Will Digitization Work (II)? An NCO Responds

July 22, 2001

Comment: #420

Discussion Thread - Comment #s - 416 and see also 81, 91, 93, 106, 107, 109, 111, 112, 113, 132, 136, 140, 302, 344, 346, 347, 348

This is another e-mail from a member of the dirty unwashed troopers in the trenches far from the mirrored halls of Versailles on the Potomac. He must remain anonymous, unfortunately, because the atmosphere of retribution in today's military is not good for the health of the constructive critic in uniform, even one who loves his service and wants to make things better for the troops who will pay the price for our mistakes.

Sergeant First Class YYY has not contributed any comments before. He adds support to the LTC XXX's comments about Army's obsession with digitization [i.e. #416: Will Digitization Work? - Mud Soldiers Sound Off, July 2, 2001].

SFC YYY is a highly professional, senior NCO. He was a platoon sergeant of a Bradley Infantry platoon at Fort Hood for four years between 1997 and 2000. Prior to that tour, he served in the Rangers, the airborne, and in the light infantry. His background also includes a tour as an instructor at the Ranger School.

Begin SFC YYY's email


Although I am not on your list, "Blaster #416" came to my attention because of my experience with digitization and the Bradley Fighting Vehicle. I feel there is a lot wrong with the Army. I usually do not respond to critical comments made about today's Army, because I do not think any of our senior officers or NCOs will listen. They just blow off constructive criticism with statements like "you are just bitching," and "move on with a salute soldier!" But I love being a soldier, and I love the Army, and I liked the depth of LTC XXX's essay, so here are my five cents worth:

First, in reference to training with the M2A3 Bradley. We did not have the ability to train realistically during my four-year tour. Units do not have MILES (Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System) to assist in our training. [MILES is a system that that uses a laser beam to score a gunner's accuracy.] So, when we "rolled" to the field to train and fight other Bradley equipped units, we could not "kill" them, and consequently did not learn a lot about our systems or how well we operated them.

During the AARs (After Action Reviews) we had "smoke blown up our ass" about how well we would have done if we had fired our weapons. We could not train realistically, because we could not fire the Bradley. Right from the beginning, there was no faith in a system that cannot prove itself to the troopers operating it.

Second, when we received the new Bradley, we could not go to gunnery practice with the computer that was in the vehicle. If we fired the main gun (the 25mm) we could only fire one round at a time (versus the automatic mode where the cannon becomes a great suppression weapon). The fire control system was eventually fixed, but the lost training time was a dead end. Furthermore the rotation policies of the personnel system rotated most of the trained NCOs moved into new assignments by the time the computer was fixed, so the training had to start all over again with new NCOs and soldiers. I was the only non-com who was able to stay on during the transition period and evolve with the correct fire control and gun system.

Third, the FBCB2 (digitized communications) system was broken or down for other reasons most of the time. This also meant soldiers could not train on the system that they were going to fight on. In fact, we were ordered to shut down the computers when the temperature exceeded 85 degrees. Also, the software was so unreliable that the contractors removed it and we had to train without it.

I left the Bradley platoon in 2000 but have remained in contact with fellow NCOs who remained with the system. They say the situation has not gotten any better. It is a big "showstopper" when the grunt goes to the gunnery range and finds he cannot fire or do a digitized "run" under combat conditions.

The bottom line: we wasted time and money trying to fix the digitized system and to no end.

Finally, the most difficult thing to deal with was with information.

The information overload is sometimes (actually, all the time in a fight) overwhelming!

A commander would put out his order and give his intent prior to the fight, when everything is stationary. Most of the time the information that was input will change during a fight. And remember, digitization breeds the search for perfection. Information overload causes the commander to change his intent and missions over and over again to the point where he is indecisive.

This mental turmoil makes the fighters lose faith in their commander, and what occurs, out of loyalty or fear of making a mistake, is that the individual Bradley vehicle commanders can not "fight" their vehicles during a battle, because they are too busy looking at their screens down in the turrets!!

I have seen this over and over again.

Wingmen are the Bradleys that are supposed to support their platoon leader or sergeants. But in reality, they often do not support each other because of the information they are receiving at that moment is wrong.

I was recently lectured by one of your friends about Boyd's OODA loop. It is a good way to understand the effects of information overload.

The higher "task loading" [Boyd's term] required to operate the digitization systems in the Bradley caused me to focus inward on my systems and processes rather than on the enemy. That is why "Digitization" makes it easier for the enemy to get inside my OODA loops. Believe me, I know it happens at my level, and I have seen it happen at higher levels up to battalion (I imagine it happens above that, but I cannot voice an opinion because I have not seen it).

We are training this way all the time. The soldiers (leaders) "bitch," but like all soldiers, they take what they are given and try to make it work. It seems, that instead of trusting our experience (I was in 15 years when I was made a Bradley platoon sergeant), and giving us a reliable but fightable vehicle, they crash all this technology on top of us, because of their own unworkable policies (as I have seen, we do not believe in unit stabilization, or unit cohesion, or whatever it is called).

The other issue is that all this technology is overwhelming for the officers.

The platoon leaders, company commanders, and battalion commanders come and go but while they are here, they are supposed to lead us. We, as NCOs, get a little more time to live with this equipment, and fix it. Officers do not get the time, but are expected to appear that they know what is going on.

The "Os" - that is what I call officers -- come and go like the tides at Inchon, Korea. But while they are here, they are put under pressure by their evaluation system to "make things happen." Shit rolls down hill, so this in turn puts pressure on the soldiers, who are already frustrated with the equipment. Now they have to deal with leadership that says they know what is going on but don't. Even if the officers care, they cannot do anything to make your life better.

So the Army's personnel assignment policies make an already bad situation worse.

I would like to close with a related subject.

The Infantry (because of the Army Personnel System) has already made the force one. We are all 11Bs. Is this bad?

In my book YES!

I was an 11B (Infantry) for 14 years. I was in a unit that did not know about 11Ms (Bradley Infantry). We thought they were lazy ass's that rode all the time with no discipline or anything.

Five years ago I made the transition to a Bradley unit and became familiar with 11M. Well, I found out the hard way that it is hard and it takes a lot of work.

Taking an 11B4V or 3P (Sergeant First Class or Staff Sergeant) and putting them into this system will be overwhelming. Some people in PERSCOM and in the Pentagon think one shoe (size 11B) fits all, but it won't. I have been there, and it was overwhelming for me.

This Bradley system will not work without mechanized infantry experts. We need the best 11M's around to learn how to fight this vehicle; digitization (if it can be made to work) merely adds to the need for skill specialization.

With the new M2A3, we are fighting the Bradley's like tanks. We are not supporting the infantry in his difficult mission of ground operations, like clearing buildings. The infantry are supporting the Bradley's!!!

This is a losing fight for most of us, which is why most of the "fighters" are getting out.


End email

Administrative note: Readers will have noted that I have found it necessary to rely on anonymity in an increasing number of cases like this. I think it is important to provide an outlet for thoughtful comments like this one. But readers may feel anonymity is inappropriate because one cannot verify the bona fides of the writer and must rely entirely on my introduction. I understand this point of view, so please feel free to contact me if you find this practice offensive, and I will remove your address from the mailing list.

Chuck Spinney

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