-Log represents a significant upgrade to the current capability set for MTS,” said Jim Carver, MTS fielding manager. “Most significantly, the ability to have two-way situational awareness/common operating picture with the maneuver elements in the theater of operations is key.”
Training managers from MTS and FBCB2 worked together and jointly developed programs of instruction and technical manuals that allow for greater flexibility in new equipment training presentations and a superior product for Soldiers.
Other JCR enhancements include access to the type one secret network through the KGV-72 encryption device, allowing users on-the-move to send secret data and interoperate completely with the command post. JCR also incorporates a new chat function and instant messaging capability. A powerful new map engine will allow Soldiers to render images and a Self Descriptive Situational Awareness feature allows for units to change task organization in the field.
JCR also utilizes the BFT 2 network, a new satellite infrastructure that can handle significantly more data than the first BFT. This capacity increase allows for more frequent and larger message traffic, and in many cases cuts the system’s refresh rate from minutes to seconds.
JCR capabilities will modernize the way lower echelons communicate and navigate in theater, and testing of JCR at recent NIE events received positive feedback from Soldiers.
Staff Sgt. Cody Moose, 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division, said the chat room feature proved a huge capability and was widely used.
“I think it’s the best system we’ve tested so far and it seems like it’s working perfectly, exactly how it’s supposed to and how they told us it would,” said Moose. “It’s super easy to use. That’s the best part. Anybody that’s been on a chat room before knows how to use it.”
Capt. Luis Albino, commander of C Troop within 1st Squadron, 1st Calvary Regiment of 2/1 AD, referred to the upgraded FBCB2 as one of the best tools he’s seen in his seven years in the Army.
“I know where I’m at. I know where all my buddies are at. If the radio is down, I can still send a text,” said Albino. “They’ve made it more user friendly for the guys. That’s a tool they like.”